The Balts or Baltic people (Lithuanian: baltai, Latvian: balti) are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group who speak the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family, which was originally spoken by tribes living in the area east of Jutland peninsula in the west and in the Moscow, Oka and Volga rivers basins in the east. One of the features of Baltic languages is the number of conservative or archaic features retained. Among the Baltic peoples are modern Lithuanians, Latvians (including Latgalians) — all Eastern Balts — as well as the Old Prussians, Yotvingians and Galindians — the Western Balts — whose languages and cultures are now extinct.
|c. 5.5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
| Lithuania 2,563,325|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Slavs (mostly Belarusians, Kashubians and Pomeranians)|
German medieval chronicler Adam of Bremen in the latter part of the 11th century AD was the first writer to use the term Baltic in its modern sense to mean the sea of that name. Although he must have been familiar with the ancient name, Balcia, meaning a supposed island in the Baltic Sea, and although he may have been aware of the Baltic words containing the stem balt-, "white", as "swamp", he reports that he followed the local use of balticus from baelt ("belt") because the sea stretches to the east "in modum baltei" ("in the manner of a belt"). This is the first reference to "the Baltic or Barbarian Sea, a day's journey from Hamburg."
The Germans, however, preferred some form of "East Sea" (in different languages) until after about 1600, when they began to use forms of "Baltic Sea." Around 1840 the German nobles of the Governorate of Livonia devised the term "Balts" to mean themselves, the German upper classes of Livonia, excluding the Latvian and Estonian lower classes. They spoke an exclusive dialect, Baltic German. For all practical purposes that was the Baltic language until 1919.
In 1845 Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian, Lithuanian and Old Prussian to be called Baltic. The term became prelevant after Latvia and Lithuania gained independence in 1918. Up until early 20th century "Latvian" and "Lithuanian" could be used to mean the entire language family.
The Balts or Baltic peoples, defined as speakers of one of the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family, are descended from a group of Indo-European tribes who settled the area between the lower Vistula and southeast shore of the Baltic Sea and upper Daugava and Dnieper rivers. Because the thousands of lakes and swamps in this area contributed to the Balts' geographical isolation, the Baltic languages retain a number of conservative or archaic features.
It is possible that around 3,500–2,500 B.C., there was massive migration of peoples representing the Corded Ware culture. They came from the southeast and spread all across Eastern and Central Europe, reaching even southern Finland. It is believed that Corded Ware culture peoples were Indo-European ancestors of many Europeans, including Balts. It is thought that those Indo-European newcomers were quite numerous and in the Eastern Baltic assimilated earlier indigenous cultures (Europidic cultures such as the Narva culture and Neman culture). Over time the new people formed the Baltic peoples and they spread in the area from the Baltic sea in the west to the Volga in the east.
Some of the major authorities on Balts, such as Kazimieras Būga, Max Vasmer, Vladimir Toporov and Oleg Trubachyov, in conducting etymological studies of eastern European river names, were able to identify in certain regions names of specifically Baltic provenance, which most likely indicate where the Balts lived in prehistoric times. This information is summarized and synthesized by Marija Gimbutas in The Balts (1963) to obtain a likely proto-Baltic homeland. Its borders are approximately: from a line on the Pomeranian coast eastward to include or nearly include the present-day sites of Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, and Kursk, northward through Moscow to the River Berzha, westward in an irregular line to the coast of the Gulf of Riga, north of Riga.
A possible early reference to a Baltic people occurs in 98 CE, when Tacitus names a tribe living near the Baltic Sea (Mare Svebicum) as the Aesti (Aestiorum gentes) and describes them as amber gatherers. However, it is not clear if the Aesti mentioned by Tacitus were: (1) a (now-extinct) Baltic people (possibly synonymous with the Brus/Prūsa), or; (2) a Finno-Ugric people (e.g. modern Estonians). The Aesti appear to have inhabited the Sambian peninsula (in or near the present Kaliningrad Oblast.
Over time, the area of Baltic habitation shrank, due to assimilation by other groups, and invasions. According to one of the theories which has gained considerable traction over the years, one of the western Baltic tribes, the Galindians, Galindae, or Goliad, migrated to the Eastern end of Baltic realm around the 4th century CE, and settled around modern day Moscow, Russia. Finally, according to Slavic chronicles of the time, they warred with Slavs, and perhaps, were defeated and assimilated some time in the 11th to 13th centuries.
