Vytis (Knight) on the Lithuanian Money

The coat of arms of Lithuania, consisting of an armour-clad knight on horseback holding a sword and shield, is also known as Vytis (“the Chaser). It is one of the oldest coat of arms in the Europe. Finally formed in 15th century. The colours of it also formed in that time.  Heraldic shield features the field Gules (red) with an armoured knight on a horse salient Argent (white). The knight is holding in his dexter hand a sword Argent above his head. A shield Azure hangs on the sinister shoulder of the knight with a double cross Or (yellow) on it (Double Cross – the heraldic symbol of Jogaila (later the coat of arms of the Jagellonian dynasty related to the ruler’s baptism at the end of the 14th c.). The horse saddle, straps, and belts are Azure. The hilt of the sword and the fastening of the sheath, the stirrups, the curb bits of the bridle, the horseshoes, as well as the decoration of the harness, are Or (gold).

The depiction of an armoured knight with a sword comes from the portrait seals of the rules (dukes) and first depicted the rulers themselves. During the period of the rule of Grand Duke Vytautas (1392-1430). The knight on horseback became the coat of arms of Lithuania. At that time it was not yet called vytis. The first to refer to Lithuania’s coat of arms as Pagonia was the Polish chronicler Marcin Bielski (1495-1575). The first to use, in the mid-19th c., the Lithuanian term Vytis to describe the rider (Knight) was the historian Simonas Daukantas (1793-1864). Vytis as the name of the coat of arms was first used in 1884 by Mikalojus Akelaitis. Today the word vytis is used for the coat of arms of the Lithuanian state, Vytis ( a knight on horseback in an escutcheon) and the separate figure from the coat of arms – the knight (vytis); they are incorrectly associated with one another and are not differentiated.

In the first Lithuanian coins the knight on horseback appeared at the end of the 14th c., however, this figure had not yet formed. In some coins the knight is depicted as riding to the left, in others – to the right; in some he holds a spear while others show a sword; the horse can either be standing in place or galloping.

During the reign of Alexander (1492-1506), the depiction of the direction of the Knight was established. It is pointing to the left (heraldic – to the right) and is depicted as galloping. The knight was for the first time depicted with a scabbard, while the horse – with a harness, but the knight does not yet have on his shoulder a shield with the double cross. Alexander‘s coins, besides the knight, also depict an eagle as the symbol of the grand duke of Lithuania‘s dynastic claim to the Polish throne.

In 1495, money reform was implemented and a decimal counting system was introduced. 1 groat (lit. Grašis) was made up of 10 denarii. However, groat weren‘t minted – only denarii and half-groat were. The reform was ended during the reign of Grand Duke Sigismund the Old of Lithuania (1506-1544). For the first time the year of issue began to be marked on the Lithuanian coins, the half-groat of 1508 being the first such coin. The larger denomination coins – groat – started to be minted. The knight for the first time was moved to the other side of the coins – the reverse, marking that it was the coin of Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). The knight for the first time was depicted with a shield, on which, was the Double Cross of Jogaila. Such image of the knight, in heraldry, is only identifiable with the state of the GDL.

During the period of the rule of Sigismund II Augustus, Grand Duke of Lithuania (1544-1572) a wide variety of coin denominations were issued: from the smallest – the bilon half-denarii, to the greatest – golden portugal. From 1547 the knight was for the first time depicted on an arms shield, with the ducal crown at the top, thereby making meaningful the symbol of the GDL as an independent state – its coat of arms.

Until the Union of Lublin, the knight on the Lithuanian coins varied, his clothing details, helmets, shields were different and the horse was depicted sometimes with a raised tail, other times – lowered. The knight was depicted both separately and together with the Columns of Gediminas on distinct shields, as well with the Polish eagle, but on different sides of the coin. After the Union of Lublin in 1569, the united coat of arms the Commonwealth of Two Nations was legitimized.

In 1572, with the death of Sigismund II Augustus, the Gediminid dynasty ended, therefore the coins no longer had their commonly-used heraldic symbol – the Columns of Gediminas. During the reign of Grand Duke Stephen Bathory (1576-1586) the knight on the horseback once again began to be used without the shield, with a double cross. The 1580 Ordinance unified not only the value of the coins of both countries – the Kingdom of Poland and the GDL – bet the appearance of the coins as well. GDL coins began featuring the coat of arms of both the Kingdom of Poland (the Eagle) and the GDL (The Knight).  A coin of a new denomination was issued at that time – the shilling.

During the reign of Sigismund III Vasa (1587-1632), Grand Duke of Lithuania, coins of 8 denominations were minted – double-denarii, shillings, groat, three –half-groat, three-groat, 1,5, and 10 ducat coins. The coins have in the center of four-part coat of arms shield the dynastic coat of arms of the Vasa – a sheaf of grain. From 1616 the knight, again, was engraved holding a shield with double cross on it. The 1625 -1627 groats should be noted, on which the knight‘s shield featured the dynastic coat of arms Sheaf of the Vasa Family. The knight was also depicted separately from Poland‘s Eagle coat of arms.

