The Lithuanian Legend of the Iron Wolf

 

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A legend surrounds the founding of Vilnius, the present day capital of Lithuania. It is The Legend of the Iron Wolf.

The legend begins with a hunting trip undertaken by the Grand Duke of Lithuania, Gediminas to the holy woods in the Valley of Sventaragis around the year 1323. Gediminas was joined by the nobles of his court. Among his retinue were servants and beaters with large packs of hounds. The great forest was disturbed by the uncommon activity. In mortal fear, all the animals, great and small reacting to the terrifying clamor invading their provincial tranquil serenity scurried into the thicket.

The Grand Duke Bags a Lithuanian Bison

 Though the animals fled into the brush, the hunters were expert and skilled. Their royal horses were tenacious, and their arrows never missed the target. Many wild animals were killed. The greatest trophy of the hunt, a splendid specimen of the great Lithuanian bison, was killed by the Grand Duke himself.

Camp at the Confluence of the Neris and Vilnia Rivers

 In pursuit of his prize bison Gediminas came to the apex of a high mountain located at the junction of the rivers Neris and Vilnia. The view from the spot was glorious and Gediminas ordered camp be set at this place. At his command, fires were sparked and furs were spread for sleeping.

Gediminas Has a Dream

The day had been tiring. Soon Gediminas was asleep and dreaming. In the dream he envisioned an iron wolf on this mountaintop. This lone wolf of iron was uttering such howls that they sounded as if hundreds of wolves were bellowing in unison.

When he awoke, Gediminas spoke of his dream to his courtiers, asking for their thoughts. They were unable to explain it. He then sent for High Priest Kriviu Krivaitis, of the shrine to Perkunas, the Lithuanian god of thunder, which was nearby.

A Priest Interprets the Dream

 The priest listened thoughtfully to the Grand Duke’s rendering of his vision. The priest nodded in deference to the great ruler, and reflectively stroked his long white beard. He then pronounced the meaning of the vision: “Sire, the Iron Wolf signifies a large and mighty city. The city will stand as strong as iron and its walls will protect the land from its enemies. The howling means a clamor will arise from it reaching far beyond the country’s borders and proclaiming through long centuries the glory of Lithuania.

Vilnius is Founded Based on the Dream

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Gediminas was pleased with the priest’s explanation. Upon returning to his residence at Kernave, he summoned artisans and craftsmen from around Europe to design and construct a strong and beautiful castle on the top of the mountain where he had dreamed of the Iron Wolf. The castle was completed and Gediminas moved his domicile, signaling the establishment of a new capital for his country: Vilnius.

The Iron Wolf’s Howl is Heard Far Beyond Lithuanian Borders

The priest’s reading of Gediminas’ Iron Wolf dream proved prescient. Vilnius grew and prospered after Gediminas’ founding. Lithuania grew into a great medieval power in alliance with Poland.  Jagiello, Gediminas’ grandson, became king of Poland in 1386.  The Jagiellon Dynasty ruled the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Kingdom of Poland until 1572 covering vast European land area from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. The Lithuanian-Polish union begun by Gediminas’ grandson survived over 400 years. The Iron Wolf’s howl was heard for centuries far beyond Lithuania’s borders.

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