History of Šiauliai district

People settled in our land, as on the rest of the southern coast of the Baltic sea, after the last ice-age in the 8-9th century B.C. this is certified by the finding of an archeological complex by Šiauliai „Aušra“ museum scientists while examining a Lieporiai village, in the third decade. They found two ancient settlements. The numerous findings and the long period of the long period of the settlement gave much information about its history. In one of places examined, items of flint and the relics of a fireplace were found which dated back to the 9th century B.C. Birutė Salatkienė, an archeologist, believed that the findings of the second discovery, such as pits of sediment, ore ovens, relics of iron melting ovens, places of wells where iron was washed before melting, indicated that there was a big center of iron production in IV-V century.

Two ancient campsites were explored in the XIX century by an artist and historian Tadas Daugirdas, born in Varputėnai to a family of a nobleman. On the banks of the Venta nearby the village of Bacaičiai, he found ceramic fragments with ground granite kernels and tooled lobules dated back to the Neolithic age, 4000-2000 B.C. The first human grave, found near Šakyna, is known to be from the same period.

Archeologists Balys Tarvydas, Julius Naudužas, Vytautas Urbonavičius, Adolfas Tautavičius and Vytautas Daugudis have examined mounds, barrows and ancient settlements. Their work is being continued by a new generation of scientists. The findings made during archeological expeditions are kept in museums and institutions of the science of our country; they are described in scientific literature. Some of the findings, found in our region, are kept in foreign museums as well.

Later, our land is already mentioned in record books. The Livonia rhymed chronicle tells how Crusaders attacked the Kula, Busikė and Soula castles in autumn, 1236. They were beaten by the Lower Lithuanian Knight Vykintas’ warriors on their way back home with the spoils of war. The Master Folkvin and many knights were killed. The battle took place near the confluence of the Mūša and Tautinys rivers, close to Meškuičiai, and it is well known in history under the name of the Saulės Battle.

It is known from chronicles that the Crusaders’ knights sieged and burnt the Dubysa Castle in 1348. Ten years later, in 1358, on January 24 the order of Master Gosvin brought his warriors and found the ruined castle of “Dobitzen in Saule”. The castle was rebuilt again. The armament of those times is remembered by the points of arbalest arrows and relics of coats of chain mail found by archeologists.

Others of our ancestors’ castles on mounds also suffered from assailants.

Estates had already started to emerge on the rich soil of our region in the XIV century. The oldest estate, found by scientists, is in Kurtuvėnai. Estates were ruled by the noble families of Bulioniai, Karpiai, Nagusrkiai, Pacai, Radvilos, Gruževskiai, Jelinskiai, Burbai and Pliateriai. The larger estates belonged to great Knights of Lithuania and were ruled by their trustees. After the third division of Lithuania those estates went to counts Zubovai and Naryškiai who were in favour of the Russian Czar.

The archives of estates, which can tell much about the past history of the land, are scattered in different vaults of neighboring countries and are still waiting for exploration. It is known that P.Šiukšta sold the Gilvyčiai estate with peasants to support poor pupils in the Kražiai School in 1697. The owners of the Beinorai estate gave a part of their land to establish St Bazil the Great’s monastery and school.

During the time of the War with Sweden, the Šiauliai region happened to be in the center of European events. Russian and Swedish armies were located there. In spring, 1656, Lower Lithuanian rebels fought against the Swedes. According to scientists, a savage battle took place in Meškiai village near Bubiai. Tahe place, covered by forests, is now called Savage Hill, because Swedish assailants, led by Marshal Magnus Gabriel De le Gardi, severely smashed the Lower Lithuanians. Chronicals tell that thousands of them were chained in iron and taken to Riga.

At the end of the XVIII century, when Lithuania was being divided by neighboring countries, the people of our region were also busy. In 1794, rebel inhabitants of Meškuičiai resisted the Russian Czar’s army for four months, but the local resistance was broken and the whole country was taken over by Russia.

In 1831, after the Lithuanians had rebelled against the conquerors, Kuršėnai remained the last center of the rebellion. In July a meeting of the rebels’ war council, under the leadership of general A.Gedgaudas, took place there. The rebels tried to get to Poland and Prussia in small groups. The archive of the rebellion was left in the church. Its fate is not known.

