Chapter I

Linguistic and Historic Background

The designation “Balt” can have two different meanings, depending upon whether we use it in a geographical or political sense, or in a linguistic or ethnological sense. The first embraces the Baltic states — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — on the eastern coasts of the Baltic Sea. Before World War II, these three states were independent and their population numbered about six million. In 1940, they were incorporated in the Soviet Union. In this book, however, I shall not be speaking of the modern Baltic states but of people who belong to one linguistic group of the Indo-European family, that is, of the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Old Prussians, along with their kin tribes, many of which disappeared during the course of prehistory and history. The Estonians will be excluded since they are Finno-Ugrians, speaking an entirely different language from the Indo-European and being of different origin.

The name “Balts,” deriving from the Baltic Sea, Mare Balticum, is a neologism, used since 1845 as a general name for the people speaking “Baltic” languages — Old Prussian, Lithuanian, Lettish, Curonian, Semigallian, and Selian. Of these, only Lithuanian and Lettish are living languages. Old Prussian disappeared around 1700 due to German colonization of East Prussia. Curonian, Semigallian, and Selian disappeared between 1400 and 1600. These were either Lettonized or Lithuanized. Other eastern Baltic languages or dialects became extinct in the protohistoric or early historic period and are not preserved in written sources.

At the beginning of this century, another name for these languages — “Aistian” — was coming into use. This was taken from the Roman historian Tacitus, who, in his work Germania, A.D. 98, mentioned Aestii, gentes Aestiorum, a people living on


the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. He described them as collectors of amber and more energetic cultivators of crops and fruits than the Germanic people, whom they resembled in appearance and customs. Perhaps it would have been more reasonable to apply the name “Aistians” to the Baltic-speaking peoples in general, even though it is not known whether Tacitus used this name to describe all Baltic peoples, or Old Prussians (the western Balts) alone, or only the amber collectors living on the Baltic Sea coast around Frisches Haff, which in Lithuanian is still called “Aismarės” and was called “Eystmeer” by the Anglo-Saxon traveler Wulstan in the ninth century A.D. There is also a River “Aista” in western Lithuania. In early historic records the Aestii or Aisti appear many times. The Gothic writer Jordanes of the sixth century A.D. locates the Aestii, “a totally peaceful people,” to the east of the mouth of the Vistula, on the longest stretch of the Baltic sea coast. Einhard in his Vita Caroli Magni of c. 830-40 finds them on the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, as neighbours of the Slavs. The name “Aisti” seems to have had a broader application than to a single tribe.

The most ancient name for the Baits, or more probably for eastern Baits, was Herodotus’ Neuri. Since the prevalent opinion is that the Neuri were Slavs, I shall come back to Neuri in discussing the eastern Baits in Herodotus’ time.

Since the second century A.D., names for separate Prussian tribes appear: Ptolemy (c. A.D. 100-78) knew “Soudinoi” and “Galindai,” Sudovians and Galindians, which shows that Prussian tribes had their own individual names from a very early period. Many centuries later, Sudovians and Galindians continued to be designated by these same names in the list of Prussian tribes. In 1326, Dusburg, the annalist of the Teutonic Order, mentioned ten Prussian tribes, including the Sudovians (“Sudowite”) and the Galindians (“Galindite”). The others were: “Pomesani,” “Pogesani,” “Varmienses,” “Nattangi,”


Fig. 1. Baltic tribes and provinces c. A.D. 1200

“Sambite,” “Nadrowite,” “Barthi,” and “Scalowite.” These names were in Latin form. In present Lithuanian the names of the Prussian provinces are: Pamedė, Pagudė, Varmė, Notanga, Semba, Nadruva, Barta, Skalva, Sūduva, and Galinda. There were two more provinces south of Pagudė and Galinda,


namely Lubava and Sasna, known from other historic records. Sudovians, the largest Prussian tribe, were also called Jatvingians (Jotvingai; Jatwiagi of the Slavic sources).

