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Legend about Kaunas city foundation

Original version
Duke Palemonas a relative of Roman Emperor Nero fearing the murderous hand of him, fled Ancient Rome around 1st century AD. He took his three sons with him – Barcus, Kūnas (Kaunas), and Sperus as well as 500 noble families and after a long journey through seas and oceans all the way up north he reached the Baltic coast where the tribal lands that later became Lithuania were. After Palemon’s death, his sons divided the land among themselves. Kūnas got the land where Kaunas now stands and where there was only a simple village with several huts. He built a fortress where the rivers Nemunas and Neris meet and it became the capital of those lands. The city that grew around with the castle was named Kaunas after him. According to a further legend, the founder of the city died in a fight with Kievan Rus, entering the duke Mystislav, where he was headed and his body left behind.
Main characters
Duke Palemonas; Kaunas, the son of the duke
Connected artistic / architectonic / historical heritage
The Palemonids were a legendary dynasty of Grand Dukes of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The legend was born in the 15th or 16th century as proof that Lithuanians and the Grand Duchy are of Roman origins. Already Jan Długosz (1415–1480) wrote that the Lithuanians were of Roman origin, but did not provide any proof. The legend is first recorded in the second edition of the Lithuanian Chronicle produced in the 1530s. At the time the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was quarrelling with the Kingdom of Poland, rejecting the claims that Poland had civilized the pagan and barbaric Lithuania. The Lithuanian nobility felt a need for the ruling dynasty to show upstanding origins, as the only available chronicles at the time were written by the Teutonic Knights, a long-standing enemy, and depicted Gediminas as a hostler of Vytenis. Source: "" target="_blank">"
Local traditions or historical connections
Even though legend suggest that Palemonas and his sons reached lands of Lithuania and established Kaunas around 1st century AD, but the first time it was mentioned in 1140 on the map of an Arab cartographer Al Idrisi. Later the name of Kaunas was mentioned in the chronicle of Wigand of Marburg (Vygandas Marburgietis) in 1361, as the latter was describing Kaunas Castle the fortress of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, attacked by the Crusaders. Lithuanian chronicles recorded the legend of the Roman origins of Lithuanians in the early 16th century, in which Roman Duke Palemon and 500 of his noble companions by settling in lands of Lithuania allegedly started the dynasties of Lithuanian dukes and gentry. The Goštautai (Gasztołdowie), the Alšėniškiai (Olshanski), the Radvilos (Radziwiłł) and other noble houses used the Roman origins myth to claim historical tradition worthy of their power. This pushed the sixteenth-century values and social relations far into the past and gave historical legitimacy to the power of the nobility in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. There is no any kind of tradition to be embracing legend of establishment of Kaunas city by celebrating it, but northeast part of the city was named after roman duke Palemonas. Source: "" target="_blank">"
Didactical Relevance
Knowledge about the foundation of the city is important because Kaunas is located in the middle of Lithuania and two biggest rivers Nemunas and Neris colide into one here. With almost three hundred thousand inhabitants Kaunas is the second biggest city in Lithuania. It is not only a city of old traditions, but also a large centre of business and industry. It can also lay claim to be a city of young people with over 35,000 students (the largest number in Lithuania) studying at one of the seven universities here. Gothic architecture, defensive fortresses, footprints, left by various ethnical groups that used to live there, museums, Kaunas as the capital of the First Lithuanian Republic, rationalism and functionalism in architecture – these are only several of the possible routes for the first acquaintance with Kaunas. Kaunas was always fated to become an important historical and cultural city in Lithuania. In 1408, Magdeburg rights were granted to the city of Kaunas by the privilege of Vytautas the Great. During the early 20th century, governed by its first Burgomaster Jonas Vileisis, Kaunas was the home of the Lithuanian Government and the capital city; a period considered by many as the golden age of the city. Hundreds of years of cultural heritage is preserved in the historical and architectural monuments, museums, theatres, art galleries and churc hes of Kaunas.
Didactical Activity
Direct visit to the city or virtual visit using google earth, or watching youtube links, of different choosing: Connections with specific subjects: History – discuss the need for Lithuanian noblemen to look and try to claim their origins from Roman families. Visiting oldest or the most important buildings and discussing which of them are the most essential for city and country in general - Kaunas Castle, it‘s Lithuania's oldest defensive site which history starts in 1361. (Today, the castle is used as a museum, with interactive exhibitions telling its long life history.), or HOUSE OF THUNDER (PERKŪNO NAMAS) which is one of the most original and impressive examples of flamboyant Gothic architecture in Lithuania and considered of being the oldest building in town. The oldest church in Kaunas, and perhaps the most beloved, is Vytautas Church, built for Franciscan monks around the year 1400. Kaunas is often called the city of Grand Duke Vytautas who, according to legend, built the church in thanks to the Virgin Mary who he thought had saved his life in a battle with the Tartars. Geography – reasons why Palemonas and his sons decided to start settlements in this location. What advantages does two rivers give for growth of the city. Research and compare possible landscape of those times in this region to nowadays. Arts/architecture – Kaunas will become European Capital of Culture in 2022, on of the reasons is Kaunas design and architecture of the 1930s were inspired by both luxurious American Art Deco and individualistic, avant-gardist French Art déco and its modernism to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So students might try to incorporate this architecture style in there drawings of the future urbanization of the city, or they could separate into groups, research, then draw and compare buildings that were build in times when legend took place. Talk about purposes of buildings and reasons of which the architecture evolves.


Kaunas castle
Insight of the Kaunas castle
The story of Palemonas and Kaunas foundation
The story of Palemonas and Kaunas foundation


Dukes Palemone son Kūnas
Founder of Kaunas
Kaunas castle remains
Kaunas from above
Castle of Kaunas
Old Image of the castle of Kaunas
Duke Palemonas

External Sources

Link to site of various information and events that's happening in Kaunas
Kaunas: The Founding Legend
link to pdf file about Kaunas: The Founding Legend and Main Historical Facts

PDF version of the legend in national language