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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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.
Map of the Baltic Sea

Indo-European topics

Indo-European languages (list)
Albanian · Armenian · Baltic
Celtic · Germanic · Greek
Indo-Iranian (Indo-Aryan, Iranian)
Italic · Slavic  

extinct: Anatolian · Paleo-Balkans (Dacian,
Phrygian, Thracian) · Tocharian

Indo-European peoples
Europe: Balts · Slavs · Albanians · Italics · Celts · Germanic peoples · Greeks · Paleo-Balkans (Illyrians · Thracians · Dacians) ·

Asia: Anatolians (Hittites, Luwians)  · Armenians  · Indo-Iranians (Iranians · Indo-Aryans)  · Tocharians  

Language · Society · Religion
Urheimat hypotheses
Kurgan hypothesis
Anatolia · Armenia · India · PCT
Indo-European studies

The Balts or Baltic peoples (People who live by the Baltic Sea), 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 lower Vistula and upper Daugava and Dnieper rivers on the southeast shore of the Baltic Sea. 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 Prussians, Yotvingians and Galindians — the Western Balts — whose languages and cultures are now extinct.

Adam of Bremen 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, baltisch-deutsch, legally spoken by them alone. For all practical purposes that was the Baltic language until 1919.[6][7]

Meanwhile 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 a now rare Finnic language in Latvia, Livonian, and Old Prussian — long recognized as close to Lithuanian and Latvian — was added. Estonia remained, however, among the Baltic states in the geopolitical sense.



Finno-Ugrian prelude

Neolithic period in Europe

The prehistoric cradle of the Baltic peoples according to archaeogenetic research and archaeological studies was the area near the Baltic sea and central Europe at the end of the Ice Age and beginning of the Mesolithic period. Around 4,000-3,000 B.C. the area of Eastern Baltic experienced an influx of Finno-Ugrian peoples and Comb Ceramic culture. They inhabited area stretching from northern Finland to Central parts of modern-day Lithuania.

The Y-chromosomal data has revealed a common Finno-Ugric ancestry for the males of Finnic peoples and Baltic peoples. According to the studies, Baltic males are most closely related to the Finno-Ugric-speaking Volga Finns such as the Mari, rather than to Baltic Finns.[9] The indicator of Finno-Ugric origin has been found to be more frequent in Latvians (42%) and Lithuanians (43%) than in Estonians (34%). The results suggest that the territories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been settled by Finno-Ugric-speaking tribes since the early Mesolithic period.[10]

Indo-European arrivals

It is possible that around 3,500-2,500 B.C., there was another 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 widely and universally accepted that Corded Ware culture peoples were Indo-European ancestors of many Europeans, including Balts. It is widely accepted that those Indo-European newcomers were quite numerous and in the Eastern Baltic assimilated earlier indigenous cultures. 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.

Formation of a Baltic homeland

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.

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 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 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.

Paleolithic Continuity Theory

On the other hand Paleolithic Continuity Theory describes a completely different picture. It claims that the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European language can be traced back to the Paleolithic era, tens of millennia earlier than the Chalcolithic or at the most Neolithic estimates in other scenarios of Proto-Indo-European origins. The Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis reverses the Kurgan hypothesis and largely identifies the Indo-Europeans with Gimbutas' "Old Europe."[11] PCT reassigns the Kurgan culture (traditionally considered early Indo-European) to a people of predominantly mixed Uralic and Turkic stock. This hypothesis is supported by the tentative linguistic identification of Etruscans as a Uralic, proto-Hungarian people that had already undergone strong proto-Turkish influence in the third millennium BC,[12] when Pontic invasions would have brought this people to the Carpathian Basin. A subsequent migration of Urnfield culture signature around 1250 BC caused this ethnic group to expand south in a general movement of people, attested by the upheaval of the Sea Peoples and the overthrow of an earlier Italic substrate at the onset of the "Etruscan" Villanovan culture.[13]


In 98 AD Tacitus described one of the tribes living near the Baltic Sea (Mare Svebicum) as Aestiorum gentes, or 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 have been said or implied to have been at different periods of time. Over time the huge area of Baltic habitation shrank, due to assimilations with other groups and invasions. It is interesting to point out that according to one of the theories, which has gained considerable traction over the years, one of the western Baltic tribes, Galindians, Baltic occupation of Western Russia, 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 chronics of the time they were warring with Slavs, and perhaps, were defeated and assimilated some time in 11-13 centuries.

Balts differentiated into Western and Eastern Balts in late centuries BC. Eastern Baltic was inhabited by ancestors of Western Balts - Old Prussians, Sudovians/Jotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, and Curonians. Eastern Balts, on the other hand were living in modern day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Subsequent Germanic, Gothic domination of first half of the first millennium AD in the Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as later Slavic expansion caused large migration 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 since 13th-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 later gradually were 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 15 -17 c., 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.

Summary of Baltic peoples and tribes

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[14] Selonians Toponomastic only.
Semigallians Toponomastic only.
Curonians, Curonian Kings Toponomastic only.
Western Balts Yotvingians or Sudovians Historic region
Prussians Sambians
Western Galindians
Warmians or Varmians
Pomeranian Balts Pomerania


See also


English language

  • Bojtár, Endre (1999). Foreword to the Past: A Cultural History of the Baltic People. Budapest and New York: Central European University Press. pp. 9. ISBN 9639116424, 9789639116429. 
  • Gimbutas, Marija (1963). The Balts. London: Thames & Hudson. 
  • "Lithuanians" (1 ed.). 1911. 

Polish language

  • (Polish) "Bałtowie". Encyklopedia Internetowa PWN. 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" (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). 


  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). Retrieved 2008-09-06.  Book review.
  9. ^ Siiri Rootsi (19 October 2004). "Human Y-Chromosomal Variation in European Populations". Tartu University Press. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  10. ^ Laitinen, Virpi; Päivi Lahermo (August 24 2001). "Y-Chromosomal Diversity Suggests that Baltic Males Share Common Finno-Ugric-Speaking Forefathers". Department of Genetics, University of Turku, Turku, Finnish Genome Center, University of Helsinki. Retrieved 2008-10-08. 
  11. ^ ^ Gimbutas, Marija. "Old Europe c.7000-3500 BC., the earliest European cultures before the infiltration of the Indo-European peoples". Journal of Indo-European Studies, 1, 1973, pp. 1-20.
  12. ^ a b c Alinei, Mario. Etruscan: An Archaic Form of Hungarian. Il Mulino, Bologna, 2003 (summary).
  13. ^ a b c Alinei, Mario. Etruscan: An Archaic Form of Hungarian. Il Mulino, Bologna, 2003 (summary).
  14. ^ Bojtár page 207.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary




  1. Plural form of Balt.


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