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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. 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.
Adam of Bremen 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 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. Scandinavians begin settling in Western Baltic lands in Lithuania and Latvia.
Meanwhile in 1845 Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian and Lithuanian to be called Baltic. 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 rare Finnic language in 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.)
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 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 – 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 Būga, Vasmer, Toporov and Trubachov, 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.
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 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. 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 BC. The eastern Baltic region was inhabited by ancestors of Western Balts – Old 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 AD 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.
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.
List of Baltic tribes
|Regions||Tribes and nations||Localities|
|Eastern Balts†||Eastern Galindians||Moscow region|
|Dniepr Balts||Dnieper basin|
|Eastern (Middle) Balts||Latvians||Latgalians|
|Transitional Balts†||Selonians||Toponomastic only.|
|Curonians, Curonian Kings||Toponomastic only.|
|Western Balts†||Yotvingians or Sudovians||Historic region|
|Warmians or Varmians|
- 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) "Bałtowie". Encyklopedia Internetowa PWN. Archived from the original on April 26, 2005. Retrieved May 25, 2005.
- (Polish) Antoniewicz, Jerzy; Aleksander Gieysztor (1979). Bałtowie zachodni w V w. p. n. e. – V w. n. e. : terytorium, podstawy gospodarcze i społeczne plemion prusko-jaćwieskich i letto-litewskich. Olsztyn-Białystok: Pojezierze. ISBN 83-7002-001-1.
- (Polish) Kosman, Marceli (1981). Zmierzch Perkuna czyli ostatni poganie nad Bałtykiem. Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza.
- (Polish) "Bałtowie". Wielka Encyklopedia PWN (1 ed.). 2001.
- (Polish) Okulicz-Kozaryn, Łucja (1983). Życie codzienne Prusów i Jaćwięgów w wiekach średnich. Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy.
- (Polish) Čepiene, Irena (2000). Historia litewskiej kultury etnicznej. Kaunas, "Šviesa". ISBN 5-430-02902-5 (Translation to Polish).
- Bojtár page 18.
- Bojtár page 9.
- Balcia, Abalcia, Abalus, Basilia, Balisia. The linguistic problem with these names is that Balcia cannot become Baltia by known rule.
- Latvian: balti; Lithuanian: baltai; Latgalian: bolti, lit. "white".
- Bojtár cites Bremensis I,60 and IV,10.
- Bojtár page 10.
- Butler, Ralph (1919). The New Eastern Europe. London: Longmans, Green and Co. pp. 3, 21, 22, 23, 24.
- 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.
- Mikkels Klussis. Bāziscas prûsiskai-laîtawiskas wirdeîns per tālaisin laksikis rekreaciônin Donelaitis.vdu.lt (Lithuanian version of Donelaitis.vdu.lt).
- Bojtár page 207.
- Gimbutas, Marija (1963). The Balts. London, New York: Thames & Hudson, Gabriella. Archived from the original on 20 August 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-06. E-book of the original.
- Baranauskas, Tomas (2003). "Forum of Lithuanian History". Historija.net. Archived from the original on 6 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
- Sabaliauskas, Algirdas (1998). "We, the Balts". Postilla 400. Samogitian Cultural Association. Archived from the original on 2008-04-02. Retrieved 2008-09-05.
- Straižys, Vytautas; Libertas Klimka (1997). "The Cosmology of ancient Balts". www.astro.lt. Retrieved 2008-09-05.