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Information Text: The 16th Century, Vilnius as a Multicultural Center - Law

The city of Vilnius first appears in written sources in the year 1323.  It only consolidated from a juridical perspective  in 1387 with the privilege of Magdeburg, also known as German law. This privilege came through Poland from Germany to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The privilege of Magdeburg was the most popular among the legal systems. The Law of Magdeburg gave citizens a duty privilege, with which they received immunity from taxes. The city council was elected. The Sovereign nominated the city administrator and councilor, thus forming a local aristocracy-patriarchy in Vilnius.

Every new Duke validated the Magdeburg privileges during the 15th century. The citizens got more rights and their economic and social lives expanded. City Hall was built with the privilege of Magdeburg and the blazon was endowed (the city received weapons as a gift from the Grand Duke). A customs system was instituted for people who visited Vilnius and tax measures were instituted: for weight, capacity, size and etc. The conditions for city development were beneficial.

The 16th century marks the peak of Vilnius social and juridical development. In 1551 the city constitution was instituted, which expanded self-government and governed the city’s inner life. Other law transformations included the first provision for craftsman’s workshops and a corroborative document for goldsmiths. In the 16th century many juridical documents let craftsmen establish workshops (smiths, metalworkers, shoemakers, masons and carpenters). These documents were a great opportunity to gain legal immunity and enabled economic growth.

The high point of legal thought in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was the Lithuanian Statute and its three stages of codification: 1529, 1566, 1588. The statutory process including formation, codification, enactment and announcement took place in the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Vilnius. The first and the second statutes were not printed. Scribes traveled from all of the states to make transcriptions of the statutes. Eventually the third statute was printed at the Mamoniciu printing house in 1588. The three Lithuanian codifications were a phenomenon during this time (the 16th and 17th centuries) due to the fact that from a legal standpoint they were very systematic and complete. They continue to have a huge effect on legal culture.


Law of Magdeburg: Also known as German law. The name originated from the Saxon city of Magdeburg, which received the rights in 1188 from the archbishop. These rights marked a new stage for the city. It meant that the city became not only self-governing as an institution within the city, but also that it also received many liberties, such as trade rights among others, which resulted in a new quality of life and identification of city dwellers.

Codification: From the Latin word codificatio, which means “to be selected in one big work/book of laws.” These law books were organized by special principles, which formed undivided work. 

Statute of Lithuania (Three Editions): These three statutes were famous pieces of law, which were codified in the 16th century in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. These three statutes were very systemic and showed a high level judicial culture for this time.