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.The number of lakes and swamps in this area isolated the Balts, and as a result of this isolation the Baltic languages retain a number of conservative or archaic features. [Bojtár page 18.] Among the Baltic peoples are modern Lithuanians, Latvians and 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.Bojtár page 9.] Although he must have been familiar with the ancient name, Balcia, [Balcia, Abalcia, Abalus, Basilia, Balisia. The linguistic problem with these names is that Balcia cannot become Baltia by known rule.] meaning a supposed island in the Baltic Sea, and although he may have been aware of the Baltic words containing the stem balt-, "white", [ _lv. balti; _lt. baltai; Latgalian: "bolti", lit. "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." [Bojtár cites "Bremensis" I,60 and IV,10.]

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. [Bojtár page 10.] [cite book|title=The New Eastern Europe|first=Ralph|last=Butler|date=1919|pages=pages 3, 21, 22, 23, 24|publisher=Longmans, Green and Co.|location=London]

Meanwhile in 1845 Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian and Lithuanian to be called Baltic. [cite journal|first=William R.|last=Schmalstieg|title=A. Sabaliauskas. Mes Baltai (We Balts)|journal=Lituanus: Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences|volume=33|number=3|date=Fall 1987|publisher=Lituanus Foundation Incorporated|url=|accessdate=2008-09-06 Book review.] 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 and Old Prussian — long recognized as close to Lithuanian and Latvian — was added. Estonia remained, however, among the Baltic states in the old geopolitical sense only, as Estonian and a now rare Finnic language in Latvia, Livonian, are not among the Baltic language group.


Finno-ugrian prelude

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 experience influx of Finno-Ugrian peoples and their cultures, Finno-Ugrian cultures. 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. [ cite web |url= |title=Human Y-Chromosomal Variation in European Populations |accessdate=2008-10-08 |author=Siiri Rootsi |date=19 October 2004 |work= |publisher=Tartu University Press ] 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.cite web |url= |title=Y-Chromosomal Diversity Suggests that Baltic Males Share Common Finno-Ugric-Speaking Forefathers |accessdate=2008-10-08 |last=Laitinen |first=Virpi |coauthors=Päivi Lahermo |date=August 24 2001 |work= |publisher=Department of Genetics, University of Turku, Turku, Finnish Genome Center, University of Helsinki ]

Indo-european arrivals

Around the same time, 3,500-2,500 B.C., there was another massive migration of peoples from Kurgan culture. They came from the South-East and spread all across Eastern and Central Europe, reaching even southern Finland. It is widely and universally accepted that Kurgan 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 Eastern Baltic assimilated both finno-ugric peoples and earlier indigenous cultures. Recent comparative DNA studies seem to confirm the theory of assimilation between Indo-Europeans and finno-ugrians during that period. Over time the new people formed Balts 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 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.


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 inhabitation 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 waring 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


ee also



English language

* cite book
first = Marija | last = Gimbutas
authorlink = Marija Gimbutas
title=The Balts
location = London
publisher = Thames & Hudson

* cite encyclopedia
ency=1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Polish language

* cite web
work=Encyklopedia Internetowa PWN
accessmonthday=May 25 | accessyear=2005

* cite book
first = Jerzy | last = Antoniewicz
authorlink = Jerzy Antoniewicz
coauthors = Aleksander Gieysztor
title=Bałtowie zachodni w V w. p. n. e. - V w. n. e. : terytorium, podstawy gospodarcze i społeczne plemion prusko-jaćwieskich i letto-litewskich
location = Olsztyn-Białystok
publisher = Pojezierze
id=ISBN 83-7002-001-1

* cite book
first = Marceli | last = Kosman
authorlink = Marceli Kosman
title=Zmierzch Perkuna czyli ostatni poganie nad Bałtykiem
location = Warsaw
publisher = Książka i Wiedza

* cite encyclopedia
ency=Wielka Encyklopedia PWN

* cite book
first = Łucja | last = Okulicz-Kozaryn
authorlink = Lucja Okulicz-Kozaryn
title=Życie codzienne Prusów i Jaćwięgów w wiekach średnich
location = Warsaw
publisher = Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy

* cite book
first = Irena | last = Čepiene
authorlink = Irena Cepiene
title=Historia litewskiej kultury etnicznej
publisher=Kaunas, "Šviesa"
id=ISBN 5-430-02902-5 (Translation to Polish)


External links

* E-book of the original.

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