Volume 27, No.1 - Summer 1981
Editor of this issue: Tomas Venclova, Thomas Remeikis
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1981 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

A Historic View of the University of Vilnius, 1579-1979

Yale University

The University of Vilnius is considered to be one of the oldest universities of Europe. Of course, it cannot compare either in age or traditions with the famous medieval scholastic centers of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, or Salamanca. It was established in another age — the age of Counter-Reformation and the Baroque.

However, against the background of Eastern Europe, Vilnius University is undoubtedly a remarkable institution. The universities of Prague (1348), Cracow (1364), and Pecs (1367) were established earlier in this area. The neighboring Koenigsberg University — which, by the way, had many ties with Lithuania — was founded in 1544. It was destroyed in the last war (the new Soviet University in Kaliningrad, opened in 1967, cannot be viewed as a continuation of the old university, nor does it pretend to be). Vilnius University, established in 1579, was for a long time the only center of higher learning east of Koenigsberg. Of much later vintage are the schools founded in present-day Yugoslavia (Ljubljana 1595), in Finland (Turku 1640), in Norway (Oslo 1811), in Rumania (lasi 1860), and in Bulgaria (Sofia 1904). Vilnius University has a longer tradition than Edinburgh (1582), Gottingen (1736), Berlin (1809), Bonn (1818), London (1828), Athens (1837); it is older than the most famous universities in the New World — Harvard (1636) and Yale (1701). In the presently USSR-controlled territories the second oldest university, after Vilnius, would be Tartu (1632) in Estonia, the third oldest — Lwow (1661) in the Ukraine, and only then in fourth place, Moscow University (1755).

Of course, it is not the age of Vilnius University that is important, but its unique role. Its history is intertwined with the history of Lithuania itself, and it is no less intricate or complex. The University served not only the Lithuanian nation, but other nations as well (among its professors and students were representatives from almost all European countries). In the first centuries of its existence, it was the scholastic center of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (which included lands populated not only by Lithuanians, but also by White Russians and Ukrainians). After the fall of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, under the occupation of czarist Russia, the University served both Polish and Lithuanian cultures. In 1919 it was reestablished as a Polish university, and in 1940 became Lithuanian. Over the centuries there were changes in the university's sphere of influence; there were changes in the university's structure, its national orientation, its ideological direction, even its name. It was closed two times by occupational governments (the Russian Czar Nicholas I in 1832 and Hitler's Nazis in 1943). Several essential movements of Western culture were reflected in the University's activities: the Counter-Reformation (aligning the spiritual heritage of the Middle Ages with the Renaissance), the Enlightenment and rationalism of the eighteenth century, nineteenth-century Romanticism, and finally new directions of twentieth-century thought. Its destiny was also affected by contemporary anti-cultural movements. In spite of all this, the history of the university, just like the history of Lithuania, is notable for its essential continuity. One could say that the Vilnius University, having fostered the seeds of European culture, not only raised the Lithuanian nation to the level of other enlightened countries, but also brought cooperation and understanding to the nations of Eastern Europe: this is especially important today, when those nations are in active conflict with totalitarian regimes. Its problems and achievements are the problems and achievements of Eastern Europe. Its tradition — the tradition of diversity and tolerance — could have great importance for the future.


The Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a unique historic entity. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Lithuanians established a large and strong state — the last pagan state in Europe. It resembled the states that, existed during the Migrations period (IV-V c. A.D.), although it was founded a thousand years later. Lithuanians — the "Saracens" of Europe — had a rich pagan culture; however, it limited itself to administrative accomplishment, ethical values, and folklore. Education, as we know it, began with the Christianization of Lithuania (1387). The first school in Lithuania was the cathedral school in Vilnius; others were established at Trakai, Varniai, and Kaunas. The subjects taught at these schools were Latin, Polish, sometimes Lithuanian, mathematics, hymn singing, and various ecclesiastical disciplines. The Germans, Russians, Jews, and Tartars living in Lithuania had their own schools. At the beginning of the 16th century, a jurist and poet of Spanish origin, Petrus Royzius, greatly enlarged the St. John Church School in Vilnius. He instituted new subjects such as Greek, and courses in Roman, Magdeburgian, and contemporary law.

As the state of Lithuania grew and prospered, more educated people were needed. Many of these learned persons were found at the court of the Grand Duke: ambassadors, secretaries, priests and monks, and more often than not, the Grand Duke himself. (We know that Vytautas, Lithuania's ruler in the 14-15th centuries, spoke several languages.). Subsequently they were also needed in the dioceses, palatinates, counties, and estates. Since there were no institutions of higher learning in Lithuania, many Lithuanians, especially the nobility, went to study abroad. (Children of noblemen usually did not attend the local elementary schools; they had tutors at home.). Probably the first to reach the West was Butautas, the son of the Grand Duke Kęstutis, and the brother of Vytautas. He enrolled at the just-founded University of Prague in about 1370. In 1401, at the same university, Kristupas from Lithuania took the baccalaureate examination, and in 1408, Motiejus from Vilnius — the master's examination. At the time of the well-known reformer Jan Hus, there was even a Lithuanian College (twelve students) at the University of Prague. Quite a few Lithuanians studied in Cracow. (In 1410-30 there were 31, 15 of whom were from Vilnius.). There were Lithuanian students in Leipzig, Wittenberg, Leyden, Paris, Bologna, and Padua.

The sixteenth century, when Vilnius University was founded, is one of the most important and interesting in Lithuania's history. As the administrative apparatus grew, as the economy and trade improved, so did the quality of life in Lithuania. Important agrarian and judicial reforms were implemented. Lithuania created a sophisticated codex of laws (the Statute of Lithuania). Vilnius, the capital, acquired its particular architectural style. Stirrings of the Renaissance and humanism reached the country — through journeys abroad, through arriving scholars and artists, and through the court, which was at that time under a strong Italian influence. Libraries appeared (The library of King Sigismund Augustus laid the foundation for the library of Vilnius University.). Noblemen and townspeople of Vilnius started their own collections.

The Union of Lublin (1569) united Lithuania with Poland and greatly reduced Lithuania's independence. There were strong separatist feelings among the nobility. Nothing could better symbolize Lithuanian cultural, and in part, judicial independence as the establishment of its own university. The new university would act as a counterforce to the influence of the Polish University of Cracow.

The clergy wanted to raise the level of clerical education as well as the general cultural level of the country if for no other reason then because a considerable part of Lithuanian peasantry still adhered to pagan customs and beliefs. On the other hand, the Reformation began to reach Lithuania, enlivening the country's intellectual and spiritual life and proving attractive especially to the nobility. There appeared centers of Calvinist and Lutheran thought; religious quarrels intensified — typical to the Europe of that period. The vernacular, including Lithuanian, was widely used by the Protestants. To confront them, the Catholic Church needed people who were familiar not only with theology and Latin, but with the multitude of dialects and problems of Eastern Europe.

The Reformation made the biggest advances in the North Baltic, inhabited by Latvians and Estonians (and the Germans that colonized that area). During the Livonian War (1558-1582) that region was invaded by the armies of Czar Ivan IV. Large areas of Livonia (North Baltic) submitted themselves to the protection of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; closer cultural ties between Lithuania and Livonia encouraged spiritual and intellectual confrontation with the Protestants.

In 1538, the nobleman Abraomas Kulvietis returned to Lithuania, having been educated at many European universities (Wittenberg, Siena, and others), and having obtained a doctor of laws degree. Aided by Queen Bona Sforza, he founded the first secondary school in Vilnius in 1539. It enrolled about 60 students, some of whom were from noble families. Classical languages were taught here as well as the seven liberal arts: grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. There is some speculation that Kulvietis had thought about establishing a university along the same lines. Because he supported the Reformation, he was subjected to an unfavorable royal decree, and in 1542 was forced to move to Koenigsberg, along with a few friends. A university was founded there in 1544 — and in the first decades, Lithuanian Protestants probably played the leading role in its development. Martynas Mažvydas, who in 1547 printed the first book in Lithuanian, was a student there. Quite a few Lithuanians seemed to gravitate to the Protestant Koenigsberg University, which caused new concerns to the Lithuanian Catholic hierarchy.

One other fact should be mentioned — that of the Catholic coexistence and confrontation with the Eastern Church. Russians and White Russians made up a sizeable group in the multilingual population of Vilnius; further to the east, beyond the border of ethnographic Lithuania, they constituted the majority. Most official papers and annals were written in Old Slavonic. Almost all White Russians and Russians were Orthodox. The 16th century also brought them a more varied and active cultural and religious life. Franciszek Skoryna, a White Russian educated in Cracow and Padua, founded a printing press in Prague in 1517 with the help of the townspeople of Vilnius. In 1525 he moved to Vilnius. His printing press, which published books in Old Slavonic, was the first not only in Lithuania, but in all the territories administered by the USSR today. Some Lithuanian noblemen became supporters of the Orthodox Church and its culture. At the same time, Catholics endeavored to spread a more western, Latin-oriented civilization in the eastern part of the Grand Duchy.

A decisive role in the founding of Vilnius University was played by the Bishop of Vilnius, Valerijonas Protasevičius (Protasewicz, 1504-1579), who died the year that the University opened. Descended from an aristocratic Lithuanian family, which formerly lived near Minsk, Protasevičius headed the diocese of Vilnius since 1556. He was noted not only as a religious leader, but as a statesman as well. He served as President of the committee which revised the Lithuanian Statute. Protasevičius belonged to that group of Lithuanian statesmen who expressed separatist notions and fought for Lithuania's judicial independence. He defended these positions in drawing up the Lublin Unification Act. It may be supposed that, for Protasevičius and his associates, the establishment of a university in Vilnius had not only religious or cultural significance, but political significance as well.

It was natural for Bishop Protasevičius to become interested in the Jesuits, whose order was the most active in Counter-Reformation and education at the time. Established by St. Ignatius Loyola in 1540 and confirmed by Pope Paul III, the order grew quickly in strength and numbers; in fact, its rapid expansion was sometimes even opposed by Catholics. The Jesuits were famed for their oratory and for their missionary zeal in exotic, far-off lands (including Japan, Congo, Peru, Virginia, and Florida). Their focus soon turned to education and the establishment of colleges and seminaries. In 1551, in Rome, they founded a model institution — the Roman College (Collegium); the following year the German College was begun. The latter was founded to educate German clergy to replace those who converted to the Lutheran religion. The number of Jesuit colleges grew rapidly: in 1579 there were 144, and in 1626 — 444. By the middle of the 18th century, the Jesuits had partial or outright control of 24 universities. Being the contemporary leaders of ecclesiastic and humanistic education, they were responsible for the training of many famous scholars, pedagogues, and religious writers. In philosophy, rhetoric, architecture, and theatrical arts, the Jesuits left an imprint on a worldwide scale.