With Wladyslaw IV Vasa coming to the throne (1632-1648), Lithuanian coins were not minted. They were only minted when his brother, John Casimir Vasa (1648-1668), was crowned Grand Duke of Lithuania. For the first time, copper shillings and silver orts appeared. The depiction of the knight in the coins of this period varied, but there weren’t any major modifications. In 1666, all of the Lithuanian mints were close down. The six-groat specimen minting attempts in Krakow during the reign of John III Sobieski (1674-1696) and the six-groat (marked with the dates 1706 and 1707) minted during the reign of Augustus II (1697-1706, 1709-1733), were the last Lithuanian coins. After them, the same money was in circulation throughout the Commonwealth of Two Nations.

After the third partition of the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, a large part of Lithuanian land was annexed by the Russian Empire. Russian currency began to be used in Lithuania.

On 16 February 1918, Lithuania proclaimed the Act of Independence. The Lithuanian coat of arms once again had the symbol of statehood – the historical GDL knight (vytis). With the issuing of Lithuanian money, the key symbols of state were depicted on them as well. On 2 October 1922, the first temporary Lithuanian litas and cent banknotes appeared in circulation, printed in Berlin and marked with the date 10 September 1922. They were made using not only graphic projects designed by the artists, but also drawings and ornaments had by the printing house, adding Lithuanian text and the knight on the reverse. Soon, these banknotes were replaced by a series of higher-quality, permanent issue of banknotes, printed in Prague and marked with the date 16 November 1922.

The later issue banknotes were printed in England using hand-engraved steel plates and had reliable security feature. On most of the banknote the coat of arms was printed.

According to the 1924 and 1936 Laws on Coins, the State Budget was provided with the exclusive right to mint and issue into circulation metal coins. The Lithuanian 1925-issue coins were minted in England, while the 1936 and 1938-issue coins were minted in Kaunas, at the Spindulys Mint. The plaster models of coins of all issues were created by artist Juozas Zikaras. He also created the knight on the coin obverse, used all the coins and having become popular.

On 15 June 1940, the USSR occupation of Lithuania halted the monetary developments.

After the restoration of Lithuania‘s independence on 11 March 1990, the historical coat of arms Lithuania – the Vytis – was legalized. Its composition basis was depiction of the knight on horseback with a sword and shield, created by sculptor Juozas Zikaras for the coins, and well-known due to the horse‘s lowered tail. On 4 August 1991, the Supreme Council of Lithuania confirmed the second version of the coat of arms, created by Arvydas Každailis and approved by the Heraldry Commission of Lithuania. This version is still used today. It restores the historical colours of the coat of arms and the old idea – to depict a knight in horseback, ready to protect, sword in hand, his land and state. The horse‘s tail is already raised in this version.

On 1 October 1992 the Republic of Lithuania adopted the temporary currency, talonas, and roubles were withdrawn from circulation. Thus the national currency system was established.

On 25 June 1993, litas and centas were issued into circulation. In total, 25 different denominations and issues of banknotes were issued. Banknotes of the three denominations did not enter into circulation. In creating the first banknote projects, the first versijon of the Lithuanian coat of arms, vytis, were used – the aforementioned depiction of the knight, by Juozas Zikaras, therefore it was used in the first and later banknote issues.

The first 1991-issue 1, 2, 5 litas and 10, 20, 50 cent coins were minted in England, while the Lithuanian Mint began minting 1, 2, 5 cent coins on 30 September 1992. For their obverse, the version of knight created by Juozas Zikaras, has been used.

In 1997, the Lithuanian Mint minted the new issue circulation 10, 20, 50 cent coins, while in 1998 – the 1, 2, 5 litas coins. The obverse of the coin utillised the version of the knight proposed by Arvydas Každailis and specially adapted for the coins. The earlier version of the knight remained only on the 1991-issue 1, 2 and 5 cent coins.

When acceding to the European Union on 1 May 2004, Lithuania assumed the obligation to adopt the euro. There are eight denominations of euro circulation  coins. One side of the euro circulation coins is common while the other is national, and the latter is different in each state. The decision was made to depict the coat of arms of Lithuania – the knight (vytis) – on the national side of Lithuanian euro coins. The plaster models were created by the artist A. Žukauskas. On the coins, the knight on horseback is surrounded by 12 stars: On the 1, 2 and 5 euro cent coins – a plain surface, the 10, 20 and 50 euro cent coins – horizontal lines, 1 and 2 euro coin bears the inscription: LAISVĖ VIENYBĖ GEROVĖ (Freedom, Unity, Well-Being). Euro in Lithuania established on 1 January 2015.