Balts became differentiated into Western and Eastern Balts in the late centuries BCE. The eastern Baltic region was inhabited by ancestors of the Western Balts: Brus/Prūsa ("Old Prussians"), Sudovians/Jotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, and Curonians. The Eastern Balts, including the hypothesised Dniepr Balts, were living in modern-day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
Subsequent Germanic and Gothic domination in the first half of the first millennium CE in Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as later Slavic expansion, caused large migrations of the Balts — first, the Galindae or Galindians towards the east, and later, Eastern Balts towards the west — until, in the 13th and 14th centuries, they reached the general area that the present-day Balts inhabit. Many other Eastern and Southern Balts either assimilated with other Balts, or Slavs in the 4th–7th centuries and were gradually slavicized.
In the 12th and the 13th centuries, internal struggles, as well as invasions by Ruthenians and Poles and later the expansion of the Teutonic Order resulted in an almost complete annihilation of the Galindians, Curonians, and Yotvingians. Gradually Old Prussians became Germanized or some Lithuanized during period from the 15th to the 17th centuries, especially after the Reformation in Prussia. The cultures of the Lithuanians and Latgalians/Latvians survived and became the ancestors of the populations of the modern countries of Latvia and Lithuania.
Old Prussian was closely related to the other extinct Western Baltic languages, Curonian, Galindian and Sudovian. It is more distantly related to the surviving Eastern Baltic languages, Lithuanian and Latvian. Compare the Prussian word seme (zemē), the Latvian zeme, the Lithuanian žemė (land in English).
Modern Baltic peoples
The Balt dynasty or Balth dynasty (Latin: Balti or Balthi, Balts) was the first ruling family of the Visigoths from 395 until 531. They led the Visigoths into the Western Roman Empire in its declining years.
According to the historian Ablabius, as reported by the historian Jordanes, the Visigoths had been ruled by the Balti since ancient times. Jordanes, however, says that all the Goths were formerly ruled by the Amals. Relying on Cassiodorus, Jordanes says that the Balts were "second" after the Ostrogothic Amal dynasty. He claims that the family was named from long ago for its daring: "Baltha, which [in Gothic] means bold" (Baltha, qui est audax).The Visigoths as a nation were formed under the rule of Alaric I, the first named Balt, only in 395. He famously sacked Rome in 410. His descendants continued to rule down to 531, when on the death of Amalaric the line went extinct. In 507, the Visigoths were defeated by the Franks at the Battle of Vouillé and lost most of their kingdom. In 511, the Ostrogothic king Theoderic the Great intervened to depose the Balt king Gesalec. He ruled himself until his death in 526, when Amalaric succeded him. Theoderic's intervention is often credited with saving the Visigothic kingdom, but it ended the Balt dynasty.The private wealth (res privata) of the Balt kings, which had been a foundation of the legitimacy, was transformed into the royal treasury (thesaurus regalis) and became state property after 531. The dynastic principle was abandoned and kings were chosen by election until the fall of the Visigothic kingdom in711.Baltic Germans
The Baltic Germans (German: Deutsch-Balten or Deutschbalten, later Baltendeutsche) are ethnic German inhabitants of the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, in what today are Estonia and Latvia. Since their expulsion from Estonia and Latvia and resettlement during the upheavals and aftermath of the Second World War, Baltic Germans have markedly declined as a geographically determined ethnic group. The largest groups of present-day descendants of the Baltic Germans are found in Germany and Canada. It is estimated that several thousand still reside in Latvia and Estonia.
For centuries Baltic Germans and the Baltic nobility constituted a ruling class over native non-German serfs. The emerging Baltic-German middle class was mostly urban and professional.
In the 12th and 13th centuries Catholic Germans, both traders and crusaders (see Ostsiedlung), began settling in the eastern Baltic territories. After the Livonian Crusade, they assumed control of government, politics, economics, education and culture of these lands, ruling for more than 700 years until 1918 — usually in alliance with Polish, Swedish or Russian overlords. With the decline of Latin, German became the language of all official documents, commerce, education and government.
At first the majority of German settlers lived in small cities and military castles. Their elite formed the Baltic nobility, acquiring large rural estates and comprising the social, commercial, political and cultural elite of Latvia and Estonia for several centuries. After 1710 many of these men increasingly took high positions in the military, political and civilian life of the Russian Empire, particularly in Saint Petersburg. Baltic Germans held citizenship in the Russian Empire until the Revolution of 1918. They then held Estonian or Latvian citizenship until the occupation and later annexation of these areas by the Soviet Union in 1939–1940.