A general name for the Prussians, that is, the western Balts, comes to light in the ninth century A.D.; this is Bruzi, first recorded by a Bavarian geographer some time after 845. It is believed that before the ninth century “Prussian” was probably the name of one of the western Prussian tribes and was only gradually transferred to other tribes, like the tribal name “Allemagne” for Germany. Around 965 an Arab trader from Spain, Ibrāhīm-ibn-Jakūb, who came to the Baltic Sea, spoke of Prussians (Brûs or Burûs) as having their separate language and being very courageous in wars against the Vikings (“Rus’”). The Curonians, a tribe on the Baltic Sea in the territory of present Lithuania and Latvia, are referred to as Cori or Chori in the Scandinavian sagas, which mention the wars between the Vikings and Curonia (Kurland) starting in the seventh century A.D. The land of the Semigallians in what is now central Latvia and northern Lithuania is likewise known from the Scandinavian records in connection with the Danish Viking onslaught against “Semigalia” in 870. Names for other tribes appear considerably later. Those of the Lithuanians and Lettigallians (Letts), living in what is now eastern Lithuania, eastern Latvia and Byelo-Russia, come into the written records only in the eleventh century.

The Baltic tribes enter into the pages of history one by one between the first centuries of the Christian era and the eleventh century. The earliest historical records are so scarce that the entire first millennium for the Balts is still in a protohistoric stage. Without the archaeological monuments, the way of life and the limits of distribution of these people could not be reconstructed. The tribal names appearing in the early historical records help the identification of archaeologically known cultures, but only in a few cases do these records illuminate the


occupation, social structure, customs, appearance, religion, and character of the people.

From Tacitus in the first century, we learn that the Aisti were the only people collecting amber and that they cultivated crops with a patience rarely found among the lazy Germans. In religion and appearance they resembled the Suebi (the Germanic people) but had a different language, more like that of the Bretons (Celtic people). They worshipped the mother goddess and wore boar masks which protected them, and ensured the safety of the worshipper even among his enemies.1 About 880-90, King Alfred’s voyager Wulfstan, who came by sailing boat from Haithabu in Schleswig through the Baltic Sea to the lower Vistula area, the River Elbing and Frisches Haff, described the land of the Aisti (which he called “Eastland,” “Estum”) as very large and containing many towns, each with its own king. They fought many contests among themselves. The king and the richest men drank mare’s milk, the poor and the slaves mead. There was no ale brewed among them for there was enough mead.2 Wulfstan then gives a long description of burial rites and the preservation of the dead by freezing, to which I shall return in the section on religion.

The first Christian missionaries who entered the lands of the ancient Prussians usually referred to them as “stubborn pagans.” “Sembi or Prussians are a most humane people (homines humanissimi),” wrote Archbishop Adam of Bremen around 1075. “They go out to help those who are in peril at sea or who are attacked by pirates. Gold and silver they hold in very slight esteem. ... Many praiseworthy things could be said about these peoples with respect to their morals, if only they had the faith of Christ whose missionaries they cruelly persecute. At their hands Adalbert, the illustrious bishop of the Bohemians, was crowned with martyrdom. Although they share everything else with our people, they prohibit only, to this very day indeed, access to their groves and springs which, they aver, are


polluted by the entry of Christians. They take the meat of their draught animals for food and use their milk and blood as drink so freely that they are said to become intoxicated. These men are blue of colour [blue eyed? Or through tattooing?], ruddy of face, and longhaired. Living, moreover, in inaccessible swamps, they will not endure a master among them.”3 The bronze door of the cathedral in Gniezno in northern Poland dating from the twelfth century depicts scenes of how the first missionary, Bishop Adalbert, comes to Prussia, disputes with the Prussian nobility and is decapitated. The Prussians are shown with spears, swords, and shields. They are beardless but with moustaches, have trimmed hair, and are wearing kilts, blouses, and bracelets. [Plate 1]

The ancient Balts apparently did not have their own writing. As yet no inscriptions have been found on stone or birch bark in native languages. The earliest writings in Old Prussian and Lithuanian date from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. All that was recorded earlier about the Baltic tribes was in Greek, Latin, Germanic or Slavic.

