THEY were battles fought a long time ago in a country far away, and probably very few Scots know of the role their ancestors played in wars that changed the face of Europe.

The people of Belarus have not forgotten their history, however, and they have just staged a huge re-enactment that marked the role of Scottish mercenaries in the 17th century conflicts that abounded in Central Europe before, during and after the Thirty Years War.

The re-enactment consisted of a siege and battle at Mir Castle, a UNESCO world heritage site which is one of the top tourist attractions in Belarus.

Landlocked between Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus declared its independence when the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, but its historical roots go back centuries and though its links with Scotland were limited during the time of the USSR, there are now thriving relationships in educational circles in particular.

Scots once played a real part in its history – the first coins in the country were brought by Scots immigrant soldiers who set up thriving communities in the 17th century. To this day, women in Belarus often wear skirts that are recognisably tartan and a popular musical instrument in Belarus is the Duda, which is remarkably similar to the Highland bagpipes.

The Scottish soldiers were mostly Covenanters and other Presbyterians who came to the Continent to fight for Protestant rulers in the many religious wars of that century.

It is likely that the Scots who ended up fighting at Mir Castle in the 1650s were either the soldiers who had stayed on after the official end of the Thirty Years War in 1648 or new soldiers fresh from Scotland after Olver Cromwell’s conquest of our country.

It was the period of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth when the legendary Radziwill family ruled the land, with one of their Princes, Janusz Radziwill, employing a Scottish detachment as his personal life guards.

The Radziwills had Mir Castle as one of their residences – the castle was all but destroyed during the siege by the mighty Swedish army in 1655, a period known as The Deluge, and subsequently rebuilt twice over.

It was there that the re-enactment took place. According to the website, at the invitation of the Consul General of the Republic of Poland in Hrodna, Jaroslaw Ksiazek, historical re-enactors from all over Poland, as well as the Czech Republic and Hungary “set out to storm the Belarusian castles.”

In the Mir Castle, representatives of the historical clubs of Poland including a detachment of Polish hussars performed together with the Scottish Infantry group who were performing in the castle for the first time. According to reporters, few people knew that the Scots had the most direct relation to the Belarusian history and the Radziwill family.

The website states: “On our lands the Scots appeared as far back as the 16th century, and, in addition, brought with them the first coin.”

One of the re-enactors, Vital Konan, said: “The Scots fled to Rzeczpospolita (Poland) mainly because of religious persecution. They were Calvinists, and the Radziwills of the Calvinist line readily accepted them as mercenaries. Janusz Radziwill and his son Boguslav even founded settlements in Slutsk and Kaidan for them. In addition to military service, the Scots engaged in petty trade and created competition for the local Jews. Some goods were so monopolised by them that they even got the name ‘Scottish things’ – they are towels, mittens, beads, brooms and knives.”