The Baltic German population never surpassed more than 10% of the total population. In 1881 there were 180,000 Baltic Germans in Russia's Baltic provinces, but by 1914 this number had declined to 162,000. In 1881 there were approximately 46,700 Germans in Estonia (5.3% of the population). According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, there were 120,191 Germans in Latvia, or 6.2% of the population.Baltic German history and presence in the Baltics came to an end in late 1939, following the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the subsequent Nazi–Soviet population transfers. Almost all the Baltic Germans were resettled by Nazi Germany under the Heim ins Reich program into the newly formed Reichsgaue of Wartheland and Danzig-West Prussia (on the territory of the occupied Second Polish Republic). In 1945, most ethnic Germans were expelled from these lands by the Soviet army. Resettlement was planned for the territory remaining to Germany under terms of the border changes promulgated at the Potsdam Conference, i.e. west of the Oder–Neisse line, or elsewhere in the world.
Ethnic Germans from East Prussia and Lithuania are sometimes incorrectly considered Baltic Germans for reasons of cultural, linguistic, and historical affinities. But the Germans of East Prussia held Prussian, and after 1871, German citizenship, because the territory they lived in was part of Kingdom of Prussia.Baltic culture in Pomerania
The Pomeranian Balts, or Western Balts, were a branch of the Baltic people with a distinct culture during the Bronze Age to Iron Age. They may have inhabited parts of the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, an area now known as Pomerania.Baltic languages
The Baltic languages belong to the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. Baltic languages are spoken by the Balts, mainly in areas extending east and southeast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe.
Scholars usually regard them as a single language family divided into two groups: Western Baltic (containing only extinct languages) and Eastern Baltic (containing two living languages, Lithuanian and Latvian). The range of the Eastern Baltic linguistic influence once possibly reached as far as the Ural Mountains, but this hypothesis has been questioned.Old Prussian, a Western Baltic language that became extinct in the 18th century, ranks as the most archaic of the Baltic languages.Although morphologically related, the Lithuanian, Latvian and, particularly, Old Prussian vocabularies differ substantially from one another, and as such they are not mutually intelligible, mainly due to a substantial number of false friends, and foreign words, borrowed from surrounding language families, which are used differently.Bast shoe
Bast shoes are shoes made primarily from bast — fiber taken from the bark of trees such as linden or birch. They are a kind of basket, woven and fitted to the shape of a foot. Bast shoes are an obsolete traditional footwear of the forest areas of Northern Europe, formerly worn by poorer members of the Finnic peoples, Balts,Russians and Belarussians. They were easy to manufacture, but not durable.
Bast shoes have been worn since prehistoric times. Wooden foot-shaped blocks (lasts) for shaping them have been found in neolithic excavations, e.g. 4900 years old. Bast shoes were still worn in the Russian countryside at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today bast shoes are sold as souvenirs and sometimes worn by ethnographic music or dance troupes as part of their costume.
In Russian, they are called lapti (лапти, sing. лапоть, lapot); this word is used as a derogatory term for cheap and short-lived footwear and, in the form lapotnik (лапотник), also for an uneducated person, notionally one who is too poor to afford good shoes and wears bast shoes instead. The MiG-105 "Spiral" spaceplane was nicknamed Lapot for the shape of its nose.
Bast shoes played an important role in the founding myth of Přemyslid dynasty, which reigned in Bohemia and Moravia until 1306 AD. Přemysl the Ploughman, its legendary ancestor, was a peasant of humble origin. His bast shoes and bast-bag were kept as relics at Vyšehrad and Czech kings put them on during their coronations. The relics probably were destroyed when Vyšehrad fell to Hussites in 1420.Dennie–Morgan fold
A Dennie–Morgan fold, also known as a Dennie–Morgan line or an infraorbital fold, is a fold or line in the skin below the lower eyelid. It can simply be an ethnic/genetic trait, but was found in one study to occur in 25% of patients with atopic dermatitis. The presence of Dennie–Morgan folds can be used as a diagnostic marker for allergy with a sensitivity of 78% and specificity of 76% according to one study.Such folds are also common among certain ethnic groups such as Blacks, Tatars, Slavs, Balts, and Finno-Ugric peoples and are not known to be associated with any medical condition in these.The pathophysiology of this sign is not clear. One proposed mechanism is that continuous spasm of the superior tarsal muscle and skin edema could be due to hypoxia from poor circulation.A Dennie–Morgan fold should not be confused with an "allergic shiner", a purple-gray discolouration beneath the lower eyelid. This is related to the accumulation of blood and other fluid in the infraorbital groove resulting from nasal congestion.Dievas
Lithuanian Dievas, Latvian Dievs, Latgalian Dīvs, Prussian Deywis, Yotvingian Deivas was the supreme god in the Baltic mythology and one of the most important deities together with Perkūnas. Dievas is a direct successor of the Proto-Indo-European supreme god *Dyēus of the root *deiwo-. Its Proto-Baltic form was *Deivas.In recent Lithuanian and Latvian, this word may refer to the deity of any kind (Pagan, Christian, fictional and the like).