With the aid of the papal nuncio, Cardinal Commendone, Jesuits received permission to come to Lithuania, which appeared to them as a rather exotic region, filled with opportunities for spiritual heroics. They were not much wrong—some of them were later martyred at the hands of the Cossacks or Swedes. In Lithuania, where they fought the Reformation, they partook in a constructive project as well — to cleanse and renew Catholicism, to adapt it to the demands of the times.

Bishop Protasevičius bought the Jesuits a large two-story building near the Church of St. John, which to this day is the central building of the university. He assigned to them properties in the vicinity of the city and in 1570 announced the founding of a Jesuit Collegium. In his pastoral letter, he stressed the importance of education and scholarship.


In spite of crop failure and the plague, the Collegium started with 160 pupils. The opening ceremonies were to begin with a theological debate: for seven days religious theses remained nailed to a church door in Vilnius. The Jesuits were prepared to defend them; however, no one appeared for the dispute. The following day, the Latin "Comoedia Hercules" was performed in the Collegium courtyard and classes began on October 23, 1570. From the very beginning, five subjects were taught: 1. elementary grammar, 2. grammar, 3. syntax, 4. poetics, 5. rhetoric. Philosophy was added in 1571 (logic, mathematics and natural sciences were also taught at philosophy class). Theology was established in 1574. In founding the Collegium, it was foreseen that it would eventually develop into a university: therefore, the Collegium may be considered as the beginning of Vilnius University, and its history — the direct prehistory of the latter.

Tuition was not charged at first, but later voluntary tuition was instituted — the well-to-do paid according to their means. Impoverished students were provided with room and board. Sons of Lithuanian nobility attended the Collegium — for example, ten-year old Jonas Karolis Katkevičius (Chodkiewicz), who later became famous for his victory over the Swedish army in 1605. Several sons of Russian dukes also attended the Collegium. The Jesuit lecturers were a strictly international group — among them a Pole, a German, a Belgian, a Scot, an Irishman, a Croat, and a Spaniard. Some information has survived not only concerning learning, but also students' recreation: they were allowed to shoot from a bow, for example, but could not use iron-tipped arrows.

To reorganize the Collegium into a university proved to be no ordinary task. Founding a collegium did not require state permission (Schools belonged to the Church), but establishment of a university was looked upon as the prerogative of an emperor or Pope. Only they could grant a university the right to award universally-accepted degrees (ius ubique docendi). Bishop Protase-vičius appealed to the Pope on this matter in 1576, but the Roman Curia decided to consult the opinion of Stephen Bathory, who had just been crowned King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania.

Bathory, a renowned military leader and administrator, was an enlightened and tolerant man. He approved the establishment of a university in Lithuania, and expressed this decision in a document written in Lwow (Lemberg), on July 8, 1578. However, the document was sealed only with the seal of Poland — the seal of Lithuania, without which no decree was valid in its territory, was missing. The Chancellor of Lithuania Mikalojus Radvila (Radziwill) and the Vice Chancellor Eustachijus Valavičius (Wollowicz) refused to affix the necessary seal. Both illustrious advocates of the Reformation, they had hopes of founding a Protestant university, not a Catholic one in Vilnius.

In the early spring of 1579, Stephen Bathory arrived in Lithuania. The Jesuits and the collegium students greeted him with a major celebration. On April 1, 1579, the King prepared a new document establishing the university, but again it was delayed by the opposition. Only that fall, after the King had threatened to dismiss the obstinate Vice Chancellor Valavičius, was the state seal of Lithuania affixed to the document. On October 30, 1579 (tertio calendas novembris), Pope Gregory XIII finally ensured the existence of Vilnius University with a special bull "Dum Attenta." This is held to be the official founding date of the university. Therefore, the 400-year anniversary of Vilnius University was celebrated on October 30, 1979.

Due to the slower tempo of those times, the papal document reached Vilnius only in September of the following year. That is when the university formally opened. For two centuries a marble plaque hung by its gates with the inscription: "Academia Universitas Societatis lesu. Erecta Anno 1580."

The words "academia" and "universitas" when used in this plaque, or in other documents of the era, are synonymous. However, it is common to refer to this first period in the life of the university (until 1773), as the period of the Academy.


The founding of the Academy undoubtedly had great intellectual consequences. Not wanting to defer to Koenigsberg University and centers of Western European scholarship, the Jesuits made it the spiritual and cultural center of the country. The Lithuanian community regarded the Academy as an object of pride, understanding its significance to the country's education and economy. The Academy exercised a wide influence - directly to those who attended it and indirectly to the students in all Lithuanian schools, educated by the alumni of the Academy. Besides Vilnius, there were Jesuit collegia in Nesvyžius (Nesvizh, 1585), Kražiai (1616), Gardinas (Grodno, 1626), Kaunas (1648), as well as the North Baltic region — in Riga and Tartu (both 1584). Some of these collegia, for example, the one in Kražiai, functioned almost as branches of the Vilnius Academy.

The Academy gained notable achievements even in the first decades of existence. At the beginning the Academy (with the Collegium) had 500 students, but by 1618, their number had grown to 1210. The students represented a mixture of social, national, and even religious backgrounds. Judging from incomplete data, until 1650, 46 persons received their doctorate or licentiate degrees in theology: 12 Prussians, 7 Lithuanians, 6 Poles, 5 Russians, 5 Masovians, 4 Samogitians, 4 Spaniards, 1 Englishman, 1 Portuguese and 1 Italian (some of the "Prussians," it seems, were virtually Lithuanians). About 30 persons received master's degrees in philosophy and liberal arts: from these 8 were Lithuanians, 6 Masovians, 2 Poles and 2 Samogitians. Among the students we find Latvians, Estonians, Swedes, Danes, Norwegians, Germans, Scots, Finns, and Tartars. In 1648, King Ladislas IV was greeted by students in 18 languages. Of course, in such an environment, national disagreements were bound to arise.

Even though it is difficult to know the exact ethnic make-up of the university, it is thought that the majority of students in the beginning classes were local inhabitants — Lithuanians, while the more advanced faculties of philosophy and theology were more international — Lithuanians made up only about 40% of the students. Classes were taught solely in Latin. There were always a score of professors at the Academy, among them Irish, English, Belgians, Danes, Spaniards, Italians, Norwegians, Portuguese, Russians, Scots, Swedes, Ukrainians, Germans, and others. Lithuanians and Poles were also numerous. The first rector of the Academy was a Masovian — Piotr Skarga, a noted theologian, apologist, preacher, royal advisor, and master or rhetoric. There were other rectors and professors, including Lithuanians, who were his intellectual equals. The first Lithuanian rector was Jonas Gruževskis (Gruzewski), who held this post from 1618-25 and again 1642-3. The Jesuits brought Vilnius closer to the Western thought of the times, and made it a participant in the intellectual milieu of Europe.

A library was established at the Academy, which after 400 years grew to be one of the richest libraries in Eastern Europe. In 1579, it contained 4500 volumes, and in 1773 about 11,000 (Of those 250 were in Polish and 7 in Lithuanian). The Academy had its own printing press. By the end of the 16th century many more books were being printed in Vilnius than in Koenigsberg. More books in various languages were printed in Vilnius than in all of Poland, and they were distributed throughout many countries, including Russia, Germany, Hungary, and the Balkan states. From its beginning until 1773, the Academy published 1354 books in Latin, 1080 in Polish, and 85 in Lithuanian.

At the beginning, the Academy consisted of two faculties, philosophy and theology, besides the preparatory school. Probably due to the opposition of Cracow University, law and medicine were not established at first. The faculty of law appeared in 1644 and the School of Medicine about 1763. The philosophy curriculum required three years; after completing it, one could study theology for four more years. The faculty of theology prepared the clergy, while the faculty of philosophy was attended by lay students as well.

The religious aims of the Jesuits governed the course of study, teaching methodologies, and organizational matters of the Academy. The Academy followed the rules laid down by the General of the Order — these were called, "Ratio atque institutio studiorum Societatis lesu." Teaching merged the traditions of Italian humanism, Spanish Catholic renewal, and French rationalism. The students first learned Latin and Greek and read the classics in those languages. Many classical language textbooks were published in Vilnius. In the faculty of theology attention was paid to the Hebrew language as well. Some contemporary languages were studied, including Lithuanian, which of course was particularly useful to the clergy working in the area. The philosophy of Aristotle, with commentaries, was the primary subject at the faculty of philosophy. Students also read St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, William of Occam, and other medieval thinkers. Also, the philosophic school of Coimbra (Portugal) had a considerable influence in Vilnius. The faculty of philosophy also included lectures in physics, natural sciences, and mathematics. The works of Vesalius, Fracastoro, Harvey, and Descartes were well-known in Vilnius. Students were exposed to some studies in meteorology, astronomy, and cosmology. The curriculum of ethics included elements of economics, politics, and sociology. An important place was assigned to logic, including the foresights of modern logic and semiotics. Finally, there was some education in the arts (Chair of Music).

The faculty of theology, although containing the fewest number of students, was considered the most important. It had more professors than the other faculties. The theological works written by the professors and students greatly contributed to the fundamental doctrine of Counter-Reformation and this had great impact not only in Lithuania and Poland, but in other countries as well. Noted in this field were Skarga, Gruževskis, Jakub Wujek, and later Adalbert Tylkowski. The Jesuits did not lack enthusiasm for helping the Counter-Reformation: they not only wrote polemic manuscripts, but also prepared debates with religious dissenters, especially with Arians. This confrontation soon achieved some important results: the religious battle in the country was decided in favor of the Catholics by the mid-17th century. Adherents of the Reformation have remained to this day of only marginal significance in Lithuania (and Poland). University graduate missionaries, by the way, managed to reach distant lands: Andrius Rudamina worked in China between 1625 and 1631, and left writings in Chinese reprinted even in our century.

In the first half of the 17th century, in the Academy and around it, there emerged a group of scholars, which led some researchers to speak of this time as "the first Lithuanian period in the university's history." The Academy emphasized its Lithuanian nature not in its language or culture, but from the legal point of view. Nevertheless it played a significant part in encouraging the use of the Lithuanian language.

As was mentioned, the Academy's press published some Lithuanian books. Probably the first (though never found) was a Lithuanian translation of a short catechism by the noted Dutch activist of the Counter-Reformation, Peter Canisius. In 1595 the Academy printed the catechism by Mikalojus Daukša, and in 1599, the same Daukša's Postilla, which is a notable, if not the most notable monument of Old Lithuanian. In his preface to Postilla, Daukša provided the first convincing argument for the use of Lithuanian in its own right. His words still have their emotional and symbolic weight in the Lithuania of today.

Many Lithuanian preachers gained prominence under the auspices of the Academy and Church of St. John. One of them was Rector Gruževskis; also noted were Jokūbaitis, Galminas, Pikelis, and others. However, the most famous preacher was Konstantinas Sirvydas (Szyrwid), a religious author of originality, who published the two-volume Punktai Sakymų (Gospel Points, 1629-44). He was also the author of the Polish-Latin-Lithuanian dictionary, Dictionarium Trium Linguarum, whose first edition is thought to have been printed about 1620. Sirvydas developed many Lithuanian neologisms used even now. His assistant, Jonas Jaknavičius (Jachnowicz), also published several religious works in Lithuanian.