A participant of the rebellion, Fulgencijus Rimgaila, a nobleman of the estate Bagdonmiškis, foundhimself in Paris and Graduated from the Art Academy there. He became a productive architect, designing chuches and estates, and interiors of mansions.

Not only noblemen but also peasants rose actively to fight against the Czar’s oppression in 1863. The leader of the rebels, Jonas Stanevičius, in order to unify the peasants, told the priests of the Gruzdžiai and Šakyna churches to proclaim the rebellion manifests and explain its goals.

When the rebellion started the owner of the Pušynė estate Paulinas Bagdonavičius, the further leader of the rebellion in Šiauliai district, gathered the peasants from the surrounding places into the forests of Kurtuvėnai, and taught the military affairs for two weeks. Later he, together with his squad, took part in the battles against the czar’s soldiers both in our region and in neighboring districts. After the suppression of the rebellion he hid in his estate, was arrested and shot in the Šiauliai on the Hill of Rebels. A peasant from the Laumakiai village, Kazimieras Braziulis, whose family Butkai and neighbors also participated in the rebellion, was shot in the same place.

After the suppression of the rebellion, the land was flooded with terror – farms were forfeited, people were exiled to Siberia. Emigration to Weast Europe and America started at the same time.

The Lithuanian script was banned, schools were closed, Russian was introduced, Catholics were persecuted, churches prohibited. Whole villages were inhabited by Slavs, who were brought there.

Having serfs had been made illegal before the rebellion and peasants had now got larger economical independence. Children of well-to-go farmers could study at the Šiauliai, Mintauja and Riga gymnasiums, after they had learnt to write at secret Lithuanian schools. They could continue their studies at Universities in Russia and West Europe. Being in foreign countries they gathered into Lithuanian clubs, studied history of their native land, its language and culture.

Thus, the group of ‘national rebirth raisers’ was formed, which included brothers Jonas, Rokas and Stanislovas Šliūpai from Rakandžiai village, Jonas Spudulis from Pašvinė, Motiejus Čepas from Diržiai, Augustinas, Pranciškus, Julija and Veronika Janulaičiai from Malavėnai village.

Those enducated men and women did much to keep Lithuania alive, to protect the country form disappearing form the world map. They took care of publishing of banned literature, disseminated and propagated books, established the book bearers’ net, and encouraged the press. New schools were opened, public performances organized and meetings of intellectual people were organized under their supervision. Due to their resolution the authorities of the Empire were attacked by protest manifests and lawsuits. The fight for Lithuanian script continued up to the spring of 1904.

After World War I, after the fights with Bermontininkai and the Bolsheviks the land started to revive. Local Government was founded, schools opened, courses for local farmers organized. The Higher Stock-rising School in Gruzdžiai opened its studies for specialists of agriculture. The youth in villages clustered into groups of young farmers, pavasarininkai and public organizations to promote culture appeared.

New milk and butter factories were built to process the production of reviving agriculture. A sugar factory was constructed in Pavenčiai to process sugar beets. Building materials were produced by several brick and tile factories, wood were prepared in sawmills.

After the establishment of Local Government in neighborhoods (valsčiai) much attention was paid to tidy up towns and village – streets were paved with stone, pavements were made and trees were planted along them. The Local Government cared about health care, charity and the patronage of the elderly and disabled.

The land reform resulted in refusing strip farms and cutting down estate lands. Farmers lived in steadying, some show farms were established.

The churches, ruined during the war, were replaced by new ones in Kuršėnai, Kužiai, Bazilionai, Šiupyliai and Aukštelkė.

The period of revival lasted for only twenty years – everything stopped after the invasion of the Soviet army: Lithunian organizations were closed, industrial enterprises and shops nationalized, the most educated and intellectual people – teachers, doctors, priests and agronomists – were arrested and exiled to Siberia.

Then, German occupation followed. It resulted in the total holocaust of the Jewish community, deportation to work camps, damage of the economy and business.

Resistence against occupants started while Germans were staying in the region. Stasys Jarmala, a teacher from Kuršėnai, established the Vytautas Magnus Union for the town youth, which later was joined to the Lithunian Liberty Army. Afterwards, they belonged to the Legion of the Lower Lithuanians of Šiauliai country.