In English, Dievas may be used as a word to describe the God (or, the supreme god) in the pre-Christian religion of Balts, where Dievas was understood to be the supreme being of the world. In Lithuanian and Latvian, it is also used to describe God as it is understood by major world religions today. Earlier *Deivas simply denoted the shining sunlit dome of the sky, as in other Indo-European mythologies. The celestial aspect is still apparent in phrases such as Saule noiet dievā, from Latvian folksongs. In Hinduism any deity is known as Deva, a result of shared Proto-Indo-European roots.Dniepr Balts
The Dniepr Balts, a hypothetical subgroup of the Eastern Balts, are Baltic tribes that lived near the Dnieper River in the Bronze Age, and later were assimilated by the Slavs.
The Dniepr Balts were studied by the archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, Lithuanian linguist Kazimieras Būga, and by Russian scientists Vladimir Toporov, O.Trubachev, who analysed hydronyms at the higher Dnieper basin. They have found nearly 800 hydronyms of possibly Baltic origin.Galindians
Galindians were two distinct, and now extinct, tribes of the Balts. Most commonly, Galindians refers to the Western Galindians who lived in the southeast part of Prussia. Less commonly, it is used for a tribe that lived in the area of what is today Moscow.
The name "Galinda" is thought to derive from the Baltic word *galas ("the end"), alluding to the fact that they settled for some time further west and further east than any other Baltic tribe.Genetic studies on Russians
Genetic studies show that modern Russians are closest to Belarusians, Balts and Ukrainians. Some ethnographers, like Zelenin, affirm that Russians overall are more similar to Belarusians and to Ukrainians than southern Russians are to northern Russians. Russians in northern European Russia share moderate genetic similarities with Balts, West Uralic people and Baltic Finns, who lived in modern north-central European Russia and were partly assimilated by the Slavs as the Slavs migrated northeastwards.Germania
Germania (; Latin: [ɡɛrˈmaː.ni.a]) was the Roman term for the geographical region in north-central Europe inhabited mainly by Germanic peoples.
It extended from the Danube in the south to the Baltic Sea, and from the Rhine in the west to the Vistula. The Roman portions formed two provinces of the Empire, Germania Inferior to the north (present-day southern Netherlands, Belgium, and western Germany), and Germania Superior to the south (Switzerland, southwestern Germany, and eastern France).
Germania was inhabited mostly by Germanic tribes, but also Celts, Balts, Scythians and later on Early Slavs. The population mix changed over time by assimilation, and especially by migration. The ancient Greeks were the first to mention the tribes in the area. Later, Julius Caesar wrote about warlike Germanic tribesmen and their threat to Roman Gaul, and there were military clashes between the Romans and the indigenous tribes. Tacitus wrote the most complete account of Germania that still survives.
The origin of the term "Germania" is uncertain, but was known by Caesar's time, and may be Gaulish in origin.History of Lithuanian culture
The culture of Lithuania, dating back to 200 BC, with the settlement of the Balts and has been independent of the presence of a sovereign Lithuanian state.Midus
Midus is a type of Lithuanian mead, an alcoholic beverage made of grain, honey and water.