In 1646, the Academy printed a Lithuanian hymnal written by Saliamonas Mozerka Slavočinskis (Slawoczyhski) — a significant event in the history of Lithuanian poetry. The book contained good translations of the psalms paraphrased by the most famous poet of the Polish Renaissance, Jan Kochanowski. The early secular poetry in Lithuanian is also connected with the Academy — panegyrics which were read during academic festivities and ceremonies.

The Jesuits, with their predilection for pomposity and extravagance, were famous for their theater devoted to the propagation of Catholic doctrine. Music and visual effects played important roles in these productions. The subjects did not deal solely with Biblical history, but were also taken from pagan mythology, reinterpreted in the spirit of Catholicism. The Jesuits had the opportunity of using the colorful, ancient, pagan mythology of Lithuania, and in the prologues and intermezzos, the vernacular (Lithuanian, sometimes White Russian) could be heard. To some extent this theater influenced the theaters of Russia and the Ukraine.

It should be noted, that the Academy was a positive force in East Slavic cultural life, not just in Lithuanian (or Polish). One of its students, Meletij Smotricki, published a Slavic grammar in Vievis, 1619, which virtually initiated the East Slavic philology.

Vilnius Academy contributed a Baroque tinge to Lithuania. This can be seen in the architecture of Vilnius; the architectural Baroque ensemble in Vilnius is one of the most notable in Europe. The Baroque style, brought by the Jesuits, affected and diversified the very life-style of Vilnius as well.

A significant Baroque poet and theoretician of poetry, Motiejus Kazimieras Sarbievijus (Sarbievius, Sarbiewski), was a former student and then a professor in the Academy. Of Masovian descent, but a participant in the cultural life of Lithuania, and having become a Lithuanian patriot, Sarbievijus wrote poetry in Latin. For this he received a papal prize and the name, "Horatio of the Sarmatians." His most important work, Lyricorum Libri Tres, was first published in 1625, in Cologne. Later his books were printed in Antwerp, Lyons, and elsewhere; the title page to one of these books was designed by Rubens. Even today, the poetry of Sarbievijus is regarded as a treasure of both Lithuanian and Polish literature.

A close associate of Sarbievijus was Žygimantas Liauksminas (Lauxmin), of noble Samogitian ancestry. His textbook on Latin rhetoric, Praxis Oratoria (first edition 1648), a polemic about the emerging faults of the Baroque, was popular in all of Europe. The first music textbook in Lithuania, Ars et Praxis Musicae (first edition 1667), is also thought to be his. Some of his compositions are still performed today after three hundred years.

However, the most famous Lithuanian author, who wrote in Latin, was Albertas Kojelavičius-Vijūkas (Kojalowicz-Wijuk), a native of Kaunas. For several years he taught various subjects from rhetoric to theology at the Academy. He printed two volumes of Historia Lituana, the first of which was published in Danzig in 1650, and the second in Antwerp, 1669. This book takes in the period from legendary times to the death of Sigismund Augustus (in 1572). Written with logic and style and not avoiding critical comments, it reminds one of the ancient masters of the genre, especially the works of Titus Livius. This history of Kojelavičius was translated into German and Polish; many generations of historians, up to the 19th century, used it as a main source of information about Lithuania's past.

Of course, the activities of the university were not limited to humanistic subjects, much less Lithuanian ones. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, rapid advances were made in geodetics, ballistics, and the science of fortification, all of which required the science of mathematics. The most famous mathematician of 17th century Vilnius was Osvaldas Krygeris (Kruger), known as "the Archimedes of his age." He left works not only in mathematics, but also in ballistics and astronomy. It was through his efforts that Vilnius acquired a telescope. Krygeris spoke positively about the heliocentric system of Copernicus. (We might add that Copernicus' book, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, can still be found in the library of the University of Vilnius — the same copy, so the story goes, that was brought to Copernicus on his deathbed.). Subscribing to the ideas of Osvaldas Krygeris, besides some others, was Albertas Diblinskis (Diblinski), whose Centuria Astronomica, printed in 1639, was the first tract on astronomy in Lithuania and all the territories presently administered by the USSR. A Lithuanian nobleman, Kazimieras Semenavičius (Siemienowicz), who had some ties with the Academy, published his work Artis Magnae Artilleriae Pars Prima in 1650 in Amsterdam. It was later translated into French, German, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, and English, and recently, into Russian. In this volume he discusses, probably for the first time, a special kind of rockets, a virtual prototype of present-day military and space missiles. Semenavičius, it is to be noted, denounced wars and did not prescribe any military functions to his rockets.

Martynas Smigleckis (Smiglecki), from Lwow, who taught philosophy and theology in Vilnius, gained an international reputation for his work, Logica (1618). He also authored an important book on economics, O Lichwie (About Interest), in which he criticized serfdom, as incompatible with Christian morality. Public administration was widely discussed in the works of Aaronas Aleksandras Olizarovskis (Olizarowski), in whose law books one may discern the elements of political economy, sociology, and political science. He also maintained that the dependence of the peasant-serfs is against the will of God, civil laws, and humanity. A Spaniard from Granada, Benedictus de Soxo, distinguished himself in the field of canon law.

The work at the Academy did not always flow smoothly. It experienced high and low tides, and sometimes would break off entirely. The 17th century history of Lithuania, and so the history of the Academy, is full of danger and misfortune. The second half of the century is clearly marked by decline.

Even by 1610, Vilnius Academy sustained major fire losses: the students of philosophy and theology were forced to move from Vilnius to Pultusk and Nesvizh, for a long seventeen-year stay. There were also inherent reasons for the decline. With the victory of Catholicism, the state government limited or sometimes even exiled non-Catholics; intellect was no longer challenged by religious controversy. The spirit of Counter-Reformation which won the masses, lost its intellectual character and became vulgarized. Dialogue with those of other beliefs gave way to intolerance. The climate of Sarmatism, popular in Poland at the time, was transferred to Lithuania and brought with it anarchy, egocentrism, stagnation, a peculiar type of mania grandiosa, and an almost oriental kind of isolation. The number of foreign students decreased at the Academy, and ties with Europe disintegrated. This intellectual decline was followed by a decline in linguistic style: as the Baroque degenerated, a pomposity and a verbosity devoid of meaning became the mode. The dialogue between Vilnius and Protestant Tartu (Dorpat) University, founded in 1632, could have influenced the entire history of the Baltic region; unfortunately it was never initiated under the circumstances.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth became involved in long, difficult wars with Sweden, followed by an invasion by Moscow. In 1655, the army of Czar Alexis occupied Vilnius and inflicted considerable damage; the Academy was also burned and devastated. Some students left the city and reached the universities of Bohemia, Austria, and Germany. The beginning of the 18th century saw a new wave of misfortunes: attacks by Swedes, Russians and Saxons, famine, plague and incessant fires. For all these reasons cultural activity in Vilnius and Lithuania barely vegetated for almost a century (1655-1741): it was limited to rebuilding destroyed property, and preserving achievements already attained. Student discipline also suffered. There were strikes and other excesses. In 1665, several students joined a group of anti-Semites preparing a pogrom in Vilnius (for which, by the way, they were summarily expelled from the Academy). Even more scandalous was the attack on a Calvinist prayer house by some Academy students — they razed the building to its foundations.

The number of students at this time was perhaps eight hundred. This is no small number considering that, for example, Moscow University, even in the mid-eighteen century, had only 50 students. However, the level of teaching and student scholarship left much to be desired.

After 1741, the Jesuit Academy underwent a reorientation and a rebirth. During this period, Jesuit intellectual life intensified throughout the world: there was a tendency to study natural sciences and to apply more modern experimental methods. A contributing factor was the rivalry with the Piarist Order, which began to establish their own schools in Lithuania starting in 1726. The Piarists employed a more modern educational methodology ir the schools, and this forced the Jesuits to try harder. After 1730, the Academy introduced French, and later German, and in about 1750, the history and geography lectures were introduced. There were improvements in classical language studies as well. In addition to scholastic philosophy, modern philosophy gained prominence. The Samogitian, Benediktas Dobševičius (Dobszewicz), published a work in 1761, Praelectiones Logicae, in which he discussed Descartes, Bacon, Locke, not avoiding Leibnitz or Ch. Wolff, Probably of more significance, however, was the Logika (1769) of Kazimieras Narbutas (Narbutt). Written in Polish, it reflected the ideas of the encyclopaedists and the Enlightenment.

Due to historic misfortunes, trade developed slowly, so the main stimulus of exact and natural sciences was lacking. Nevertheless, in the 18th century, as part of the process of modernization and secularization, psychology, mathematics, and physics branched away from philosophy. By the second half of the 18th century, the Academy's course in physics could rival any in Europe: the students of Vilnius were well acquainted not only with Copernicus, Newton, and Huygens, but also, e.g., with the dynamic atomism of Rudjer Josip Boscovich, which supposedly contained some foresights of the theory of relativity. Tomas Žebrauskas (Žebrowski), a mathematician and architect from Samogitia, established an observatory at the Academy in 1753, whose building he planned himself. Soon a separate 600-volume library was founded there. The observatory in Vilnius, whose buildings and some instruments are still extant, is one of the oldest in Europe. The work of Žebrauskas was carried on by Martynas Počobutas (Poczobutt), who reorganized and modernized the observatory; he received the title of King's Astronomer, became a member of the British Royal Academy of Science, and a corresponding member of the French Academy of Sciences. Besides many valuable astronomic (especially of Mercury) observations, Počobutas established the geographic coordinates of Vilnius and other areas of Lithuania. He was rector from 1780 to 1799. These years already belong to a new period in the history of Vilnius University, when its very name was changed: Vilnius Academy became the Schola Princeps Magni Ducatus Lithuaniae.


The new period in the life of the University only reaffirmed the course of secularization and modernization, which had begun in 1741. The process, however, was not without drama. Because of their missionary zeal, the Jesuits always had numerous enemies; in the age of enlightened despots, the very existence of Jesuit Order became precarious. In 1759, the order was banned in Portugal, in 1764 in France, and in 1768 in Spain, Sicily and Naples. Finally Pope Clement XIV in his breve, "Dominus ac Redemptor" (July 21,1773), abolished the order completely. On September 10th of the same year this news reached the Diet of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

The abolishment of the order, which may be viewed as a prelude to the French Revolution, coincided with some essential changes in the life of the dual Commonwealth. The matter of reform had long been fomenting in Lithuania and Poland. But reforms were attempted too late — the state was not able to hold on to its independence. It was threatened by the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian monarchies, which finally partitioned it. Common danger and problems united the nobles of Lithuania and Poland. Lithuanian separatism declined in this period, and Polish slowly became the dominant language of the higher classes in Lithuania. Admittedly, the Academy played a role in this matter. The ideas of the Enlightenment, physiocratism, and mercantilism became widespread. The spirit of democracy, kindred to the ideas of the American Revolution, was embraced by some nobles and bourgeoisie. Eventually, a leader emerged — he was Tadeusz Košciuszko, a well-known participant in the American War for Independence, of Lithuanian origin. All these events and ideas were reflected in the fate of the University of Vilnius.