The partisan war lasted for ten years and involved hundreds of people from our region. Genio, Vytenio, Margio, Kunigaikščio Žvelgaičio, Vytauto Didžiojo selected partisan troops acted there. They resisted the Soviets, collective farm formation and people’s deportation to Siberia.

Still during the war the NKVD frontier troops rampaged over the region. Their garrisons were located in Ginkūnai, Gruzdžiai, Kuršėnai and Bazilionai.

When the front retreated in the summer of 1944, arrests and exiles started. People were deported to Siberia several times per year. The number of people exiled depended on the demand for free working power in Russia. In June, 1948, 394 inhabitants of the region were deported, on March 25, 1949; there were almost 2 thousand victims.

Terror didn’t only result in deportation from Lithuania. In order to terrify people public trials were organized by the invaders. When the front retreated on 29 July, 1945, Gruzdžiai inhabitants were gathered in the town square, where an NKVD war tribunal “judged” the fighters from P.Petryla’s partisan troops. After the “trial” a wave of terrifying actions flooded Lithuania. In a couple of days NKVD soldiers burnt the Klemanskiai and the Lipskiai homesteads with people in the Švendriai village near Raudėnai. Later the whole Laumakiai village was murdered.

The violated and bleeding land continued its fight. In 1948 Jonas Žemaitis-Vytautas established the General Authority Base of Liberty fighters, the foundation for which was laid the Ressurection garrison in the Duktas forest and, thus, the management of partisan resistance was centralized.

The last partisan troops in the region were liquidated in 1953, but in 1954-1955 there were several single partisans hiding in the region, the underground press was published.

After the suppression of the partisan movement and the end of deportation, farmers were forced into collective and soviet farms. They lost their individual farms and other property and wouldn’t recover quickly. Constant reforms and experiments blocked the development of the economy. Only at the end of seventies did agriculture start to grow. However, total melioration started, steadying was damaged and people were forced into villages. This confused people’s life and traditions again.

At this time large villages emerged in Verbūnai, Bridai, Naisiai, Gilvyčiai, Kužiai and Kairiai. However, the nice attempt to change rural life to urban resulted in the tendency to construct houses in the suburbs of Šiauliai. Thus, Ginkūnai, Sutkūnai, Vijoliai, Aukštelkė. Medelynas and Lieporiai Villages were built. People abandoned their native villages and found jobs in the city; their children studied there and didn’t intend to return back to their native places. So, villages lost the most active post-war generation.

In order to keep people on collective and soviet farms, new schools, kindergartens, houses of culture, health care centers and even sport centers were built.

Stronger farms built technical workshops, enlarged farms and developed non-traditional production. For example, people in Bridai built a greenhouse and grew flowers which were sold in the European part of the Soviet Union. Ginkūnai people supplied Šiauliai city with greenhouse vegetables and eggs. Micaičiai collective farm dealt with agriculture as well. Wagons of cabbages were taken to the Soviet Union from Kairiai and Ginkūnai. Kužiai collective farm became strong after they started to raise soft-fur animals. However, the main aim of the region was milk and meat production. Therefore, large area of fields and crops had to be drained. The production, processed in the Šiauliai milk and meat factories, was taken to Moscow and Leningrad because people were waiting for Lithuanian sausage and butter there.

When Revival (Atgimimas) started, the architect of “Perestroika”, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party M.Gorbatshyov visited Lithuania. He tried to stop the national movement. He visited Bridai, where he met people, and tried to persuade them that only collective farms ensured progress and freedom. But the propaganda journey didn’t change the people’s wish to become free and independent.

On the wave of Sąjūdis, people of the Šiauliai region took an active part in the Baltic and European Road actions, defended the Parliament and TV Tower on January 13.

After the Restoration of Independency, farmers recaptured the nationalized lands. They organized their new farms, clustered into agricultural partnerships and cooperatives. They started their business, crafts, trade and offered different services.

After Lithuania joined the European Union, farmers and businessmen are making projects to get support from the EU funds. New farms, enterprises for processing agricultural production are being constructed; new modern equipment is being bought. In order to take over the experience of European countries the Local Government of Šiauliai region maintains and develops links with Germany, Sweden, France and Norway. Colleagues share their knowledge of the reconstruction of facilities and environmental matters.

Go back to home page
Photos used in this site were made by Zigmas Ripinskis
Lithuanian souvenirs at our office even for the most fastidious customer: