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Theodor Narbutt

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Theodor Narbutt

Teodor Narbutt (November 8, 1784, in the village of Szawry near Hrodna – November 27, 1864 in Vilna) was a Polish–Lithuanian writer, Romantic historian and military engineer. He is best remembered as the author of a ten-volume Polish-language history of Lithuania from the early Middle Ages to the Union of Lublin.


Teodor Narbutt was in 1784 near Hrodna (modern Belarus) in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, to a notable szlachta family of Trąby Coat of Arms. Early in his youth his fatherland was partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia. After graduating from a Piarist college at Lyubeshiv, Narbutt entered the Vilna Academy, where in 1803 he graduated in engineering. He then moved to St. Petersburg, where he joined the Cadet Corps. He served in the Imperial Russian Army, where he became a captain in the field engineering corps. He took part in the 1807 and 1812 Russian campaigns against Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1809 he constructed the Bobruysk fortress (modern Babruysk, Belarus), for which he was awarded the Order of Saint Anna.

At the same time, since 1813 he became interested in archaeology and started to organize numerous excavations across the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania. His passion for history, culture and folklore of the lands of former Grand Duchy was first shown after 1817, at which date he started to write historical articles for various Vilna-based newspapers. He also started to collect copies of documents related to the ancient history of Lithuania, which were published in 1846 in an anthology Pomniki do dziejów litewskich (Monuments of Lithuanian History). Among the most notable primary sources he published was the 16th-century (?) Letopis of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, also known as the Bychowiec Chronicle, after its founder Aleksander Bychowiec.

Between 1835 and 1841 he published a monumental, 10-volume history of Lithuania, covering the period from the prehistoric times to the Union of Lublin. Although largely based on folk tales, dubious and often falsified sources, the book had a tremendous impact on both historiography of Lithuania, and later on Lithuanian national revival. Its Lithuanian translation became the first history of Lithuania written entirely from a Lithuanian perspective. Paradoxically, the book underlined the Ruthenian past of Lithuania, and as such was highly acclaimed by Russian historians and authorities alike. For it, Narbutt was awarded by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia a gold ring set with a ruby, the Order of Saint Anne and the Order of Saint Vladimir. In 1856, Narbutt published yet another collection of texts, comprising original primary sources and his own forgeries. Among the most popular of the latter was von Kyburg's Diary, a fabricated account of Lithuania in the 13th century.

Throughout his life, Narbutt remained an active member of the Archaeological Commission of Vilna, as well as a notable engineer. Between 1847 and 1852 he constructed a parish church in Eišiškės, now Lithuania. Although loyal to Imperial Russia, the anti-Russian January Uprising brought an end to his family. His wife, Krystyna Narbutt née Sadowska was sentenced to forced resettlement to Siberia and was not allowed to return until 1871. His older son, Ludwik Narbutt, became a notable commander of the Polish forces in the area of Lida and was killed in a skirmish against the Russians. The younger son Bolesław was sentenced to death by the Russian authorities, but his sentence was later changed to life imprisonment because of his young age. Narbutt's only daughter Teodora had to flee the country and was sentenced to forced labour in absentia. Narbutt himself died in 1864 in Vilna.


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