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Vytis (Knight) on the Lithuanian Money

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The coat of arms of Lithuania – an armoured knight on horseback holding a sword and shield on an escutcheon – is known as the Vytis. It is one of the oldest coats of arms in the Europe and formed in the 15th century.

At that time the heraldic colours were also set down. The escutcheon’s red field depicts an armoured knight on a silver horse, holding in his right hand a silver sword above his head. A blue shield hangs on his left shoulder of the knight with a gold double cross on it (the double cross is the heraldic symbol of Jogaila and later became the coat of arms of the Jagellonian dynasty, following the ruler’s baptism at the end of the 14th century). The horse’s saddle, saddlecloth, bridle, and belts are all blue. The hilt of the sword and the fastening of the sheath, the stirrups, the curb bits of the bridle, the horseshoes, and the decorations on the harness are all gold. 

   The coat of arms of Jan of the dukes of Lithuania, the Bishop of Vilnius. 1555     The present Coat of arms of Lithuania

The depiction of an armoured knight with a sword comes from the portrait seals of the rulers (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 the Vytis. The first to refer to Lithuania’s coat of arms as Pogonia was the Polish chronicler Marcin Bielski (1495–1575). In the mid-19th century, the historian Simonas Daukantas (1793–1864) was the first to use the Lithuanian term Vytis to describe the rider (knight). As the name of the coat of arms, Vytis was first used in 1884 by Mikalojus Akelaitis. Today the word “vytis” is used for the coat of arms of the Lithuanian state, the Vytis (a knight on horseback in an escutcheon) and the separate figure itself from the coat of arms – they are often incorrectly associated with one another and not differentiated.

In the first Lithuanian coins, the knight on horseback appeared at the end of the 14th century, however, this figure had not yet fully 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 depict a sword; the horse can either be standing in place or galloping. 

The coin of the end of 14th c. Knight on the  obverse.   The coin of the end of 14th c. Double Cross on a Shield on the reverse.   The coin of the end of 14th c. Knight on the  obverse (riding to the right side).   

During the reign of Alexander Jagiellon (1492–1506), the depiction of the direction of the knight was established – the horse was always galloping to the left (in the heraldic sense – to the right). 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.

Alexander's half-groat with a knight riding to the left on the obverse.   Alexander's half-graot with a Polish Eagle on the reverse.

In 1495, a monetary reform was implemented and a decimal counting system was introduced. 1 groat (Lith. grašis) was made up of 10 denarii. However, groats were not yet minted – only denarii and half-groats were. The reform was ended during the reign of Grand Duke Sigismund the Old (1506–1544). For the first time, the year of issue was marked on Lithuanian coins, with the half-groat of 1508 being the first such coin. The larger denomination coins – groats – were now being minted. The image of the knight was moved to the other side of the coins – the reverse, marking that it was the coin of Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The knight was also for the first time depicted with a shield with the double cross of Jogaila. In heraldry, such an image of the knight is only associated with the GDL State. 

The groat of Sigismund the Old of Lithuania. Obverse. 1536   The groat of Sigismund the Old of Lithuania. Reverse. 1536

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 – the golden Portugaloser. From 1547, the knight was for the first time depicted on an escutcheon, with the ducal crown at the top, thereby making meaningful the symbol of the GDL as an independent state – its coat of arms. 

Three-groat of Sigismund II Augustus. The obverse. 1564   Three-groat of Sigismund II Augustus. The reverse. 1564   Four-groat of Sigismund II Augustus. The obverse. 1569   Four-groat of Sigismund II Augustus. The reverse. 1569

Until the Union of Lublin, the knight on the Lithuanian coins varied – his clothing details, helmet, shield 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 legitimised.

In 1572, with the death of Sigismund II Augustus, the Gediminid dynasty ended; therefore the coins of the GDL no longer had their most commonly-used heraldic symbol – the Columns of Gediminas. During the reign of Grand Duke Stephen Bathory (1576–1586) the knight on 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 – but the appearance of the coins as well. A coin of a new denomination was also being issued at that time – the shilling. 