Balts were making mead for thousands of years. Old Lithuanian mead was made from a solution of honey and water simmered with various spices, such as thyme, lemon, cinnamon, cherries, linden blossoms, juniper berries, and hops. Today Midus is produced by several companies and is to be found in majority of liquor shops.Prussia (region)
Prussia (Old Prussian: Prūsa; German: Preußen; Lithuanian: Prūsija; Polish: Prusy; Russian: Пруссия) is a historical region in Europe, stretching from Gdańsk Bay to the end of Curonian Spit on the southeastern coast of the Baltic Sea, and extending inland as far as Masuria. The territory and inhabitants were described by Tacitus in Germania in AD 98, where Suebi, Goths and other Germanic people lived on both sides of the Vistula River, adjacent to the Aesti (further east). About 800 to 900 years later the Aesti were named Old Prussians, who, since 997, repeatedly defended themselves against take-over attempts by the newly created Duchy of the Polans. The territory of the Old Prussians and neighboring Curonians and Livonians was unified politically in the 1230s as the Teutonic Order State. Prussia was politically divided between 1466 and 1772, with western Prussia under protection of the Crown of Poland and eastern Prussia a Polish–Lithuanian fief until 1660. The unity of both parts of Prussia remained preserved by retaining its borders, citizenship and autonomy until western and eastern Prussia were also politically reunited under the German Kingdom of Prussia (which despite the name was based in Berlin, Brandenburg). It is famous for many lakes, as well as forests and hills. Since the military conquest of the area by the Soviet Army in 1945 and the expulsion of the German-speaking inhabitants it was divided between northern Poland (most of the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship), Russia's Kaliningrad exclave, and southwestern Lithuania (Klaipėda Region). The former German kingdom and later state of Prussia (1701–1947) derived its name from the region.Romuva (religion)
Romuva is a modern reinstitution of the traditional ethnic religion of the Baltic peoples, reviving the ancient religious practices of the Lithuanians before their Christianization in 1387. Romuva claims to continue living Baltic pagan traditions which survived in folklore and customs. Romuva is a polytheistic pagan faith which asserts the sanctity of nature and ancestor worship. Practising the Romuva faith is seen by many adherents as a form of cultural pride, along with celebrating traditional forms of art, retelling Baltic folklore, practising traditional holidays, playing traditional Baltic music, singing traditional dainas or hymns and songs as well as ecological activism and stewarding sacred places. The community was organized and led by krivių krivaitis (high priest) Jonas Trinkūnas until his death in 2014. He was buried according to the old Baltic traditions. His wife Inija Trinkūnienė was chosen as the new krivė (high priest) and her ordination was held on May 31, 2015 in Vilnius on the Gediminas Hill. She is the first woman to become krivė in the long pagan history.Romuva primarily exists in Lithuania but there are also congregations of adherents in Australia, Canada, the United States, and England. There are also Romuvans in Norway, for whom a formal congregation is being organized. There are believers of Baltic pagan faiths in other nations, including Dievturība in Latvia. According to the 2001 census, there were 1,270 people of Baltic faith in Lithuania. That number jumped to 5,118 in the 2011 census.Romuva (temple)
Romuva or Romowe (also known as Rickoyoto in the writings of Simon Grunau) was an alleged pagan worship place (a temple or a sacred area) in the western part of Sambia, one of the regions of pagan Prussia. In contemporary sources the temple is mentioned only once, by Peter von Dusburg in 1326. According to his account, Kriwe, the chief priest or "pagan pope", lived at Romuva and ruled over the religion of all the Balts. According to Simon Grunau, the temple was central to Prussian mythology. Even though there are considerable doubts whether such a place actually existed, the Lithuanian neo-pagan movement Romuva borrowed its name from the temple.Saint Jonas' Festival
Saint Jonas' Festival, also known as Rasos (Dew Holiday), Joninės, Kupolė, Midsummer Day or Saint John's Day) is a midsummer folk festival celebrated on June 24 all around Lithuania. While midsummer day is celebrated throughout Europe, many Lithuanians have a particularly lively agenda on this day. The traditions include singing songs and dancing until the sun sets, telling tales, searching to find the magic fern blossom at midnight, jumping over bonfires, greeting the rising midsummer sun and washing the face with a morning dew, young girls float flower wreaths on the water of river or lake. These are customs brought from pagan culture and beliefs.
Once upon a time the Balts, the ancestors of the Lithuanians, celebrated the feast of Rasos by offering sacrifices to the pagan gods, and priestesses incited the altar fire. Only when Christianity came to Lithuania, this festival was identified with St. John name-day and since then was called Joninės (St. John's). Lithuanians with the names Jonas, Jonė, Janina receive many greetings from their family, relatives and friends.Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers
The Swedish extradition of Baltic soldiers, in Sweden known as the Extradition of the Balts (Swedish: Baltutlämningen), is a controversial political event that took place in 1945-1946, when Sweden extradited some 150 Latvian and Estonian Waffen-SS volunteers and conscripts who had been drafted and recruited by Germany to fight against the Soviet Union during World War II.Yotvingians
Yotvingians, or Sudovians (also called Suduvians, Jatvians, or Jatvingians in English; Lithuanian: Jotvingiai, Sūduviai; Latvian: Jātvingi; Polish: Jaćwingowie, Belarusian: Яцвягі, Russian: Ятвяги German: Sudauer), were a Baltic people with close cultural ties in the 13th century to the Lithuanians and Prussians. The Yotvingian language (sometimes called Sudovian) was a Western Baltic language, nearest to Old Prussian but with small variations. They were referred to in regional historical records into the 19th century.