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Source Sheet: Vilnius 1655, Russian Invasion - Military History

1. Raising might of Moscow stood also on the combative Tartars

1.1. Lithuania and Muscovy (Moscovia) in modern cartography (19th - 21th c.)

In 16th c. the danger for Lithuania (with capital in Vilnius) grew from the East, where since the end of 15th c. in the eastern part of Europe the might of Moscow pricipality (Grand Principality of Muscovy) began to grow sharp.

 Map: Europa am Ende des 15. Jahrhunderts

Gustav Droysen. Allgemeiner historischer Handatlas in 96 Karten mit erläuterndem Text. – Bielefeld [u.a.]: Velhagen & Klasing, 1886, S. 35.

Map: History Map of Europe, Year 1500

High Resolution Periodical Historical Atlas of Europe / EURATLAS (Yverdon, Switzerland)
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Pay attention! This is very important!

„Vilnius“ is the Lithuanian name of the city. The city was known in Europe as „Vilna“, „Wilna“, „Wilno“,  what was reflected also in the European cartography.

1.2. Queen of England about assaults of Muscovites and Tartars

In 16th century the danger for Lithuania grew from the East, while the might of Moscow strenghtened, which was connected with the Tartarian hordes for a long time. For this reason the Tartars as the assailants figured in many historical sources. The news about these assaults has reached even the Queen of England, what is shown in her letter of 1563 to one of her officers. 

Queen Elisabeth I to Cecil - Feb. 25, 1563

"Whilst the King of Poland was sitting in Council, a messenger arrived in haste with news that the King of Muscovy had taken Polotsk at the sixth assault, and burnt it. He had carried off innumerable captives, and slain 20,000 men, nor was it possible to express the barbarous cruelty of the Tartars, who amounted to 60,000 men. The Muscovite has already sent 40,000 Tartars to Wilna, who have approached to within twelve miles of the town, destroying all the country through which they marched. It is reported that he has 200,000 men. Those of Wilna have raised 20,000 men to oppose them. No one has yet dared to engage the enemy, as they are so superior, and as most of their chiefs are either scattered or taken, amongst whom is one of those of Wilna."—Petricaw, 25 Feb.

 [Copy, with seal, with a few notes on the margin by Utenhove. Add. Lat. P. 1. From: 'Elizabeth: February 1563, 21-30', Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth: 1563, Volume 6 (1869), pp. 150-169. URL:  Date accessed: 13 December 2008.]

Pay attention! This is very important!

We know from the historical sources that in the middle of 15th c. the ruler of the small Duchy of Moscow has been already paying a scot to the Tartarian khan. And the sources of 16th century show that the rulers of Europe already saw that near the eastern boards of Europe Moscow has become the dangerous Empire of Muscovy, rules the Tartars, and uses their army for barbaric dash into Lithuania and Poland.

1.3. "Moscovia" and "Tartaria" in the maps of 16th c. and the Ist part of  17th c.

   While exploring the maps in the computer screen, use a zoom fuction (Zoom / +).

Cartographical Sources:

Porro. Descrittione del mappamondo
Published in Venetia 1572. Online image - State Library of New South Wales, 2007.

Moscoviae Imperium
Moscoviae imperium / Coloniae formulis Jani Bussemacheri an: 1600.

Russiae, Moscoviae et Tartariae descriptio
In: Abraham Ortelius, Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, English edition as The Theatre of the Whole World, London 1606.

Europa / das ein Drittheil der Erden / nach gelegenheit unserer zeit beschrieben
In: Sebastian Münster. Cosmographia, Das ist Beschreibung der ganzen Welt. – Basel, 1628.

Regnum & tota regione Poloniae
In: Sebastian Münster. Cosmographiae universalis. 16th c. 

Pay attention! This is very important!

In the old maps the large territories to the east from Lithuania are called "Tartaria", "Tartaren", and between the lands of Lithuania and the Tartarian lands there is pointed "Moscovia", it means the territories under the rule of Moscow.


Find Lithuania, Moscovia and Tartary in the allegoric figure of 16th c. Europe (Münster's allegorical representation of Europe).

Antique map by MÜNSTER, S. - Europa Regina
Europa as a Queen

2. Michele Bianchi was in Lithuania in 1655 …

An excerpt from the narration of Italian diplomat Michele Bianchi

In 1655 he was in Lithuania and could observe the war himself:

“In Vilnius, similar like in Smolensk, the enemy was very barbaric to Catholic churches […] Unfortunately, valuable items including golden masterpieces, expensive furniture was left to the enemy […] If I hadn’t seen the endless row of horse-vans full of spoil, countless amount of horses, cattle, which were moving east towards Moscow for entire six months myself, I couldn’t believe in it. […] Without any doubt I can say that I saw more than one hundred thousand horse-vans full of cheap furniture, pieces of iron, copper, tin, lead, cotton, hemp and other things, which had higher or smaller value”.