Three-groat of  Stephen Bathory. The obverse. 1580   Three-groat of  Stephen Bathory. The reverse. 1580   The shilling of Stephan Bathory. The Obverse.  1585   The shilling of Stephan Bathory. The reverse.  1585

During the reign of Sigismund III Vasa (1587–1632), Grand Duke of Lithuania, coins of 8 denominations were minted – double-denarii, shillings, groats, one-and-a-half-groats, three-groats, 1, 5, and 10 ducat coins. The coins depict, in the centre of a four-part escutcheon, the coat of arms of the Vasa dynasty – a sheaf of grain. From 1606, the knight, again, was engraved holding a shield with double cross on it. The 1625–1627 groats are of particular note, as their knight’s shield featured the Vasa dynastic coat of arms. The knight was also depicted separately from the Polish coat of arms – the eagle. 

Three-half-groat of Sigismund III Vasa. The obverse. 1619   Three-half-groat of Sigismund III Vasa. The reverse. 1619   The groat of Sigismun III Vasa. The obverse 1625   The groat of Sigismun III Vasa. The reverse 1625

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 on coins of this period varied, but there weren’t any major modifications. In 1666, all of the Lithuanian mints were closed down. The six-groat coins, minted during the reign of Augustus II (1697–1706, 1709–1733), were the last Lithuanian coins. Afterwards, the same money was in circulation throughout the Commonwealth of Two Nations. 

Six-groat of John II Casimir Vasa. The obverse. 1668   Six-groat of John II Casimir Vasa. The reverse. 1668   Three-half-groat of John II Casimir Vasa. The obverse. 1652.   three-half-groat of John II Casimir Vasa. The rebverse. 1652.

After the third partition of the Polish and Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795, a large part of Lithuania 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 its statehood – the historical GDL knight (the 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 banknotes appeared in circulation, printed in Berlin. They were made using not only graphic projects designed by artists, but also drawings and ornaments that the printing house already had, 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.

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

1 litas banknote issued on 10 September  1922. The  reverse.   100 litas banknote issued on  16 November 1922. The obverse.   1000 litas banknote issued on 11 December 1924. The obverse.   5 litas banknote issued on 24 June 1929. The obverse.

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 the artist Juozas Zikaras. He also created the image of knight on the coin obverse, which was used on all the coins. 

1 litas coin. The obverse. 1925   1 litas coin. The reverse. 1925   10 litas coin. The obverse. 1936   10 litas coin. The reverse. 1936

On 15 June 1940, the USSR occupation of Lithuania put any monetary developments on halt.

After the restoration of Lithuania’s independence on 11 March 1990, the historical coat of arms Lithuania – the Vytis – was legalised. The basis for their composition was the image of the knight on horseback with a sword and shield as created by the sculptor Juozas Zikaras – his work was well-known due to the depiction of the horse with a lowered tail. On 4 September 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 to this day. It brings back 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 nation. In this version, the horse’s tail is raised.

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.

50 talonas banknote issued on 1991. The obverse   50 talonas banknote issued on 1991. The reverse   200 talonas banknote issued on 1993. The obverse   200 talonas banknote issued on 1993. The reverse

On 25 June 1993, litas and centas were issued into circulation. In total, 25 different denominations and issues of banknotes were issued, yet banknotes of three denominations never entered into circulation. In creating the first banknote projects, the first version of the Vytis was used – the aforementioned depiction of the knight by Juozas Zikaras, which is why it was used in the first and most later banknote issues.

1 litas banknote issued in 1993. The reverse.   50 litas banknote issued in 1998. The reverse.   100 litas banknote issued in 1991. The obverse.   500 litas banknote issued in 2000. The obverse

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 the knight created by Juozas Zikaras was used.

In 1997, the Lithuanian Mint minted the new version of circulation 10, 20, 50 cent coins, while in 1998 – the 1, 2, 5 litas coins. The obverse of the coin utilised 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.
 

   1 cent coin issued in 1991   5 litas coin issued in 1991   20 cent coin issued in 1997.     

When acceding to the European Union on 1 May 2004, Lithuania commited 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, making it different in each state. The decision was made to depict the coat of arms of Lithuania – the Vytis – on the national side of the Lithuanian euro coins. The plaster models were created by the artist Antanas Žukauskas. The knight on horseback is surrounded by 12 stars: for the 1, 2 and 5 euro cent coins – on a plain background, for the 10, 20 and 50 euro cent coins – on a background of horizontal lines. The edge of the 1 and 2 euro coins bears the inscription: LAISVĖ VIENYBĖ GEROVĖ (Freedom, Unity, Well-Being). The euro was adopted in Lithuania on 1 January 2015. Thus, the Vytis has been a feature of Lithuanian money for more than 600 years. And now it can even be found across the rest of Europe as well.

The set of Lithuanian euro coins.

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Last updated: 2021-07-08