At the dissolution of the Jesuit Order, the Academy and many other schools of the Commonwealth were left without supervision. A Commission for National Education of Poland and Lithuania, usually called the Educational Commission, was formed in October 14, 1773, to reorganize the schools. It was headed by Joachim Chreptowicz (Chreptavičius), Ignacy Massalski (Masalskis), Adam Czartoryski (Čartoriskis) and other Lithuanian and Polish noblernen. This was, most likely, the first ministry of education in Europe. Although similar commissions were formed in France, Prussia and Austria, their work was of much more limited scope.

Some of the Jesuits (in addition to those arriving from other countries, where the order was dissolved earlier), remained in Vilnius and continued their scholarly work. The rector appointed by the Educational Commission, Martynas Počobutas, showed unusual administrative skills. The University became a secular institution of higher learning (its name was changed in 1781). It had two colleges: 1. the physical sciences, where astronomy, mathematics, natural sciences and medicine were taught, and 2. the moral sciences, which included theology, literature, history, and law. Philosophy was eliminated, and theology was not of the same high caliber as before. Later the following subjects were added: architecture, drawing, applied mechanics, and topography. The course of study lasted four years. Student ranks were joined by poorer nobles, the bourgeoisie, and possibly one or two commoners. It is known that lectures were attended by clergy, by Lithuanian army officers, and even by barber-surgeons. The Schola Princeps supervised the other schools in Lithuania.

The ex-Jesuits were not prepared to teach mechanics, biology, or other new disciplines; specialists in these areas were imported from abroad. In 1782-83, clergy made up the entire faculty of the Educational Commission schools, but ten years later, 50% were laymen.

Exact and natural sciences progressed most during this period in the University, whose teachers were equal to the best professors in Europe. Pranas Norvaiša (Narwoysz), from eastern Lithuania, became noted in the field of mathematics. He tried to publish a special journal in Vilnius, called the "Acta Mathematical' Norvaiša's biography is typical of the spirit of the age: even though an ex-Jesuit, he estranged himself from the Church, and joined a Masonic lodge -"The Zealous Lithuanian" ("Gorliwy Litwin"). Among other notable mathematicians, there was Tadas Kundzičius (Kundzicz). The study of astronomy, which was supervised by Rector Počobutas himself, was doing particularly well. The new observatory buildings were completed in 1788. The instruments were made abroad and verified at the Greenwich Observatory. Meteorological observations also took place at the observatory in Vilnius. Jozef Mickiewicz taught experimental physics for many years. Many consider him to be the uncle of the famous Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz; others contend that they only had the same surname.

"The Father of Botany in Lithuania," Frenchman Joannes E. Gilibert, established a botanical garden in Vilnius, printed studies of zoological observations, and also bequeathed a 3,000-volume library to the University. After Gilibert's departure for his native land, the chairman of the faculty of physical sciences became Johann Georg Adam Forster, who in 1772-75, took part in the James Cook expedition around the world, and who left a valuable description of his travels. He is regarded as one of the first early evolutionists. After leaving Vilnius, Forster was an active participant in the French Revolution, where he perished. He was replaced by a native scholar — Stanislovas Bonifacas Jundzilas (Jundzill), who was a typical proponent of utilitarian research of nature, and gathered much information about Lithuanian flora. Jundzilas expertly organized the botanical gardens. He worked in the field of geology as well. A Samogitian, Jurgis Pabrėža, who was a monk noted for his saintly life, also had serious achievements in botany and pharmacology.

Medicine was not studied extensively in the old Vilnius Academy. Now it expanded with the help of foreign professors, especially the French surgeon, Jacques J. Briotet, and the Italian Stefano Bissi (Bisius). Stefano Bissi was the first to perform an autopsy in Vilnius and was noted for his treatise, De Mania, Melancholia et Plica Polonica. Both of them considerably raised the level of medical studies in Vilnius, were not afraid to enter into conflict with the more conservative elements of society, and educated a generation of local medics. A pioneeer in training medical personnel for assisting in birth and delivery in Lithuania was the Frenchman, Michel Rėgnier.

Drawing, printing, architecture and other fields of art were, as far as we know, optional in the Academy; they were aimed at developing general education, but were not a part of the scholarly curriculum. In the Schola Princeps, however, separate chairs in art and architecture were established. At first, architecture was taught by the Freemason Martin Knackfus, the first to propagate principles of Classicism in Baroque Vilnius. He was later replaced by Laurynas Stuoka-Gucevičius (Gucewicz), descended from serfs in northern Lithuania. Stuoka-Gucevičius is thought to be one of the foremost Neo-Classical architects not only in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but in the whole world. His City Hall and Cathedral are considered among the finest structures in Vilnius. Painting was taught by Pranciškus Smuglevičius (Smuglewicz), also a Classicist, and a schoolmate and rival of Jacques Louis David. His disciples formed a creative group, which later acquired the name of the Vilnius School of Art.

Heading the moral sciences faculty was the theologian and jurist, formerly belonging to the Piarist order, Jeronimas Stroinovskis (Strojnowski), who succeeded Počobutas as rector and later became the bishop of Vilnius. He was one of the leading physiocrats of Lithuania and Poland, as well as statesman, who assisted in preparing the civil and criminal code of Lithuania. His book, Treatise on Natural and Political Laws, Economy and the Law of Nations, of 1785, had five editions and was popular in many countries, far from Lithuania. History was taught in spirit of Enlightenment by Tomasz Hussarzewski, and poetics by Filip Golahski from Cracow.

Many of these scholars continued their, academic work in the later period of the University, when Lithuania and Poland lost their independence.

Efforts to reform the state were strangled by foreign intervention. This resulted in the revolt of 1794, led by Košciuszko. Vilnius University played a part in these events: revolutionary pamphlets (also in Lithuanian) were printed by the University press, and some students and professors, including Knackfus and Stuoka-Gucevičius, joined the insurgent ranks. After the revolt was defeated, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned for the third and final time in 1795. (A repetition of sorts took place after a century and a half, in 1939-40, when both countries were divided by Hitler and Stalin.).

Lithuania and Vilnius fell to Czarist Russia. In 1797, two years after Lithuania's incorporation into Russia, the University received a new statute. The name of Lithuania disappeared from its title. Now it was called Schola Princeps Vilnensis. Russian was added to the curriculum. On the other hand. Polish had almost replaced Latin. The right of overseeing the whole of Lithuania's educational system was revoked, and academic freedom and autonomy were limited. Soon, however, the fate of the University took an unexpected turn, and it entered one of its most important periods. That this should happen during a period of occupation seems most illogical; however, it was determined by the unique political and cultural conditions of the times.


Czar Alexander I, one of the few intellectual and liberal Russian emperors, understood that reforms were needed. His period of rule was marked by the Europeanization and cultural growth of Russia. In many ways, Russia reached a level in the early 19th century, which later on was no longer attainable. This situation — at least for a while — proved beneficial for Lithuania as well.

In 1802-03, the Czar instituted empire-wide educational reform, basing his decisions, in part, on the experience of the Educational Commission. On April 16, 1803, the Schola Princeps Vilnensis became the Vilnius Imperial University (Imperatoria Universitas Vilnensis). This act guaranteed "the existence for all time of the ancient University of Vilnius, founded in 1578, renewed in 1781, equaling the most enlightened nations of Europe in the level of scholarship." The University again enjoyed some measure of autonomy and legal immunity. It was assigned three responsibilities: educational research, teaching, and supervising the schools in Vilnius' district. This district was made up of eight administrative provinces, including not only Lithuania, but White Russia and a large part of the Ukraine. These areas had about 9 million inhabitants.

The University statute was used as an example to other universities being founded in the Russian Empire — those at Kazan, Kharkov, and St. Petersburg. The liberal Polish magnate, Duke Adam Czartoryski, was designated the supervisor for education for the Vilnius province. Being a personal friend of the Czar, he also had considerable influence with him. He continued in his supervisory duties until 1823.

The University had four faculties: 1. physics-mathematics, 2. medicine, 3. moral and political sciences, 4. literature and the fine arts. There was a botanical garden, a museum of anatomy, a zoological collection, clinics and laboratories of physics and chemistry. A seminary and a library of over 60,000 volumes completed the University complex.

The number of students increased from 290 (1804) to 1,321 (1830). In this respect, the University was the biggest in the Empire: some years it was attended by more students than all the other universities combined. There were 32 chairs and 55 subjects taught. The salaries were lower than elsewhere (for example, up to five times lower than at Tartu University, which was financially supported by German barons of the Baltic region). However, the University attracted numerous scholars of note because of its ancient heritage and traditions and the cultural environment of Vilnius. Some were encouraged by a sense of patriotic duty as well. The university had educational ties with Vienna, Gottingen, Heidelberg, Leipzig, Halle, Jena, as well as with the universities of France, England, Italy, and Russia.

Until 1823, the University, headed by bright and energetic rectors — the aforementioned Jeronimas Stroinovskis (Strojnowski), then Jan Sniadecki and Szymon Malewski — matured and grew. Its activities were temporarily interrupted by Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The years 1814 to 1823 are considered "the Golden Age" of the University. This was a time of liberalism and nationalism. The University became the center of Polish patriotism and culture; according to the Polish scholar and statesman of the era, Stanislaw Staszic, "if the light had not come on in Wilno, it would have gone out in all of Poland." Here attempts were made for understanding the reasons for the fall of the dual Commonwealth; here the effort and hope for reestablishing independence were concentrated. Polish Romanticism was born here — a concept which had Lithuanian roots and universal meaning. A few notable University alumni, having perceived their patriotic duty, made Vilnius and the University known for all time. The University was not only a leader of a national, religious and literary rebirth, but it also contributed significantly to scholarship and gave the country specialists in several areas.

As far as Lithuanian culture was concerned, the University's role was rather ambivalent. The University Polonized Lithuanian nobility and townspeople, and therefore diminished the weight of the ethnic Lithuanian culture. However, the goal of achieving independence was common to Lithuanians, Poles, and to the people of other origin. Romanticism encouraged an interest in Lithuanian folklore, language, and customs. It also encouraged the creation of a Lithuanian literature. It was here at the University, and under its influence, that the Lithuanian (and on a smaller scale, White Russian) nationalism was born, which was to spread and flower at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Great Polish scholars and poets, who popularized Lithuania's name and traditions, were and are still considered as treasure of both nations. Both Lithuania and Poland can and should remember the "Golden Age" of Vilnius University as a page shared in their histories.

