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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Nicholas Zharkikh

1. The period of Gedimin’s rule in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is relatively well illuminated in the sources written at that time in Poland, the Teutonic Order, northeast Russia, and also in Lithuania itself. All of them unanimously remain silent about "the campaign of Gedimin to Volyn and Kiev."

2. A detailed narrative about this campaign was written from scratch in the 1530s in Vilnius – as part of the article "The fabulous emergence of Lithuania", set at the beginning of the "Lithuanian" chronicle. This article has undeniable literary merits and fills the void in the question – how Lithuania from a small principality on the Neman turned into a great power.

3. Despite this, the article "The fabulous emergence of Lithuania" is extremely tendentious (in the spirit of Lithuanian patriotism) and completely incompetent. None of the specific episodes of the history of Lithuania presented in it are supported by other sources. This also applies to such a part of the article as the story of the "march to Volyn and Kiev".

4. The author of the article, written two centuries after the reign of Gedimin, knew absolutely nothing about him, except for the name taken from the former "Vytautas" chronicle. Any oral traditions of Gedimin were not recorded in any part of the large territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Writing in Lithuania at the time of Gedimin barely began to spread (Gedimin’s messages), and one should not allow the creation of any written stories in such a society. The author of "The Tale of Vytautas" at the end of the 14th century had not knew neither oral nor the recorded stories about Gedimin. These stories were not known in later tome too.

5. All the later texts on the "march to Volyn and Kiev" come from this single source.

6. The story of the "march to Volyn and Kiev" was greatly reworked by M. Stryjkowski and printed in 1582 in his chronicle. There, the stories are greatly expanded at the expense of Stryjkowski’s own fabrications, and the "dates" invented by him are added.

7. From the end of the 16th to the middle of the 19th century in historical literature, shortened versions of M. Stryjkowski’s story were distributed, with attempts at new "dating" of this "event". Since the end of the 18th century we can see weak doubts about the reliability of this story.

8. A decisive contribution to the discrediting of the story of the "march to Volyn and Kiev" as a late fantasy belongs to the Ukrainian scientists D. Zubritsky (1855), V. Antonovich (1878), M. Hrushevsky (1891), P. Klepatsky (1912), F. Sushitsky (1918), E. Rusina (1994). In these works, irrefutable proofs of the late and fantasy origin of this story are formulated and tested, which has nothing to do with the realities of the 14th century. These conclusions were received by scientists from Poland, Belarus and Russia.

9. The opinion that this narrative is completely truthful or although contains the seeds of truth, in our time can not be acceptable.

10. Some explanation (but not an excuse) for such an erroneous position may be that the human mind does not tolerate emptiness and requires an answer – at least illusory – to the question that the author of the 16th century was already concerned with: how Lithuania acquired vast territories in Eastern Europe? A certain role in maintaining the authority of this myth is played by the love of historians to rewrite previous texts instead of independent analysis and a methodological error (the consideration and assessment of the political situation is placed ahead of the analysis of sources, and the reliability of texts is determined on the basis of a vision of the political situation).

11. So, the story of the "march to Volyn and Kiev" can serve as a source for social and political thought of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century and for the history of literature. In fact there was no such march.