Today, the Old Prussian language is known only to linguists who study it from dictionaries published in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Baltic Prussians were conquered in the thirteenth century by the Teutonic Knights, German-speaking followers of Jesus, and in the course of 400 years the Prussian language disappeared. The crimes and atrocities committed by the conquerors disguised as heralds of the Christian faith are now forgotten. In 1701, “Prussia” became an independent German monarchy. Since then the name “Prussian” has passed over to the Germanic people.

The lands occupied by Baltic-speaking people in modern times are about one-sixth of what they were in prehistoric times before the Slavic and Germanic expansions.

Old Prussian river and place names, although strongly Germanicized, cover the whole area between the Vistula and


Nemunas Rivers.4 Some names presumed to be Baltic are found even west of the Vistula, in eastern Pomerania.5 From the archaeological viewpoint there is absolutely no doubt that before the appearance of the Goths in the lower Vistula area and in eastern Pomerania in the first century B.C. these lands belonged to the direct ancestors of the Prussians. In the Bronze Age, before expansion of the central European Lusatian (Lausitz) culture around 1200 B.C., the western Balts seem to have covered the whole of Pomerania to the lower Oder, and what is now eastern Poland to the Bug and upper Pripet basins in the south, since we find here the same culture that was wide-spread in the ancient Prussian lands. The southern extent of the Prussians along the River Bug, a tributary of the Vistula, is indicated by the Prussian river names.6 The archaeological finds show that present Podlasie in eastern Poland and Polesie in western Byelo-Russia belonged to the Baltic Sudovians until the beginning of history. Only after the long wars with the Russians and Poles during the eleventh-twelfth centuries A.D. did the southern limits of the Sudovian tribe fall back to the River Narew line, and in the thirteenth century they even retreated as far north as the Ostrówka (Osterode)–Olsztyn (Allenstein) line.7

Baltic river and place names cover the entire area from the Baltic Sea to western Greater Russia. There are many Baltic words borrowed by the Finno-Ugrians and even by the Volga Finns who lived in eastern Russia, and historic records from the eleventh–twelfth centuries mention a warlike Baltic tribe, the Galindians, above the River Protva near Mozhajsk and Gzhatsk, south-west of Moscow. All this points to Baltic peoples having lived in Russia before the expansion of eastern Slavs.

The Baltic elements in the archaeology, ethnography, and language of Byelo-Russia have intrigued scholars since the end of the nineteenth century. The Galindians around Moscow


have provided a great puzzle: both the name and the historic records indicate they were neither Slavs nor Finno-Ugrians, Who were they?

In the Laurentian and Hypatian texts of the earliest native Russian chronicle “Povest Vremennykh Let,” the Galindians appear in 1058 and 1147 in the Slavic form Goljad’.8 Linguistically this comes from the Old Russian Goljadĭ, the older form of which was *Golędĭ. These forms correspond to the Proto-Baltic *Galindā. The etymology of this word is explained by the Lithuanian word galas, “end.” In Old Prussian, Galindo was also the name of a tribal district in the” southern part of Baltic Prussia. The Prussian Galindians, as we have noted, were mentioned by Ptolemy in his geography. The Galindians of what is now Russia were very probably so named because they were the Baltic tribe farthest to the east. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries they had been surrounded on all sides by the Russians. The Russian dukes fought for centuries before they finally succeeded in defeating them. At which stage the historic records of the warlike Galindians end. Their resistance apparently was crushed, and they could not survive, being pressed by increasing numbers of Slavic peoples. For Baltic history these few recorded fragments are of utmost value: they show that eastern Baits fought against Slavic colonization in present-day Russia for 600 years and, for linguistic and archaeological studies, they are the basis for reconstructing the area of distribution of the early Baits.