Mathematics and the natural sciences occupied a prominent place for many years at the Schola Princeps. After 1803, they enjoyed a considerable authority as well. In the development of mathematics in Lithuania, some noted names were the Samogitian Zakarijas Niemčevskis (Niemczewski), who also contributed in Lithuanian studies, and especially Zigmantas Revkovskis (Rewkowski) from Vilnius, an expert in the theory of probability. The most famous physicist was Feliks Drzewihski from Wolyn. Of special significance to the cultural development of Vilnius was the arrival from Poland of two brothers — Jan Sniadecki and Jędrzej Sniadecki. The former was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, philosopher, a pupil of Laplace and Hershel, who propagated empirical and almost positivist views. He was also embroiled in a bitter polemic with Kant. He headed the observatory, and for a while — the whole University, significantly raising the level of scholarship. The younger brother, Jędrzej Sniadecki, worked in chemistry, biology and medicine, referring the progress in these areas in Europe, and often volunteering his own research. His book, Theory of Living Things (Teoria jestestw organicznych, 1804-38), translated into German and French, was especially innovative. He also expressed himself in the fields of education, journalism and satire — in a word, he was a typical product of the Enlightenment.

Biology was represented by two early evolutionists — Cuvier's pupil, Ludwig Heinrich Bojanus, one of the founders of comparative anatomy, and Lamarck's pupil, Eduard L. Eichwald. The latter outlined Darwinistic theories about thirty years before Darwin in his book, Zoologia Specialis (1828-31). Vilnius was also the site of the first chair in agriculture in all of Europe.

The faculty of medicine, with its clinics and institutes, was the leading one in the Empire and served as an example to the equivalent schools in Russia and Poland. Its virtual founder was the famous therapist, Johann P. Frank, who also was associated with the universities of Vienna and Gottingen. His son Joseph Frank, who continued the father's work, left a 15-volume opus: Praxeos Medicinae Universae Praecepta (Practical Advice in Medicine, 1821-43), plus some interesting memoirs of his age. Both of them created a virtual "Frankian" school of medicine in Lithuania. The poet Slowacki's stepfather, August Bėcu, also worked in medicine, although he is better known for his ambivalent role during the period of repressions which took place in 1823.

Even though all the rectors supported the faculties of natural sciences, frequently forgetting the humanities, it was the latter which had a decisive influence on the spiritual atmosphere of the time and an important role in the history of Lithuania and Poland.

Philosophy, once banished from the Schola Princeps, was reinstated after the 1803 reforms. The philosophy professors were known for their high quality of scholarship: Johannes Heinrich Abicht, a disciple of Kant, Aniol Dowgird (Daugirdas), a Kant critic, and a disciple of Schelling — Jozef Goluchowski. The University student, and later, professor Joachim Lelewel, a radical proponent of Polish independence, was known throughout Europe. History was also taught by Ignacy Onacewicz, the first to introduce the history of Lithuania into the University curriculum. Professors Ignacy Danilowicz and Jozef Jaroszewicz taught law and earned a reputation as historians: the former studied and published early Lithuanian laws and annals, the latter authored a three-volume history of Lithuanian civilization.

As was mentioned previously, architecture and art were also taught at the University. The professorship ranged from Karol Podczaszynski, whose modest works ended the Neo-Classical period in Lithuania, to Jan Rustem, a Greek from Turkey, whose works could be classified with the best early 19th century European painting. Rustem's works guaranteed the originality of the Vilnius School of Art. Incidentally, one of Rustem's pupils in Vilnius was the sixteen-year old Taras Shevchenko, a talented artist and the most famous poet of the Ukraine. Casimir Jelski (Jelskis) from Vilnius taught sculpture, and the Englishman Joseph Saunders taught graphics. Vilnius University art department was not only involved with developing artistic talent, but was concerned with the cultural life of the country as a whole.

In the faculty of literature and fine arts, classical philology had a primary role, headed by the noted Professor Gottfried Ernest Groddeck. He was the faculty dean and the head librarian of the University. Groddeck prepared some fine philologists and bibliographers. His assistant Aleksandr Bohatkiewicz, in fact, taught the first bibliography course in the Empire. In addition, about one hundred Lithuanian and Polish writers developed under Groddeck's tutelage. Slavic philology was less distinguished; nevertheless, the Russian language and literature professor, Ivan Lobojko, was rather esteemed in the community of Vilnius. He was interested in Lithuanian studies and had close ties with learned Lithuanians. There was no separate department of Polish studies at the University. Polish language and literature were studied in connection with rhetoric and poetry. These were taught by Euzebiusz Slowacki (the poet's father), and upon his death, by Leon Borowski, whose lectures influenced more than one future Lithuanian and Polish writer. English, French, German, and Italian languages were also taught. The latter was the most popular of all, probably because of the considerably large Italian community in Vilnius. A department of Oriental languages was planned, but never instituted. However, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian were taught at the University, and some alumni became famous Orientalists.

The University librarian Casimir Kontrym (Kantrimas), in 1822, suggested the establishment of a chair in Lithuanian language, since Lithuanian had always been taught in Koenigsberg, and the local Latvian and Estonian languages were part of the curriculum at Tartu (Dorpat). It would have seemed natural for Lithuanian to be taught in the capital city's institution of higher learning. But Kontrym's idea did not achieve results. What's more, during this period, Lithuanian language was not a part of any school curriculum in Lithuania. Polish finally became the dominant language at the University (only dissertations were still written in Latin). Unlike the old Academy, the University had almost no professors who stressed their Lithuanian background, no books in Lithuanian were printed at this time. Nevertheless, Lithuanian traditions and language were not foreign to the University. Interest in Lithuanian studies was spurred by Romanticism, by the beginnings of comparative historical linguistics, and finally, by the Lithuanian (Samogitian) national movement.

The liberal and democratic ideas, which spread across Europe after the Napoleonic Wars, reverberated loudly in Vilnius. Still alive too, were the echoes of Košciuszko's rebellion. Under the circumstances, the University of Vilnius — the center of intense scholarship, Western culture, and revolutionary moods — became a dangerous enclave in the feudal Russian Empire. Its influence could easily transfer to the Ukraine and Russia itself. In truth, it had already done so: one may discern a certain influence by Vilnius University, e.g., even in the Decembrists' rebellion of 1825. The last years of Alexander I's reign were notably more conservative than the first. They were followed by the truly tyrannical regime of Czar Nicholas I — "a thirty-years war with civilization and reason," according to a Russian emigre, Dolgorukov. The repressions applied to the University at this time resulted in its eventual decline.

Secret student societies, which were active at the University of Vilnius, left an imprint in the cultural history of Lithuania and Poland. In 1817, apparently under the influence of the Freemasons, the Society of Philomaths was founded; a more encompassing, but related group — the Philarets — emerged in 1820. They were to be societies for self-enlightenment, for bringing education to the commoners, but at least some of their members had deeper patriotic goals. In 1823, members of both societies were arrested. Three received jail sentences, and eighteen were deported to Russia. Czartoryski, who then resigned, was replaced by another associate of Alexander I — Senator Nikolai Novosiltsev, who was far from any kind of liberal. The petty Waclaw Pelikan became rector. Shortly before the secret student societies were crushed, Masonic lodges were declared illegal. The same fate awaited the "Szubrawcy" or "Naughty Ones" group, which was pledged to correct society's faults through humor and satire.

Laws and regulations governing the University changed significantly: surveillance, interrogation, and control were begun, a stricter student code was instituted, and Russian replaced Polish as the administrative language. Professors ideologically close to the Philomaths (Lelewel, Danilowicz, Goluchowski, Kontrym, and later, Onacewicz) were dismissed from the University. The revolution of 1830-31 only confirmed the suspicion that Vilnius University is opposed to the Czar and the occupation; that it radiates a way of thinking "unsuitable" to the Russian Empire. During the revolt, students in large numbers joined the rebels in the capital's countryside; several hundred formed a separate academic group of insurgents. After the revolt was quelled, there came a new wave of repressions. Authorities demanded a description of the political views of every professor, from Rector Pelikan. The percent of "unreliable" professors (and of course, students) proved to be too high ...

On May 1, 1832, by special decree, Czar Nicholas I closed the University of Vilnius. Student participation in the revolt was used more as a pretext: the government of Czarist Russia would have had to liquidate a center of dangerous ideas — sooner or later.

This was how a famous East European center of scholarship was crushed. Its functioning was interrupted for eighty-six years. It was a momentous blow to Vilnius and the whole of Lithuania: the University had formed the intellectual, and even the political life of the entire nation. Its closure would surely lead to an inevitable provincialism of city and state. However, several thousand University alumni dispersed throughout Lithuania and the territories of the former Duchy, continued their mission — to spread education, and the ideals of patriotism and democracy. Their influence was felt for many a decade, and some of their names are recalled even now.

Among these notables, we find two who entered the ranks of world literature — the poets Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki. They became authors while attending the University. Perhaps the most famous name associated with the University for all of its four centuries of life is that of Mickiewicz. Involved in the Philomath case, he was deported to Russia, and never returned to Vilnius. He immortalized this case in his work, and gave it symbolic value. Even now, after a hundred and fifty years, his drama about the Philomaths — "Forefathers' Eve" — is influencing the history of Poland and Eastern Europe. The works of Mickiewicz, dedicated to Vilnius and Lithuania, encouraged Polish as well as Lithuanian national identity: they belong to both nations. To a lesser degree, this was true of Slowacki, his contemporary and poetic rival, whose influence on modern Polish literature is as great as that of Mickiewicz. There were other Polish writers at the University, belonging to the so-called "Lithuanian School" — Jozef Ignacy Kraszewski, Ignacy Chodžko.

Most of the Polish students at the University of Vilnius thought of themselves as gente Lituani, nations Poloni: they were proud of their Lithuanian origin, but were patriots of a united Polish-Lithuanian state — they spoke and wrote strictly in Polish. Alongside this group, there existed others at the University, to whom the future of Lithuania belonged — those who viewed themselves as Lituani gente et natione. They made up a rather strong Samogitian current, even though they were not as well known as the Philomaths. Some of these educators and writers, masters and proponents of the Lithuanian language, are worthy of mention. At the center of the Samogitian movement probably was Simonas Stanevičius, known for his fables and the ode, "Honor of the Samogitians," which successfully expressed the spirit of the University and of the times. Simonas Daukantas, who had some ties with the Philomaths, became the first Lithuanian historian and a noteworthy prose writer. Motiejus Valančius, who studied theology at the University, later became Bishop in Samogitia. He was a writer, a community leader, and one of the first advocates of Lithuanian nationalism. Silvestras Valiūnas was a poet of note, Kajetonas Nezabitauskas, a bibliographer, and Liudvikas Jucevičius (Jucewicz), an ethnographer. Teodor Narbutt, a historian writing in Polish, may be associated with this group.

