Balts

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For the similarly named ethnic group inhabiting northern Pakistani Kashmir, see Balti people. For information on Germans inhabiting the far eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, see Baltic Germans.
Balts
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Total population
5.8 million
Regions with significant populations
Latvians 1.8 million
Lithuanians 3 million
Languages
Baltic languages
Religion
Christianity, Baltic Neopaganism
Related ethnic groups
Baltic Finns, Slavs (Mostly Belarusians, Kashubians and Pomeranians (Slavic tribe)), Germanic peoples
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The Balts or Baltic peoples (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 area east of Jutland peninsula in the west and 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.[1] 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 people also survived, but their languages and cultures are now extinct, and are now being assimilated into the Eastern Baltic community.

Etymology[edit]

Adam of Bremen in the latter part of the 11th century C.E. was the first writer to use the term Baltic in its modern sense to mean the sea of that name.[2] Although he must have been familiar with the ancient name, Balcia,[3] meaning a supposed island in the Baltic Sea,[2] and although he may have been aware of the Baltic words containing the stem balt-, "white",[4] 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."[5]

The Germanics, 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.[6][7] Scandinavians begin settling in Western Baltic lands in Lithuania and Latvia.[when?]

In 1845 Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian and Lithuanian to be called Baltic.[8] It found some credence among linguists but was not generally adopted until the creation of the Baltic states as part of the settlement of World War I in 1919. Gradually the non-Baltic Estonian was excluded from the linguistic meaning of Baltic, as was Livonian, a now extinct[9] Finnic language in present-day Latvia, while Old Prussian — long recognized as close to Lithuanian and Latvian — was added. Estonia and Finland (the states of Baltic Finns), however, also became counted among the Baltic states in the geopolitical sense. (Finland was dropped from this definition after World War II, though Estonia remains within the definition.)

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

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 upper Daugava and Dnieper rivers on the southeast shore of the Baltic Sea. 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[according to whom?] 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[by whom?] that Corded Ware culture peoples were Indo-European ancestors of many Europeans, including Balts. It is thought[by whom?] that those Indo-European newcomers were quite numerous and in the Eastern Baltic assimilated earlier indigenous cultures (Europidic cultures – 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.[citation needed]

Some of the major authorities on Balts, such as Būga, Vasmer, Toporov and Trubachov,[citation needed] 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.

Proto-history[edit]

In 98 AD Tacitus described one of the tribes living near the Baltic Sea (Mare Svebicum) as Aestiorum gentes and amber gatherers. It is believed[by whom?] that these peoples were inhabitants of the Sambian peninsula, although no other contemporary sources exist.

This homeland includes all historical Balts, and every location where Balts are thought to have been at different periods in time. Over time, the huge 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, Galindians, Galindae, or Goliad, migrated to the Eastern end of Baltic realm around the 4th century AD, and settled around modern day Moscow, Russia.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

Balts became differentiated into Western and Eastern Balts in the late centuries B.C.E. The eastern Baltic region was inhabited by ancestors of Western BaltsOld Prussians, Sudovians/Jotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, and Curonians. Meanwhile, Eastern Balts were living in modern day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Subsequent Germanic and Gothic domination in the first half of the first millennium C.E. in Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as later Slavic expansion, caused large migrations of the Balts — first, Galindae or Galindians to the east, and later, Eastern Balts to the west — until they reached the ethnographic area of the Balts as we know it since 13th and 14th centuries. Many other Eastern and Southern Balts either assimilated with other Balts, or contributed to the formation of the Slavs in the 4th–7th centuries and were gradually slavicized.[citation needed]

Middle Ages[edit]

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.[citation needed] Gradually Old Prussians became Germanized or some Lithuanized during period from the 15th to the 17th centuries, especially after the Reformation in Prussia.[citation needed] 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),[10] the Latvian zeme, the Lithuanian žemė (land in English).

Old Prussian contained a few borrowings specifically from Gothic (e.g., Old Prussian ylo "awl," as with Lithuanian ýla, Latvian īlens) and even North Germanic.

List of Baltic tribes[edit]

Distribution of the Baltic tribes, circa 1200 CE. The Eastern Balts are shown in brown hues while the Western Balts are shown in green. The boundaries are approximate.
Regions Tribes and nations Localities
Eastern Balts Eastern Galindians Moscow region
Dniepr Balts Dnieper basin
Eastern (Middle) Balts Latvians Latgalians
Lithuanians Aukštaitians ("highlanders")
Samogitians ("lowlanders")
Prussian Lithuanians
Transitional Balts[11] Selonians Toponomastic only.
Semigallians Toponomastic only.
Curonians, Curonian Kings Toponomastic only.
Western Balts Yotvingians or Sudovians Historic region
Prussians Sambians
Scalvians
Nadruvians
Natangians
Bartians
Pomesanians
Pogesanians
Western Galindians
Warmians or Varmians
Sasnans
Lubavians
Pomeranian Balts Pomerania

Extinct

See also[edit]

References[edit]

English language[edit]

  • Bojtár, Endre (1999). Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Budapest and New York: Central European University Press. p. 9. ISBN 978-963-9116-42-9. 
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1963). The Balts. London: Thames & Hudson. 
  • "Lithuanians". 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica (1 ed.). 1911. 

Polish language[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Bojtár page 18.
  2. ^ a b Bojtár page 9.
  3. ^ Balcia, Abalcia, Abalus, Basilia, Balisia. The linguistic problem with these names is that Balcia cannot become Baltia by known rule.
  4. ^ Latvian: balti; Lithuanian: baltai; Latgalian: bolti, lit. "white".
  5. ^ Bojtár cites Bremensis I,60 and IV,10.
  6. ^ Bojtár page 10.
  7. ^ Butler, Ralph (1919). The New Eastern Europe. London: Longmans, Green and Co. pp. 3, 21, 22, 23, 24. 
  8. ^ Schmalstieg, William R. (Fall 1987). "A. Sabaliauskas. Mes Baltai (We Balts)". Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences (Lituanus Foundation Incorporated) 33 (3). Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-06.  Book review.
  9. ^ "Death of a language: last ever speaker of Livonian passes away aged 103". June 5, 2013. 
  10. ^ Mikkels Klussis. Bāziscas prûsiskai-laîtawiskas wirdeîns per tālaisin laksikis rekreaciônin Donelaitis.vdu.lt (Lithuanian version of Donelaitis.vdu.lt).
  11. ^ Bojtár page 207.

External links[edit]