Present maps of Byelo-Russia and Russia betray scarcely any Baltic character in river or place names, so Slavonized are these areas now. Yet linguists have succeeded in unraveling the true story. The Lithuanian linguist Būga, in his studies of 1913 and 1924, identified 121 river names in Byelo-Russia as being of Baltic origin.9 He showed that almost all the names in the upper Dnieper and upper Nemunas basin are undoubtedly of


Baltic character. Some have corresponding forms in river names of Lithuania, Latvia, and East Prussia, and their etymology can be explained through the meaning of the Baltic words. In some instances in Byelo-Russia the same river name is repeated several times; for instance, Vodva (one is the right tributary of the River Dnieper, the other is in the district of Mogilev), which comes from the Baltic Vaduva and is a frequent river name in Lithuania; another is Luchesa, which in Baltic is Laukesa from the Lithuanian laũkas, “field.” This river name is known in Lithuania (as Laukesa), in Latvia (as Laucesa), and occurs three times in Byelo-Russia: north and south-east of Smolensk and south of Vitebsk (the tributary of the upper Daugava-Dvina).

To this day river names are the best guides to establishing ancient geographical distributions of peoples. Būga was convinced of the earlier Baltic character of present day Byelo-Russia, and he even developed the theory that the original lands of the Lithuanians must have been north of the River Pripet and in the upper Dnieper basin. In 1932, a German Slavicist, Vasmer, published a number of names, considered by him as Baltic, of rivers in the districts of Smolensk, Tver (Kalinin), Moscow, and Chernigov, thus extending the Baltic limits much farther to the east.10 In 1962, the Russian linguists Toporov and Trubachev published a study entitled Linguistic analysis of the hydronims in the upper Dnieper Basin (see bibliography, 5). They found that more than a thousand of the river names in the upper Dnieper Basin are of Baltic origin, as their etymology and morphology show. This book has produced positive evidence of a prolonged ancient Baltic occupation of present-day Byelo-Russia and the western parts of Greater Russia.

As the Baltic toponymy of the upper Dnieper and upper Volga basins is a far more convincing proof of the Baltic spread over present-day Russian territories than the archaeological


Fig. 2. The area of the Baltic river names. 1-9: Place-names presumed to be Baltic west of R. Vistula. 1, Karwen; 2, Karwen; 3, Saulin; 4, Labehn; 5, Rutzau; 6, Labuhnken; 7, Powalken; 8, Straduhn; 9, Labuhn


sources, I wish to mention some of the Baltic river names, taking examples from the districts of Smolensk, Tver, Kaluga, Moscow, and Chernigov.

Istra, tributary of the Vorja in the area of Gzhatsk and western tributary of the Moskva (Moscow) river, has exact parallels in Lithuania and East Prussia: the tributary of the Prėglius (Pregel) — Įstra or Insra, also Įsrutis; Ysra in the district of Panevėžys — from *In-srā, the root *ser"sr meaning “to flow”: srovė in Lithuanian means current. The rivers Berzha in the area of Beloj and Vjaz’ma and Berezha in the district of Tver are connected with the Baltic word for “birch”: Lithuanian beržas; and Obsha, tributary of the Mezha in the district of Smolensk, is connected with the word for “aspen-tree”: Old Prussian abse Lithuanian apušė. The Tolzha River in the area of Vjaz’ma takes its name from *Tolža, which has connections with the Lithuanian word tilžti, “to soak, to stand under the water”; the name of the city of Tilžė (Tilsit) on the Nemunas River has the same derivation. Ugra, western tributary of the Oka, is comparable to the Lithuanian Ungurupė. Sozh, tributary of the Dnieper, comes from *Soža, the etymology of which is shown by the Old Prussian word suge, for “rain.” Zhizdra — tributary of the Oka, and the town of the same name — comes from the Baltic word for “gravel, grit, coarse sand”: the Lithuanian žvigždras, žvirgždas. Upa, eastern tributary of the Oka, belongs to the series of names in connection with “river,” the Lithuanian upė. Nara, tributary of the Oka, south of Moscow, appears numerous times in Lithuania and East Prussia: the Lithuanian rivers Neris, Nerys, Narotis, Narasa, Narupė, the lakes Narutis and Naročius and the Old Prussian Narus, Narys, Naruse, Naruve (the present Narew), all derived from narus, “deep, in which one can submerge,” nerti, “to dive, plunge.”