University alumni were active not only in their own country. Many of those, who left Lithuania on their own or as was more often the case, were exiled, served well in other countries. Adam Mickiewicz and Aleksander Chodžko taught at the College de France. Ignas Domeika (Domeyko) arrived in Chile and headed Santiago University there. He founded the first Chilean mining school, and using Lithuania as a model, reformed the educational system of the entire country. A mountan, Cerreo Domeyko, and a town, Puerto Domeyko, are named after him. Another former student of Vilnius University, Father H. M. Ryllo (Ryla), founded a French university in Beirut, Lebanon, and was its rector. J. Chodžko, finding himself in the Caucasus, performed the world's first triangulation of a mountainous region, and was one of the first to climb Mount Ararat. A close friend of Mickiewicz, Tomasz Zan, achieved notable work in geology and geography in the Urals and Siberia. Jozef Kowalewski and Jozef Sękowski became famous travelers and orientalists (the latter — also a Russian writer). It is impossible to enumerate all such accomplishments.


Only two faculties remained after the University was closed — medicine and theology. The first became the Academy of Medicine (Caesarea Medico-Chirurgica Academią Vilnensis), and the second, the Theological Academy (Academia Caesarea Romano Catholica Ecclesiastica). The observatory remained, but under the direction of St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences. A large part of the University library and other valuables went to the new Russian university at Kiev, which was established in 1834, as a sort of heir to the University of Vilnius.

The Academy of Medicine, which prepared physicians, veterinarians, pharmacists, and mid-wives, continued to be the best school of its kind in the Empire. However, in 1842, it too was closed because of its "unsuitable attitudes," and its students were dispersed throughout Russian universities. Most scholastic equipment also found its way to Kiev. The Theological Academy was moved to St. Petersburg in 1844. There, until 1917, it played an important role in the rebirth of Lithuanian nationalism; however, this period in its history has only a distant, indirect relationship with Vilnius University. The observatory, having accomplished many useful projects (for example, the first regular photographic solar observations were organized there), was finally closed in 1882.

Because there remained no more access to higher education in Vilnius, Lithuanians and other inhabitants of Lithuania went to study in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tartu, Kiev, Kharkov, Kazan, Warsaw. Some reached the universities in Western Europe and the United States. At the end of the nineteenth century, in many Russian universities (especially in Moscow), there was much Lithuanian cultural activity. Efforts to re-establish higher education in Lithuania's capital city continued for almost a hundred years. Between the numerous projects, there occurred some queer and sinister ones. After the 1863 revolt, a project to reopen the University was proposed by Mikhail Muraviev, who had put down the rebellion and was known as the "Hangman." University planned by him was to have been strictly Russian and Orthodox. This ominous proposal was never implemented.

After the 1905 revolution, the idea of reestablishing the University gained popularity among a wide segment of society. A declaration to this effect was issued in December, 1905, by the most notable Lithuanians of the time: Aleksandras Dambrauskas-Jakštas, Jonas Jablonskis, Kazimieras Jaunius, Maironis, Petras Vileišis. They were supported by the world-famous linguist Jan Baudouin de Courtenay and others. The same idea was discussed by the future president of the Republic of Lithuania — Antanas Smetona — in his newspaper, "Viltis." It was also supported on numerous occasions by Americans of Lithuanian origin.

In 1907, after the founding of the Lithuanian Educational Society and the Polish Society of Friends of the Sciences in Vilnius, concrete possibilities arose for the rebirth of the University. The Lithuanian political conference in Bern, in February 12-14, 1916, recognized the reopening of the University as one of the most important future tasks. It also stated that the University must serve all the inhabitants of Lithuania. More practical solutions were begun by the later conferences at Lausanne and Stockholm.

Concrete chance to reestablish the University occurred in 1918, after the fall of the Russian Empire and the defeat of Germany. Utilizing a unique historical opportunity, Lithuania again became independent after almost a century and a half. Poland, too, regained its independence, and laid claim to Lithuania's capital, Vilnius, where because of historical circumstances, a large Polish population existed, with its own cultural traditions. After seizing control in Russia, the Communists planned their expansion into Lithuanian and Polish territories. In the complex and constantly-changing situation, there arose real rivalry for Vilnius University. It was reopened three times by three different governments.

On December 5, 1918, the University was reestablished by the Lithuanian National Council. Classes were to start January 1st, 1919. However, the Red Army invaded Vilnius at this time, and the government of Lithuania was forced to move to Kaunas. An ephemeral, Communist Lithuanian-White Russian Republic was formed in Vilnius, led by the Lithuanian Communist, Vincas Kapsukas-Mickevičius. He decided to open a "Labor University" on March 13, 1919. This project fell through because on April 19, 1919 the Polish army marched into Vilnius. By the order issued August 28, 1919, by Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, the head of the Polish government, Vilnius University reopened for the third time. It was now named the Stephen Bathory University.

Pilsudski signed the decree not as the head of the Polish government, but only as the commander of the Polish Army. That is because Vilnius was not yet incorporated into Poland; Pilsudski had some far-reaching plans for a federation, affecting not only Lithuania, but White Russia and the Ukraine as well. His plans were never realized, however. Occupied Vilnius became a city of a Polish province; Lithuania did not recognize the occupation and continued to regard Vilnius as its historic and legal capital. Kaunas became the temporary capital of the Lithuanian Republic.

Lithuanian scholars, who moved to Kaunas from Vilnius or had arrived from elsewhere, decided to organize a Lithuanian university in Kaunas. Its official opening ceremonies took place during the fourth anniversary of Lithuania's independence — February 16,1922. Some years later, in 1930, it was named Vytautas the Great University.

In this way Vilnius University was essentially split in two — the Polish one in Vilnius, and the Lithuanian one in Kaunas. There was almost no contact between the two, since during the period between the wars, both countries regarded each other with hostility because of Vilnius, and had no diplomatic relations. Nevertheless, in their own ways, both Stephen Bathory and Vytautas the Great universities continued the traditions of the ancient Academy and the Imperial University. It should be noted here, that from the 16th to the 19th century, there was an essential duality within the University — it embraced both Polish and Lithuanian currents. Both Universities have left some notable and worthwhile accomplishments. In spite of nationalistic disharmony and disagreements, the legacy of the old University of Vilnius should not divide, but promote mutual understanding and respect between the two nations.


Stephen Bathory University began to function normally in 1921, when war-time activities ceased between Poland, Lithuania and Communist Russia. It functioned for almost twenty years — until the beginning of the Second World War. Being a strictly Polish institution, it contributed significantly to Polish cultural life. The University's influence in Poland, and through it in other countries, is felt even today. However, the Stephen Bathory University had very little contact with local Lithuanian culture. In Vilnius and its environs, a chauvinistic, repressive type of Polonization dominated, which especially gained strength after the death of Pilsudski in 1935. The University did not negate this spirit and sometimes even reinforced it.

Stephen Bathory University had six faculties: 1. humanities, 2. theology, 3. law and social sciences, 4. mathematics — natural sciences, 5. medicine, and 6. art. In 1938, the school of agriculture was opened. During the latter years of the University's existence in 1937-38, teaching personnel numbered 392 persons, and the student body consisted of 3,110 persons. It was the smallest number of students in Poland (for example, the universities at Cracow and Lwow had twice as many students). Most of the students were Polish; Lithuanians made up only 2.7%, even though their number was proportionately larger among the inhabitants of Vilnius and its district.

Numerous scholars of international repute taught at the University. This status was attained by some University alumni also. Among the first to be mentioned, should be Professor Marian Zdziechowski, Rector from 1925-27, knowledgeable in Russian religious thought and, in general, one of the most notable Polish intellectuals. Philosophy was taught by a scholar of Plato, and one of the founders of mathematical stylistics — Wincenty Lutoslawski. Stanislaw Pigon and Manfred Kridl taught Polish language and literature. A professor of political economy, Wladyslaw Zawadzki, worked to develop a new discipline — econometrics. Professor Wlodzimierz Godlowski achieved his reputation in brain research. A University graduate, docent Henryk Niewodniczanski, the first to prove the existence of magnetic bipolar radiation, later worked in Cambridge with Lord Rutherford, and was the director of the Polish Institute of Atomic Physics after the war.

Some University specialists devoted their time to the broader (as well as more specific) aspects of Lithuanian studies. Stefan Ehrenkreutz taught a course in Lithuanian historical law, emphasizing especially the Lithuanian Statute. Jan Adamus tried to research Lithuanian common law during pagan times. Henryk Lowmianski and Stanislaw Zajączkowski accomplished some studies in Lithuanian history. The former published a two-volume book about the beginnings of the Lithuanian state, and the latter was especially interested in the past of the Jotvingians. The linguist Jan Otrębski lectured in Lithuanian language and left a study about the dialect of Tverečius. After the Second World War, he published a three-volume Lithuanian grammar in Poland. One of his students, Jan Safarewicz, has also written significant works in Baltic and Lithuanian studies. Cezaria Ehrenkreutzowa and Maria Znamierowska-Prufferowa researched the ethnography of Vilnius district.

The achievements of the faculty of art deserve a special mention. This faculty tried to continue in the best traditions of the Vilnius School of Art. The head of the faculty was the famous artist-impressionist Ferdynand Ruszczyc. Architecture was taught by Juliusz Klos, and Marian Morelowski deserves particular mention for work in the history of the art and architecture of Vilnius. Members of the art department restored and decorated the buildings of the University, which from that time were thought of as architectural monuments. Thanks to them, new buildings were added as well.

Throughout its existence, Stephen Bathory University prepared 7,500 publications in various languages. Just like the Imperial University, it contributed much not only to scholarship, but also to Polish literature: an entire generation of young writers grew up there. Of exceptional importance to the development of Polish literature was the group calling itself, with the Lithuanian name, ,,Žagary."

The University library grew at this time to include 600,000 volumes. It accumulated many manuscripts about the history of the country, and of the University itself, selected and augmented works published in Vilnius, and formed a unique cartographic collection. Most of these treasures survive today.

Unfortunately, as even Polish historians admit (Prof. Stanislaw Swianiewicz), the true Philaretic atmosphere was not reborn at Stephen Bathory University, even though it was frequently alluded to at various academic ceremonies. The University never became the center of brotherhood for the various nationalities living in Vilnius. Lithuanians (and White Russians, as well) in the Poland of that time were looked upon as second-class citizens, doomed to the eventual loss of their national identities. Just before the Second World War, there were some anti-Semitic incidents at the University because of which Rector Wladyslaw Marian Jakowicki resigned in protest.

As early as 1929, efforts were made to institute a chair in Lithuanian philology, but the Polish government would not allot the necessary funds, and it remained unfilled. It was thought that the Norwegian, Christian Stang and the aforementioned Pole, Jan Otrębski, were to become its chairmen.

Incidentally, several Lithuanians graduated from the University — physicians, ethnographers, geologists, artists and others, who later joined the cultural life of Lithuania.


