Jakub Niedźwiedź, Literacy in Medieval and Early Modern Vilnius: Forms of Writing and Rhetorical Spaces in the City (Turnhout, 2023: USML 55), xlvi+765 pp. ISBN 978-2-503-60430-5.

Late medieval and early modern cities in Europe could not exist without the use of the written word. Based on a case study of Vilnius —the capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the fourteenth –eighteenth centuries —this book shows how rhetoric influenced all the spheres of urban literacy: the rules of writing, rhetorical genres and their functions, and the social practices of producing, preserving, and disseminating texts. Vilnius was a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-scriptural city, and its literary culture was particularly rich. What was the legal basis of the city? Who were the professionals of the written word? What was the role of schools and books in the literary culture of the city? How did women participate in Vilnius’s textuality? Which rhetorical genres were used? This study is based on research into the different types of texts used in Vilnius: contracts; last wills; sermons; municipal, state, and church records; primers; shopping lists; poetry; manuals; and letters, in Polish, Latin, Ruthenian, Lithuanian, Yiddish, and other languages written or printed in five alphabets. The rhetorical organization of Vilnius can serve as a model for examining other towns of the time. It also shows the complexity of the use of script in the multi-ethnic urban communities of North-Eastern Europe.


Preface, Abbreviations, Images

Chronological Table

List of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Kings of Poland


Transcriptions, Translations, and Spellings


Part 1: Loci Textuales in Late Medieval and Early Modern Vilnius

1. Chanceries, Courts, and Their Writing Staff

2. The Preservation of Texts

3. Schools

4. Loci Textuales of Women

Part 2: Languages and Scripts: Materiality, Writing and Reading

5. Reading and Writing in Early Modern Vilnius

6. The Materiality of Texts

7. The Book

Part 3: Genera Scribendi

8. Genus Deliberativum: Letters and Testaments

9. Texts in a Dispute

10. Epideictic Texts

11. Religious Texts



The Lost Voices of the Inhabitants of Vilnius