Farthest to the east is the river Tsna (Cna), tributary of the Oka, south of Kasimov and east of Tambov. This name recurs in Byelo-Russia: a tributary of Usha around Vilejka and a


tributary of Hajna in the district of Borysov, and comes from *Tosna, Baltic *tusnā; Old Prussian tusnan means “quiet.” In the south, river names of Baltic origin reach the district of Chernigov, which is north of Kiev. In this area we find the following river names: Verepeto, tributary of the River Desna — in Lithuanian verpetas is “whirlpool”; and Titva, tributary of the Snov’, which flows into the Desna, and which has a corresponding form in Lithuanian: Tytuva. Desna, the large eastern tributary of the Dnieper, is possibly connected with the Lithuanian word define, “the right side.”

It is very probable that the name Volga goes back to a Baltic name for this river, derived from Jilga, “long river.” The Lithuanian jilgas, ilgas means “long,” hence Jilga is a “long river”; certainly this name is very appropriate because the Volga is quite long.11 In Lithuania and Latvia there are many rivers having the name Ilgoji, “the long one,” or Ilgupė, “the long river.”

For thousands of years the Finno-Ugrian tribes were neighbours of the Balts and enclosed them on the north and east. During the earliest period of the relationship between the Baltic and Finno-Ugrian-speaking peoples there must have been closer contact than during the later periods. This is reflected in loan-words from the Baltic in the Finno-Ugrian languages. There are hundreds of them, known since Vilhelm Thomsen in 1890 published his excellent study on relationships between the Finnic and the Baltic languages.12 The borrowed words relate to stockbreeding and agriculture, plants and animals, to many novelties brought by a higher culture, to religion, to names for family members, parts of the body, colours, time measuring, and so on. Their meaning and their form prove the loan-words to be very old, and linguists reckon that they had been borrowed in the second and first millennia B.C. Many of these words show that they were borrowed from the proto-Baltic and not from the modern Latvian or Lithuanian. Baltic loan-words are found not only in the West Finnic (Estonian,


Livian, and Finnish) languages, but also in the Volga-Finnic languages: Mordvinian, Mari, Mansi, Cheremissian, Udmurtian, and Komi-Zyrian. In 1957 a Russian linguist, Serebrennikov, published a study entitled Traces of an extinct Indo-European language related to the Baltic in the centre of the European part of the U.S.S.R..13 He gives a list of words in the Finno-Ugrian languages, which is an extension of Thomsen’s list of Baltic loan-words in the Finno-Ugrian languages.

Important evidence as to how far Baltic influence extended into present-day Russia is provided by the fact that many of the Baltic loan-words in the Volga-Finnic languages are not known to the western Finns. They must have been borrowed directly from the eastern Balts who occupied the upper Volga basin and during the Early and Middle Bronze Age steadily penetrated farther and farther to the east. Indeed, about the middle of the second millennium B.C. the Fat’janovo culture, as we shall see below, reached lower Kama, lower Vjatka, and even the Belaja rivers in present Tataria and Bashkiria.

During the Iron Age and in early historic times the immediate neighbours of the eastern Balts were the Mari and Mordvins, the “Merja” and “Mordva” of the historic records. The Mari inhabited the districts of Jaroslavl’ and Vladimir, and the western part of the district of Kostroma. The Mordvins lived east of the lower Oka. Their distribution area is shown by a considerable number of river names of Finno-Ugrian origin.14 In the lands of the Mordvins and Mari, river names of Baltic origin are quite rare. Between the towns Rjazan’ and Vladimir there were large forests and swamps, which for ages played the role of a natural border between the tribes.