Meanwhile, the life of Kaunas University took a different turn. This was the most important intellectual center of the independent Republic of Lithuania, the embodiment of its hopes and prestige. For the first time in the country's history, higher education was conducted in Lithuanian. Engaging the best Lithuanian scientists and intellectuals, as well as some foreigners and Russian emigres, the University in Kaunas prepared specialists in various cultural fields. It formed the new Lithuanian intelligentsia. During later historic upheavals, this group performed honorably, preserving Lithuanian art and science. Some of them perished under the repressions of totalitarian regimes; some were dispersed throughout the world (sometimes joining the staff of foreign universities), and a few remained in Lithuania. Nevertheless, Vytautas the Great University wove significant strands into the traditions of Vilnius University. The history of the University in Kaunas is almost the equivalent to the intellectual history of independent Lithuania.

Just like the Stephen Bathory University, Vytautas the Great University had six schools or faculties: 1. theology-philosophy, 2. humanities, 3. law, 4. mathematics — natural sciences, 5. medicine, 6. technical studies. A faculty of protestant theology opened in 1925, but was closed by 1936, due to lack of students.

The University started work in two buildings, which soon became insufficient. A new building was inaugurated in 1926; in 1931, the Physics and Chemistry Institute was opened, in 1932 — the new School of Medicine, and in 1937-40 — the large and modern Medical Building. Having started from nothing, the University became a landmark in Kaunas, even from the architectural point of view.

In 1937, there were 490 people on the faculty, and the students numbered 3,000 (in 1932, the University had the largest number of students — 4,553). Approximately 75% of these were Lithuanians; there were also some Jews, Russians, Poles, and Germans. About half of the student body had arrived from the countryside. During the years 1922-40, the University graduated 3,790 persons, most of them physicians, lawyers, economists and teachers. Numerous student organizations with differing ideologies were active: ateitininkai (Catholics), neolituanai (nationalists), varpininkai (populist front), žaizdrininkai and aušrininkai (leftists). There were also some Communists acting in secret. The University became a workshop for Lithuanian scholarship as well as politics.

The University was autonomous during the first eight years of life. Under the statute of 1930, the authoritarian government of Lithuania had somewhat restricted this autonomy, and it was further decreased in 1937. In spite of this, until the end of Lithuania's independence, the University remained a sufficiently free center of thought and education — an institution of democratic ideals.

The greatest achievements of Vytautas the Great University were probably in the field of Lithuanian studies — in the language, folklore, literature, and history of the country. The most famous Lithuanian linguists worked there — Kazimieras Būga, a scholar noted in all of Europe for his Indoeuropean and Baltic studies; Jonas Jablonskis, the creator of a standard Lithuanian language; lexicographer Juozas Balčikonis; Pranas Skardžius, Antanas Salys — young Baltists; and also the foreigners Ernst Fraenkel and Alfred Senn. Lithuanian literature was taught by the best authors in the country (Maironis, Vaižgantas, Vincas Mykolaitis-Putinas) and the scholars Mykolas Biržiška, Juozas Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis, Vincas Maciunas. The writers Vincas Krėvė, Balys Sruoga, Juozas Albinas Herbačiauskas worked in the Slavic philology field. As is evident, a large percentage of the teaching staff were writers; moreover, practically the entire young literary generation of Lithuania attended or graduated from the University.

Classical languages were taught by Vladimiras Šilkarskis, Merkelis Račkauskas and others; German studies by Horst Engert, Joseph Ehret; Romance studies by Vladas Dubas, Raymond Schmittlein; English studies by Pranas Augustaitis; Semitology by Nachman Schapiro, and Egyptology by Marija Rudzinskaitė-Arcimavičienė.

Philosophy was taught in two faculties — the theology-philosophy and the humanities. Some noted professors were Pranas Dovydaitis, Stasys Šalkauskis, Vosylius Sezemanas and Izidorius Tamošaitis. The first two belonged to the Thomist and Neo-Thomist school, while the latter were more oriented toward phenomenology. It is interesting to note that Greek philosophy, namely Plato, was taught at one time by the most famous political figure in Lithuania — Antanas Smetona, the Republic's President in 1919-20 and 1926-40. Another well-known politician, Augustinas Voldemaras, worked for a time in the field of history.

History was taught by Jonas Yčas, Ivan Lappo, Petras Klimas, Ignas Jonynas, and later by Zenonas Ivinskis, Adolfas Šapoka and others trained at the University. Most of them studied the political history of ancient Lithuania, and published several valuable works on the subject, establishing an entire school of historiographers. Augustinas Janulaitis, Konstantinas Jablonskis pursued studies in Lithuania's state, judicial and economic history. In the fields of folklore, ethnology and cultural anthropology we find Jonas Balys, Juozas Baldžius and others. Jonas Puzinas was a noted archeologist. Some important work in medieval cultural history was done by Lev Karsavin, a Russian emigre, who learned Lithuanian fluently, and joined in the intellectual life of the country.

The foundations of experimental psychology were laid by Professor Jonas Vabalas-Gudaitis.

The most notable personalities in law were the long-time Rector, Mykolas Roemeris, as well as Petras Leonas, Simonas Bieliackinas. Economics was taught by Petras Šalčius, Vladas Jurgutis, Albinas Rimka. Several of their students later became prominent in government and other areas.

The University theologians who exerted a significant influence on the country's spiritual life were juozapas Skvireckas, Pranciškus Būčys, Blažiejus Čėsnys, Petras Malakauskis.

The humanities and related subjects were, doubtless, most important to the growth of Lithuania's national culture. However, Vytautas the Great University reached a high level of scholarship in other fields, with scholastic standards equal to those of Stephen Bathory University and many others throughout Europe. The most notable names in physical sciences were Zigmas Žemaitis (mathematics), Vincas Čepinskis (physical chemistry), Kęstutis Šliūpas, Antanas Žvironas (physics), Paulius Slavėnas (astronomy). The country's natural resources were studied by Kazys Pakštas (geography), Steponas Kolupaila (hydrology), Mykolas Kaveckis, Juozas Antanas Dalinkevičius (geology), Pranciškus Šivickis (zoology). Tadas Ivanauskas organized a zoo and a fine zoological museum in Kaunas; the Swiss, Konstantin Regel, established botanical gardens (all these institutions are still in existence today). Juozas Blažys, Vladas Kuzma, Vladas Lašas headed the medical faculty and Pranas Jodelė, Kazimieras Vasiliauskas — the faculty of technical studies.

The University published numerous scholarly journals, mostly from the field of humanities (Darbai ir Dienos, Mūsų Tautosaka, Tauta ir Žodis, Archivum Philologicum, Athenaeum,"Logos, Soter, Eranus, and others). The University library numbered about 175 thousand volumes in 1939; it also contained a major archive of Lithuanian studies. The library's director, Professor Vaclovas Biržiška laid a firm foundation for a Lithuanian national bibliography.


At the beginning of the Second World War, Poland's territory was divided between two imperialist nations — Hitler's Germany and Stalin's USSR. Under the terms of their secret agreement, Lithuania fell under USSR's "sphere of influence." However, it remained independent for about a year longer; what's more, it regained its ancient historic capital — Vilnius. On December 13, 1939, the Lithuanian Council ratified a law which stated that there are two universities in Lithuania — in Vilnius and in Kaunas. Vilnius University had to function under the statute of the one in Kaunas. Professor Ignas Končius, from the faculty of mathematics — natural sciences, was appointed to head Vilnius University.

Stephen Bathory University juridically ceased to exist. Various faculties from Vytautas the Great University were moved to Vilnius — beginning with humanities and law. Lithuanian became the teaching language, and auditoriums began to fill up with students from ethnic Lithuania. Two branches of the same ancient University began to join into one.

Unfortunately, national friction and disagreements were not lacking at Vilnius University at this time. Conditions for Poles were unquestionably better in Vilnius, which had now returned to Lithuania, than in the German or USSR-occupied areas. However, both sides — Polish and Lithuanian — exhibited a nationalism bordering on chauvinism. Quite a few Polish professors left Lithuania to go abroad, and most Polish students boycotted the new now-Lithuanian University. There were some curious instances — some of the Polish students, refusing to recognize the transfer of Vilnius to Lithuania, now studied in Kaunas. Nevertheless, a part of the student body of Stephen Bathory University elected to remain and study as before; some professors (for example, Jan Otrębski) remained also, but were considered collaborationists by Polish nationalists.

(The fate of the dual branches of the ancient University of Vilnius is of some interest. A major part of Stephen Bathory University's faculty congregated in Poland after the war, mostly in Toruri (Thorn), and in part in Lublin, bringing with it some of its traditions. Meanwhile, the University in Kaunas, even though its most productive forces moved to Vilnius, continued its independent existence in Kaunas. It was closed by the Soviets only in 1950, under the pretext that Lithuania did not need two universities.

Several colleges were founded at the site, but these did not have university status.)

During this complicated period, when the University was still reorganizing, Soviet armies marched into Lithuania (on June 15, 1940). In the early days of August, 1940, Lithuania, along with Latvia and Estonia, were forcefully incorporated into the Soviet Union. Active Sovietization began: all vestiges of Lithuanian sovereignty were destroyed, economic life was reorganized and significantly undermined, intellectual life was severely restrained.

The Communist press (and any other kind was soon forbidden) called for immediate reform of "the one-sided direction of the University." In truth, the University had changed more in a few months than in all the years of independence. Nevertheless, the faculty and in part the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, notwithstanding the pressures, managed to stop and sabotage some harmful reforms. Professor Mykolas Biržiška remained as Rector, and although with some leftist tendencies, he could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered a supporter of Communism. Although pressed by high functionaries of the Communist Party and the secret police, he managed to delay the final Sovietization of the University. However, many actions of the new regime could not be stopped. The faculty of theology-philosophy was closed; a large number of professors were dismissed from the University, including all the theologians and the Hebrew scholar Schapiro. Some of them were arrested or deported. A chair in Marxist-Leninist studies was established — all students had to attend the lectures and take the exams; heading the chair were young specialists from Moscow, noted neither for their human qualities, nor their knowledge of Marxism. All student organizations were closed: they were replaced by a single organization — the Young Communist League. Lithuanian studies and research were hampered, and Marxism, history of USSR, and Russian were proffered in their place. In the spring of 1941, many a student or University staff member disappeared.

A wide-ranging reorganization of teaching programs and plans was foreseen for the 1941-42 academic year, so the University would not differ from other institutions of higher learning in the USSR. As was evident later, there were other far-reaching "reforms" planned. However, there was not enough time to implement them all. On June 22, 1941, the war between Germany and the USSR began. The German army broke through into Lithuania. The country was taken in several days. Efforts to reestablish Lithuania's independence were soon crushed by the Nazis. The Soviet secret police did not have time to remove the lists of proscription which were found in their headquarters at the beginning of the war. They contained thousands of names, meant for deportation, including the University's Rector, almost all the professors and many of the students.

