Ancient tribe Balts
The Baltic languages
The Baltic languages are usually divided into two groups:
- The Eastern Baltic languages: these include Lithuanian, Latvian, Spit Curonian, Latgalian, Selonian, Schemeitic and Semigallic.
- The Western Baltic languages: these include Old Prussian, Yatwingish (Yatwigian, Yatwigian, Yotwingish, Sudauian, Sudovian), Galindian and Old Curonian.
The Prussians is the only historically comprehensible tribal union of the Western Baltic States. The other Baltic peoples are those of the East Baltic group.
With the exception of Lithuanian, which was conservative in its language development, and Latvian, which was progressive in its development, all these languages died out in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The languages spoken in the northern Baltic States, Estonian and Livonian, do not belong to this group, but are branches of the Finno-Ugric languages, i.e. they are relatives of Finnish and Hungarian.
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The separation of a Baltic cultural complex from the continuum of Indo-Germanic populations began as early as the 2nd millennium BC. Since then, the Balts have settled in the region named after them, the Baltic States, in an area that extended far beyond the heartland of modern Baltic peoples. Until the Middle Ages, the Balts inhabited large parts of East Prussia, north-western Russia and northern Belarus.
Until the 5th century, the cultural development of the Balts ran together, then the East Baltic complex split off. In the course of the 7th century regional cultures developed.
Of the Baltic peoples, only Lithuanians and Latvians live on.
The prehistory of the Balts
The Memelland culture also included the Curonians belonging to the Indo-Germanic Baltic tribes, which settled along the Baltic coast from about 2500 BC onwards.
The Memelland was settled in the 4th century BC. Archaeological finds prove connections with former cultures in today's Dnjepr region in Belarus.
Approximately from the 2nd to the 5th century A.D. one speaks of the "Golden Age of the Balts", because during this period a long-lasting undisturbed settlement by about 1000 cemeteries is proven, because the burial rites remained unchanged during this time. There were also no signs of emigration, population shifts or invasions by foreign tribes.
In the Middle Iron Age, the period between the 5th and 9th centuries, the living conditions of the Baltic tribes changed, because from the east and south they were put under pressure by the expansion of the Slavs, and from the Baltic Sea, Swedes and Vikings pushed into the country. During this period the Prussian and Curonian tribes played the leading defensive role among the Baltic tribes.
From the 5th century onwards, castle mountains are documented. These hilltop castles were preferably built on steep banks or in waters on headlands and fortified with ramparts made of tree trunks and tamped clay. The interior of such a castle was between half a hectare and a whole hectare.
The Curonians are most closely related to the tribes that were involved in the ethnogenesis of the Latvians. These included, among others, the Latgallians, Semigallians and Seler.
Medieval documents show that the Curonians were an independent Baltic tribe. The historical settlement area of the Curonians extended west of the Riga Bay and also further south. This was the transition zone between the Baltic tribes of Latvia and Lithuania. Since the 14th century the Kuren were also known as inhabitants of fishing villages on the coast of East Prussia. The Kurland Peninsula and the Curonian Spit are named after them. The tradition of the boat house at the Curonians ("Kurenkahn") still dates back to the Viking Age.
Since the early Middle Ages the Curonians were involved in the Baltic Sea trade.
In the course of the 16th century the Curonian population in Lithuania completely assimilated. On the Curonian Spit in East Prussia, on the other hand, the Curonians were maintained until the 20th century: Shortly before the expulsion of the German population in 1945, Kurdish was still spoken sporadically in the fishing villages. Today, no living speakers of Curonian are known.
There is no agreement on the assignment of the Curonian to the West or East Baltic group. One doctrine sees it as a West Baltic language, which under the influence of East Baltic languages changed to the East Baltic type. Spit Curonian, de facto a Latvian dialect and not to be confused with Curonian, is currently dying out (currently less than ten native speakers).
The ancestors of these western Balts were most likely the Aestier, which are mentioned for the first time in the Germania des Tacitus (around 100 AD). The Gothic historian Jordanes described these people on the Baltic coast as peaceful farmers who lived from fishing and amber trading and were armed with clubs.
Despite the similarity of the name to that of the Estonians, a Finno-Ugric people, Tacitus' description of the residences and habits of the Aestians does not fit the Baltic Finns.
Due to the persistent resistance of the Pruzzi, the conquest of East Prussia by the Teutonic Order did not succeed until 1283, when the settlement area of the Pruzzi was incorporated into their territory. By the beginning of the 14th century the Christianisation of the Western Baltic was essentially completed.
In the following decades and centuries, the religious state founded by the Teutonic Order of Knights promoted the influx of German knights, but also of peasants and citizens from all over the world, whereby the Old Prussian language was increasingly displaced. By the end of the 17th century at the latest, the Pruzzo had fully acculturated to the surrounding Germanic culture, and their language was abandoned in favour of German over the course of generations. The last speakers of the Pruzzi language are reported around 1700.
Christian Mazovians immigrated to the parts of the country bordering on the Duchy of Mazovia, partly before, but mainly during the Reformation. After them, from the 18th century onwards, southern Prussia was unofficially called Masuria. From the end of the 15th century, Lithuanians immigrated to the sparsely populated area of the Schalau, Nadrauer and Sudauer regions.
The language of the Pruzzi, Pruzzi or Old Prussian, is only fragmentarily named from text collections and glossaries of the 16th century. The West Baltic Old Prussian is considered to be particularly archaic. Apart from its affinity with the East Baltic languages, it showed many special features that are not present in Latvian and Lithuanian.
The name Prussia originates from the Prussians.
The ethnogenesis of Lithuanians as an ethnic group with its own cultural and linguistic profile began in the 7th century AD. In 1251 Prince Mindaugas was christened. In the 13th century, through the fusion of various local Lithuanian tribes, a state system was formed, which steadily gained power and influence. The creation of this state, first mentioned in 1219, was motivated by the resistance against the expansionist efforts of the Order of Teutonic Knights.
Since 1386 there had been a personal union of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania with the Kingdom of Poland, which was reconfirmed in 1569. The official language and language of documents was first Latin, later Belarusian. After the conversion to Polish, its influence on Lithuanian culture and language became clearly noticeable in the 17th and 18th centuries. In 1795 Lithuania was annexed by tsarist Russia. From 1918 to 1940, and again since 1991, Lithuania is sovereign again.
Latvian regional culture developed during the 7th century. Between about 1000 and 1550 several local tribes acculturated to Latvian culture. Almost all of them have also assimilated into Latvian. Since the 16th century the Latvian language has been written.
Since the Middle Ages the German bourgeoisie in the cities has influenced Latvian culture. The German merchants and missionaries were followed by the Order of the Knights of the Sword, which conquered the Latvian settlement area, which until then had been dominated by local principalities, at the beginning of the 13th century. Riga was founded in 1201. Later, the Knights of the Sword joined with the Teutonic Knights to form the Liwonian Order. In 1290 the Semigallia were subjugated.
Latvia was under the control of the Liwonian Order until 1561, after which the Duchy of Courland was ruled by Poland until it came under Russian influence in 1737.
In 1721 the largest part of Latvia fell to Russia. Until 1918 the Latvian settlement area remained territorially under the tsarist empire. From 1918 to 1940 and again since 1991 Latvia is sovereign again.
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