Michele Bianchi (Alberto Vimina). Trumpas pasakojimas apie Lietuvos ir Lenkijos karą su Maskva XVII a. viduryje / Breve racconto della guerra di Lituania e Polonia contro Mosca alla meta del XVII secolo. Vertė / traduzione a cura di Guido Michelini, komentarus parašė / note a cura di Antanas Tyla, sudarė / vokime a cura di Vydas Dolinskas, Vilnius, 2004, p. 137,139.


1. What was the purpose of these robberies?

2. Can you compare these robberies with similar ones in history?

3. Defensive city wall in 16th century and the loss of its meaning in 17th c.

After battle of  Grunwald in 1410, there was no danger for Vilnius due to the assaults of German knights from the West (Prussia) and North (Livonia). The city could grow and prosper. But in the end of 15th c. to the South from Vilnius have already started to appear the Tartarian knights, who assaulted the smaller settlements, devastating them. For this reason in the Ist quarter of 16th c. the defensive wall of Vilnius was built. The building finished in 1522.

3.1. Vilnius in Braun’s atlas

Unfortunately, we have no view showing what was the recently built wall of Vilnius city.
In the  book of Sebastian  Münster „Cosmographia universalis” (Basel, 1552) city wall of Vilna in the picture is very simbolic.

Cosmographiae uniuersalis. Lib. VI. (…) / Autore Sebast[iano] Munstero. - Basileae : apud Henrichum Petri, 1552, p. 908.

See: (+ Zoom)

But the city wall is well shown in the atlas issued by G. Braun "Civitates orbis terrarum", its III volume (1581). There is shown that the wall was partly tumbledown.

Vilna Litvaniae Metropolis
[Braun and Hogenberg. ''Civitates Orbis Terrarum'', 1581]

1. URL:

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2. URL: [Larger Image]

Edition Description:

3. URL: [Wikimedia Commons]

3.2. Beset of Riga in 1656.

In 1656 the Russian army has beset also the city of Riga near the Baltic sea in the then Livonia (the current territory of Latvia) for about one and half month. The Moscovians could not sieze Riga, because it was defended by the Swedish army. In the book issued in 1697, which was designed to the actitivy of the King of Sweden, Karl Gustav, we find also a picture viewing the beset of Riga in1656.

Urbs Riga

Source: Samuel von Pufendorf. ''Sieben Buecher Von denen Thaten Carl Gustavs Koenigs in Schweden'' N. 45. Publiziert von Christoph Riegel in Nürnberg 1697.

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Enlarged City:

Pay attention! This is very important!

The trajectories of cannon-shots are pointed on this picture, which raise high above the city walls. The army of Moscovians has pelted Riga with cannons. The defenders city also used the artillery.

Picture „Urbs Riga“ shows the attempts of russians to take the city of Riga in 1656. Unfortunately, there are no pictures of Vilnius remained from this war.

Riga in Braun’s Atlas (1581)

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Compare the walls of cities of Vilnius and Riga, in what way were they shown in Braun’s atlas.
1. Which city had better defensive status and firmer defensive walls?

2.What was the role of Riga’s situation near the Baltic sea, considering defence?

3.3. The Vilnius city wall as the historical monument

In the middle of 17th c. the defensive wall of Vilnius city couldn’t already comply its functions. Eventually it has withered, and in the beginning of 19th c. by the order of tsar’s government it was ruined specially. Today only a fragment of this wall extant with the Gate of Dawn.


Gate of Dawn and a part of defensive city wall

Gate of Dawn and a part of defensive city wall (Photos in Web)

Published in Wikimedia Commons



From photo album “Unseen Lithuania”:





Old watercolor
Gate of Dawn – the wash-drawing of P. Smuglevicius
In: Wilno z przed stu lat w akwarelach Franciszka Smuglewicza. Wilno : J. Zawadzki, 1912.

The Gate of Dawn seen from the old town side

You can find more information concerning the defensive wall of Vilnius city and its elements in the Internet. Here we present only a few links.

Gate of Dawn

English version.   Copyright ©  2003-2008 Optima Tours

Ostra Brama

Polish version.   Copyright ©, 2002-2008

Das Tor der Morgenröte

German version.

The virtual panorama of the Chapel of the Gates of Dawn
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Virtueller Rundgang durch die Kapelle des Tor der Morgenröte

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Wirtualna panorama kaplicy Ostrobramskiej

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1. What European cities do you know, where any fragments of the defensive city walls are extant? Several examples are enough for the answer.

2. When, in what century those defensive city walls were built?

3. Why in 17th century the defensive city wall hadn’t already such the meaning as in 16th  c.? While answering this question, try to discuss invoking also some examples of the other defensive walls of European cities.

4. Why formerly people didn’t especially care about the obsolete city walls, and today in the most of European cities the extant fragments of the defensive city wall are still minded and repaired?

5. Following the search for additional information in the Internet and literature, try to answer the question: in what way the artilleric guns have improved in 17th century in comparison with the artillery of 14th – 16th  c.?