The Nazi occupation proved no less difficult for the University. The University was "purged" a second time, dismissing a sizeable portion of the staff, including notable scholars suspected of leftist sympathies. A primitive sort of revenge was not lacking also. All students, denounced by anybody of having Communist tendencies, were dismissed, as were all Jews and Poles. Some of the teaching staff tried to help, at least part of them. The Nazis limited University life in many ways — they occupied buildings, hindered and interfered with teaching, advocated the University to "join the new spirit of the times" — in other words, their antihumane ideology. Students were called up for "public works" and as "army assistants." All this gave rise to a patriotic student indignation, no less intense than during the first Soviet occupation. Secret leaflets were distributed, disturbances and anti-Nazi demonstrations began.

On August 25, 1942, the entire University Senate in Kaunas was arrested briefly for sabotaging Nazi orders. That was only the beginning. Trying to make Lithuanian youth join their war machine, the Nazis encouraged them to volunteer for the special Lithuanian SS legion being organized. Some young people in Latvia and Estonia had joined the appropriate legions; however, the press of the Lithuanian underground resistance took a strong stand against the plans, and practically no one showed up at the enlistment centers. This type of organized resistance greatly angered the Nazis. In 1943, on March 16-17, 46 Lithuanian leaders, including five University professors, were arrested. They all ended up at the concentration camp in Stutthof. During the night of March 17th, the German military police occupied and searched both branches of the University — in Vilnius and Kaunas. The Lithuanian centers of higher learning and the Academy of Sciences were closed that very night.

Thus a new and honorable page was written in the history of Vilnius University — that of anti-Nazi resistance. The University joined the ranks of those European educational centers which did not adapt themselves to the Nazis, and therefore, had to experience their repressions.

Scholarly work in the humanities continued until the very end of the German occupation — meetings at private homes and student exams. Those who graduated were awarded predated University diplomas. Most professors continued their research. The more important sources of Lithuanian history were studiously copied, keeping in mind that they could perish in the war. The University continued — though weakened, but unbowed — until the German retreat in July, 1944. Lithuania was again occupied by the Soviet army.

Both occupations — the Soviet and the German — brought great damage to the University. The following professors passed the ordeal of Soviet prison camps: Pranas Dovydaitis, Vosylius Sezemanas, Izidorius Tamošaitis, Petras Klimas, Lev Karsavin, Antanas Žvironas and others. Balys Sruoga, Vladas Jurgutis and several others suffered in German concentration camps. The Jewish professors — Nachman Schapiro, Simonas Bieliackinas — died at the hands of the Nazis. Quite a few Polish professors from Stephen Bathory University perished — Stefan Ehrenkreutz died in a Soviet prison, Wlodzimierz Godlowski was executed in the forest of Katyn, Wladyslaw Marian Jakowicki, arrested by Soviet secret police, vanished without a trace. It is impossible to name every student who was harmed or who perished. At the approach of the second Soviet occupation, a very large percentage of professors and students chose an exile's lot. Both occupations were also destructive from a strictly material point of view. University property was seized or destroyed; books ideologically unsuited to one or the other occupying government were removed from libraries. During these occupations, many inhabitants became severely demoralized, which of course, affected scholarship. That is why the University entered a new period having experienced losses, which are virtually impossible to assess. These losses were also a part of its future.


The new period in the life of Vilnius University begins from the summer of 1944. It belongs to the present, rather than the past. It is difficult, at this time, to assess the influence of today's University on Lithuanian life and culture. In another article, this author tries to introduce more lively personal reminiscences about the present University: probably one's memory, though not always infallible, can say more than the analysis of dry facts and figures.

Nevertheless, we shall submit some of these facts and figures. After 1944, the University was completely reorganized according to Soviet principles, harnessed entirely to serve Communist ideology, and isolated from the Western world. In 1955, it was renamed after Vincas Kapsukas (the Lithuanian Communist leader, who as we mentioned, tried unsuccessfully to establish a "Labor University" in Vilnius in 1919, whose make-up and possible academic level still remain a mystery). Efforts to control University life, to the minutest detail, were and still are being extended, not avoiding the services of the KGB. "Party spirit" is required in lectures and student work, which essentially means nothing else but one-sidedness, intolerance, and large-scale concealment or twisting of facts. In the University library, just like in other libraries of Lithuania and the USSR, a system of special, restricted collections ("specfondai") was begun — in this way, many books became virtually unavailable for study. Lithuanian remained the teaching language; however, there are many Russian student groups at the University, and some subjects are taught in Russian. There was quite an increase in University enrollment: at this time, 17,000 students are enrolled (only 8,700 are in the day session), of these 83% are officially classified as Lithuanians. However, the Soviet government pays more attention to student quantity, rather than quality. The large number of students of various intellectual capacities, plus the lack of facilities, put a great strain on the teaching process. But the government is not as interested in the proper education of young people, as in the Sovietization of their largest number.

The School of Philology probably suffers the most from ideological supervision. Nevertheless, it has managed some significant work in studying the various periods of Lithuanian literature (Jurgis Lebedys, Meilė Lukšienė, Vanda Zaborskaitė, Juozas Girdzijauskas and others). Many of the more liberal literary historians were eventually dismissed from the University, similar to the period of Novosiltsev. A more neutral subject — linguistics — had a seemingly easier time (Vytautas Mažiulis, Zigmas Zinkevičius, Jonas Palionis, and the most notable linguist — Jonas Kazlauskas, who died under tragic circumstances). Today the University has became a major center for Baltistic studies: there is a chair in Baltic philology, an international magazine, "Baltistica," is published, and international Baltistic conferences are convened. Western languages and literature, Russian language and literature, and classical philology are taughl; Sanskrit was taught at one lime by Ričardas Mironas.

Studies in Lithuanian history were hindered for a long time in the School of History (and essentially, they are relegated to second place even now): Lithuania's ancient history is not very desirable, and contemporary history is taughl with extreme bias. Conditions for objective research don't exist: such research is prevented by various ideological taboos, obligatory anti-clericalism, and an unwritten ban on critically interpreting Russian politics (no matter of which century — 14th, 19th or 20th). In this situation, work which orients itself toward factual research, rather than ideological "catechism," becomes even more valuable. Notable scholarly studies have been published by Konstantinas Jablonskis, Bronius Dundulis, Romas Batūra and others.

In mathematics, besides the works in theory of probability by Jonas Kubilius, the works of Vytautas Statulevičius and Bronius Grigelionis have merited international recognition. In physics, one notes the school of Adolfas Jucys in atomic structure, and the successful study of semiconductors by Povilas Brazdžiūnas and Jurgis Viščiakas. An original astrophotometric system was created by Vytautas Straižys. Algimantas Marcinkevičius, from the School of Medicine, is a famed heart surgeon. Besides the School of Medicine, there is a separate Medical School for Postgraduate Studies. The School of Natural Sciences prepares qualified biologists, geographers and geologists; the School of Chemistry, apart from its regular work, is known for its research into the area of drug synthesis. Finally, there is a School of Law and three of economics, (but, as is known, neither law nor economics are by any means the forte of the Soviet system).

There are over a hundred departments at the University, and about 1,400 persons on the teaching staff. 85 of them have attained professorships or full professorships. These titles are more difficult to earn in the Soviet Union, and have more significance than in the West; candidates are thorougly examined also in their ideological loyalty. The University publishes quite a few periodicals (of uneven quality), and the library will soon reach 4 million volumes. However, as we said, the system of special restricted collections is harmful to the library; besides, the physical safety of the books is anything but adequate. Once, the library was heavily damaged by fire. Quite a few of those four million volumes are propaganda and similar publications of little value; there is a great dearth of international publications in arts and sciences. Pride can be taken, only in the truly fine incunabula, collections of old manuscripts, autographs and so on.

The University's relationships with foreign institutions are severely limited: the friendship with Congo's Brazzaville University takes on a tragicomic tone in light of the fact that there are no significant contacts with the universities of Western Europe or of the United States. Some exchanges with the West (and the Lithuanian emigration also) are slowly occurring. Even though the Soviet government tries to use it for not-always respectable goals, this exchange should be considered as positive on the whole.

In preparing Lithuania's intelligentsia, the University, just like before, has a great impact on the country's population and her cultural development (even though today, this impact is somewhat ambivalent). What's more — its creation of spiritual values under difficult conditions, imperceptibly prepares for a new rebirth of Lithuania. These values will have to be infused into the future wealth of democratic Lithuania, even though not every advocate of these values comprehends or believes it today.

In any case, the University can take pride in some achievements. At the end of the most difficult — Stalin's — period, when massive arrests and deportations ceased, it showed a remarkable vitality. The Lithuanian community still regards the University as its most important cultural institution, the embodiment of its hope. Even though severely shackled, the University serves its nation — serves it, perhaps, in the best way possible under present circumstances. The human rights movement in Lithuania finds a resounding affirmation at the University, as witnessed by the publication of the underground journal, "Alma Mater," which recently reached the West.

The four-hundred-year anniversary of the University of Vilnius is a celebration for every Lithuanian — at home or in exile. It is a celebration for all University lecturers and students, for all the people connected with the University in the various periods of its complex history. Finally, it is not just a celebration for Lithuanians, but for all Eastern Europe, and perhaps all Europe as well. Remembering their common traditions and appreciating their common predicament, Eastern European nations can gain strength from the University's history, become conscious of their common goals, and prepare for a future — a future in which every one of them will take their own unique and different path.

The founding charters of the University of Vilnius: the Privilege granted by the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland Stephen Bathory, April 1, 7579 .(top) and the Bull of Pope Gregory XIII, October 30, 7579. Both documents are preserved in the Central State Historical Archives of Lithuania.


* The author is a graduate of Vilnius University (1960), with a degree in Lithuanian language and literature, and its former faculty member. In 1977 he was allowed to travel to the West, but subsequently his Soviet passport was revoked by the Soviet government, obviously for his activities as member of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group and critical writings while in the West. He has been a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, and presently is at Yale University.

Throughout this and subsequent articles, most proper names are given according to the current Lithuanian spelling, with original Latinized, Slavicized, or other spelling given in parentheses immediately after the first reference to a particular name when it is felt that this is necessary for a person's historical identity. Also used here is the traditional terminology pertaining to the organization of disciplines in a university. Specifically, the term "Faculty" has been retained here. While it may refer to the teaching staff of a university, it also refers to a grouping of related disciplines into an organizational unit of a university. Thus, a faculty of economics, for example, is equivalent to a department, division, or school of economics in the American university.


1 S. Rostowski, Lithuanicarum Societatis lesu historiarum provincialium pars prima, Vilnae, 1768.
2 M. Baliński, Dawna Akademia Wileńska, Petersburg, 1862.
3 J. Bieliński, Uniwersytet Wileński (1579-1831), t. 1-3, Krakow, 1899-1900.
4 L. Janowski, Wszechnica Wileńska, 1578-1842, Wilno, 1921.
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