|c. 5.5 million|
|Regions with significant populations|
| Lithuania 2,563,325|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Slavs (mostly Belarusians, Kashubians and Pomeranians)|
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One of the features of Baltic languages is the number of conservative or archaic features retained. Among the Baltic peoples are modern Lithuanians and Latvians (including Latgalians) — all Eastern Balts — as well as the Old Prussians, Yotvingians and Galindians — the Western Balts — whose languages and cultures are now extinct.
Medieval German chronicler Adam of Bremen in the latter part of the 11th century AD was the first writer to use the term Baltic in its modern sense to mean the sea of that name. Before him were various ancient places names, such as Balcia, meaning a supposed island in the Baltic Sea.
It should not be surprising that Adam, a speaker of German, might connect Balt- with "Belt", a word he was familiar with. However, linguistics has since established that Balt means white. Many Baltic words contain the stem balt-, "white", which may also refer to shallow bodies of water including marshes.
In Germanic languages there was some form of "East Sea" until after about 1600, when maps in English labeled it the "Baltic Sea". By 1840, the German nobles of the Governorate of Livonia adopted the term "Balts" to distinguish themselves from Germans of Germany. They spoke an exclusive dialect, Baltic German. For many, that was the “Baltic language” until 1919.
In 1845, Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian, Lithuanian and Old Prussian—Baltic. The term became prevalent after Latvia and Lithuania gained independence in 1918. Up until the early 20th century, either “Latvian” or “Lithuanian” could be used to mean the entire language family.
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 southeast shore of the Baltic Sea and upper Daugava and Dnieper rivers. 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 Kazimieras Būga, Max Vasmer, Vladimir Toporov and Oleg Trubachyov, 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.
The 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, the Galindians, Galindae, or Goliad, migrated to the area around modern day Moscow, Russia around the 4th century AD.
Over time the Balts became differentiated into Western and Eastern Balts. In the 5th century AD parts of the eastern Baltic coast began to be settled by the ancestors of the Western Balts: Brus/Prūsa ("Old Prussians"), Sudovians/Jotvingians, Scalvians, Nadruvians, and Curonians. The Eastern Balts, including the hypothesised Dniepr Balts, were living in modern-day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia.
Germanic peoples lived to the west of the Baltic homelands; by the first century AD, the Goths had stabilized their kingdom from the mouth of the Vistula, south to Dacia. As Roman domination collapsed in the first half of the first millennium CE in Northern and Eastern Europe, large migrations of the Balts occurred — first, the Galindae or Galindians towards the east, and later, Eastern Balts towards the west. In the seventh century, Slavic tribes from the Volga regions appeared. By the 13th and 14th centuries, they reached the general area that the present-day Balts and Belarusians inhabit. Many other Eastern and Southern Balts either assimilated with other Balts, or 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 (land in English).
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The Balts originally practiced Baltic religion. They were gradually Christianized as a result of the Northern Crusades of the Middle Ages. Baltic peoples such as the Latvians, Lithuanians and Old Prussians had their distinct mythologies. The Lithuanians have close historic ties to Poland, and many of them are therefore Roman Catholic. The Latvians have close historic ties of Northern Germany and Scandinavia, and many of them are therefore Lutherans. Irreligion is widespread. In recent times, the Baltic religion has been revived in Baltic neopaganism.
Recent genetic research show that the eastern Baltic in the Mesolithic was inhabited primarily by Western Hunter-Gatherers (WHGs). Their paternal haplogroups were mostly types of I2a and R1b, while their maternal haplogroups were mostly types of U5, U4 and U2. These people carried a high frequency of the derived HERC2 allele which codes for light eye color, and increased frequency of the derived alleles for SLC45A2 and SLC24A5, which codes for light skin.
During the Neolithic, increasing admixture from Eastern Hunter-Gatherers (EHGs) is detected. The paternal haplogroups of EHGs was mostly types of R1b and R1a, while their maternal haplogroups appears to have been almost exclusively types of U5, U4, and U2. Baltic hunter-gatherers still displayed a slightly larger amount of WHG ancestry than Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherers (SHGs). WHG ancestry in the Baltic was particularly high among hunter-gatherers in Latvia and Lithuania. Unlike other parts of Europe, the hunter-gatherers of the eastern Baltic do not appear to have mixed much with Early European Farmers (EEFs) arriving from Anatolia.
The rise of the Corded Ware culture in the eastern Baltic in the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age is accompanied by a significant infusion of steppe ancestry and EEF ancestry into the eastern Baltic gene pool. In the aftermath of the Corded Ware expansion, local hunter-gatherer ancestry experienced a resurgence. Haplogroup N did not appear in the eastern Baltic until the late Bronze Age, perhaps as part of a westward migration of Uralic peoples.
List of Baltic peoples
Modern Baltic peoples
- Eastern Baltic peoples
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- Bojtár page 18.
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