The greatest number of Baltic loan-words in the Finnic languages relate to novelties in the economy: names for domestic animals and the ways they were kept and used, for cereal, seeds, tillage, spinning, etc. The borrowed words of course exhibit a much larger variety of novelties brought by the Baltic


Indo-Europeans to the north than do the archaeological remains, since they pertain not only to the material objects, but also to abstract terms, verbs, and adjectives, and to such objects as are not preserved on ancient sites. Among the borrowings which have to do with agriculture are words for cereal, seeds, millet, flax, hemp, chaff, hay, garden or enclosure, harrow, and others. Among the names for domestic animals borrowed from the Balts are those for ram, lamb, he-goat, young pig, and goose. The Baltic word for steed, stallion, horse (Lithuanian žirgas, Prussian sirgis, Lettish zirgs) in Finno-Ugrian means ox (Finnish härkä, Estonian härg, Lyvian ärga, Vepsian härg). The Finnish word for yoke, juhta, comes from the Lithuanian junkta-s, jungti, “to yoke.” Also borrowed were the word for hurdle, an open stall for sheep (Lithuanian gardas; Mordvinian karda, kardo), and a word for shepherd.

A group of borrowings for spinning, whorl, wool, ripple, heddles, cord shows that a flax and wool industry was introduced by the Balts. Alcoholic beverages were transmitted by the Balts, as borrowed words for ale and mead show. Also, in connection with honey and mead, such words as those for wax, wasp, and hornet were taken over from the Balts.

Borrowed from the Baltic are names for axe, cap, shoe, beaker, ladle, handle, hook, basket, sieve, knife, spade, broom, bridge, boat, sails, oar, wheel, sledge, wall, post, pole, rod, shaft, steam-bath. Even musical instruments such as the kanklės (Lithuanian), the zither, were transmitted. The whole list of names for colours is found to be of Baltic origin — yellow, green, black, dark, bluish grey — and names for adjectives — wide, narrow, empty, quiet, old, secret, brave (gallant). The word for love or desire must have been borrowed in an early period since it is found in western Finnic and Volga-Finnic languages (Lithuanian meilė, “love,” mielas, “dear’; Finnish mieli, Erza-Mordvin mel’, Udmurtian myl). Very intimate relations between the Balts and the Finno-Ugrians are shown by


borrowed names for the parts of the body: neck, back, hollow of the knee, navel, and beard. Of Baltic origin are not only the name for neighbour, but also names for members of the family, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, son-in-law, and cousin, which suggest frequent intermarriages between the Balts and the Finno-Ugrians. Contacts in the religious sphere are witnessed by the borrowing of names for sky (taivas from the Baltic *deivas) and the god of the air, the Thunder (Lithuanian Perkūnas, Latvian Perkonis; Finnish perkele, Estonian pergel).

The great numbers of loan-words and the whole series of terms in connection with food-producing economy and technology indicate that the Balts were the carriers of civilization towards the north-east of Europe inhabited by the Finno-Ugrian hunters and fishers. The Finno-Ugrians living in the neighborhood of the Balts became to a certain degree Indo-Europeanized. In the course of millennia, particularly during the Early Iron Age and the first centuries A.D., the Finno-Ugrian culture in the upper Volga basin and north of the River Daugava-Dvina was adapted to food-production and even the habitat pattern — arranging villages on hills and the building of rectangular houses — was taken over from the Balts. Archaeological finds demonstrate how for centuries bronze and iron tools and ornaments were exported from the Baltic to the Finno-Ugrian lands. From the second to the fifth centuries A.D., the western Finnic, the Mari, and Mordvin areas were flooded with or strongly influenced by ornaments typical of the Baltic culture. Where the long history of Baltic-Finno-Ugrian relations is concerned, language and archaeological sources go hand in hand; and as regards the spread of the Balts in what is now Russia proper, Baltic loan-words in Volga-Finnic languages are witnesses of incontestable value.