The history of Belarus dates back to the Stone Age. This timeline of Belarus shows how Belarusian historical events have shaped the country today. The first signs of settlements in ancient Belarus date back approximately 100,000-35,000 years.
The most significant Stone Age settlements have been discovered in the Gomel region. Sites discovered from the Palaeolithic period in the village of Yurovichi (Kalinkovichi area) existed approximately 26 000 years ago. Sites discovered in the village of Berdysh (Chechersk area) date back 23,000-24,000 years. Ancient cultural relics have also been discovered in the Mogilev, Grodno and Minsk regions.
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Major dates in history
862 AD – the town of Polotsk was first mentioned in chronicles as a center of local tribes
10th century, second half – the Polotsk Principality was created
10th century, end – the Turov Principality was founded
1230 – Belarus was incorporated into the Great Duchy of Lithuania
1569 – Belarus was incorporated into Rzecz Pospolita
1772–1795 – Rzecz Pospolita together with Belarus were annexed to the Russian Empire
1918 – the Belarusian People’s Republic was proclaimed
1919 – the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was created as part of the USSR
1941–1945 – Belarus together with the USSR participated in the World War II
1945 – Belarus became one of the founding members of the United Nations
1990 – Belarus became a sovereign state
1994 – Belarus adopted Constitution and elected its first PresidentThe first written document of the Belarusan statehood goes far back as 980 AD when Prince Rogvold began his reign on Polotsk lands which are the historic and religious center of the Belarusan nation and culture. The formation of the features of Belarusan people began in special socioeconomic and political conditions of the Polotsk Principality. The young, fast growing state made close trade ties with German (Hansa) cities, with Scandinavia, neighboring eastern and southern principalities. On the Polotsk territory under the influence of local cultural views the traditions of Byzantine architecture were revaluated and as a result the outstanding Polotsk architecture school emerged in the 12th century. It greatly influenced the architecture of Smolensk and Vladimir-Suzdal principalities and later of the Moscow state.
From the 13th till the 16th century the territory of contemporary Belarus was the center of a medieval polyethnic state-Grand Duchy of Litva. The Grand Duchy of Litva which is sometimes called by historians Belarusan-Lithuanian state was one of the largest, most powerful and flourishing states in medieval Eastern Europe. The lands of contemporary Belarus, Lithuania, Ukraine and a part of Russia comprised this state. The large role of ethnic Belarusans in this state is proved by the fact that the state language in the Grand Duchy of Litva was Belarusan.
The period that started in the 15th century, when the crusaders’ expansion was crushed in the west, and lasted until the middle of the 17th century, when Moscow launched its widescale aggression, is considered the Golden age in Belarusan history. In this period there was a wide growth of old and the foundation of many new cities and towns. There occurred significant evolutionary processes in the culture and economy of Belarusan people. A number of historic facts provide evidence for that. In 1517 the great Belarusan scholar from Polotsk Doctor Francisc Skaryna published the Bible in the Belarusan language. Thus the Belarusans became the third nation after Germans and Czechs that had a printed Bible in their native language. In 1588 the third edition of Grand Duchy Statute came out. It was a comprehensive and elaborate state code of laws that stood above the local legal norms. Written in the Belarusan language it was the only full code of laws in Europe since the Roman Law and until the Napoleonic Code adopted in 1804. The above historic facts prove the Grand Duchy of Litva to have been a major political and cultural center in Eastern Europe at that time.
Belarus colonization by the Slavs began in the early centuries AD. Over the next few centuries they had settled over the entire region, replacing the earlier Baltic culture. In the 6th to 9th centuries East Slavs formed the first political associations – the unions of tribes.
The 9th century gives us the first recorded accounts of Polotsk and the Polotsk Duchy in the territory of modern Vitebsk and the northern part of the Minsk regions. It remained the dominating force in the region until the 13th century.
The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus and Samogotia was a powerful state spanning Belarus, Lithuania, the Kiev, Chernigov and Volyn areas of the Ukraine and western Russia from the Baltics to the Black Sea.
The Grand Duchy began its rise to power under the reign of Mindovg (Mindaugas) in the 13th century and only began to lose its authority after a number of wars in the 16th century.
In 1569 the Grand Duchy and the Kingdom of Poland signed the Union of Lublin: on equal terms the Duchy and the Crown united in a federative state – Rzecz Pospolita. It signified the start of a new chapter in Belarusian history.
This was a particularly turbulent time in Belarusian history. The state was drawn into wars in Europe and with Russia including:
1654-1667 – war with Russia
1700-1721 – North War (Sweden and Russia)
Rzecz Pospolita led to long wars which weakened the state, and it lost its independence. In 1772 the western provinces of Belarus were annexed to the Russian Empire and in 1795 Rcecz Pospolitsa was divided between Russia, Austria and Prussia.
As a result of the division of Rzecz Pospolita into three parts, Belarus land became part of the Russian Empire. In these new territories the Russian Government started to pursue a policy of russification.
1794 to the First World War – a string of conflicts including:
Revolt under Tadeusz Kostushko’s leadership (1794)
Napoleonic invasion of Russia (1812)
Polish Revolt (1830 – 1831)
Great Rebellion, headed by Kastus Kalinovski (1863-1864)
In the 1880s the revolutionary organisation Gomon was established by Belarusian students in Saint Petersburg. This was the precursor to the first Belarusian national political party Gromada, formed in 1903.
In 1906 the Stolypin agrarian reform began. Mass displacement of the peasant classes (from 1906 – 1916) saw more than 33,000 move from Belarusian territory to Siberia.