Chapter VII

The Balts before the Dawn of History

Several centuries before the written records which illumine the birth of the Lithuanian state and the ensuing wars with the Teutonic Knights, the Baltic tribes enjoyed their second “golden age.” Their lands remained intact, economy and trade progressed, arts and crafts flourished. The coastal tribes, particularly the Curonians, were now on the offensive in the war of piracy with the Scandinavian countries.

Curonian–Scandinavian Relations

The Curonians had become Baltic “Vikings”; they were the most restless and the richest of all the Balts during this period. That the Curonians were attacking Denmark and that its coasts in winter and in summer had to be guarded against them and other Vikings from the east is attested by the Heimskringla of Snorre Sturleson, set down during the reign of the Norwegian King Harald Hardready (1045–66).1 Snorre Sturleson mentions in his Ynglinga-saga that in 1049 under King Svein, and in 1051 under King Magnus, a special sermon against Curonian pirates was introduced in the Danish churches: “O mighty God, protect us against the Curonians.”2 From the early thirteenth-century chronicles we learn that it was customary for the Curonians to devastate and plunder the Danish and Swedish kingdoms and to carry away church bells and other objects.3

It is to be expected that Curonian weapons and ornaments would be found all over the western Baltic Sea coasts to Denmark. That they reached Gotland even before the wars with Denmark is shown by a number of Curonian pins, fibulae and swords dating from the tenth century. These articles have been found in various places along the coasts of Gotland. Some are isolated finds, but some come from graves. In Hugleifs near Silte a woman’s grave containing typically Curonian


Fig. 51. Silver-plated crossbow fibula (cast in bronze) with a stepped prong. End ninth or tenth century A.D. Western Latvia. 1:2

ornaments was discovered, including a fibula similar to the one illustrated on this page. Other Curonian finds on Gotland were pins with triangular or cross shaped heads, and swords such as are found in great numbers in western Lithuania, particularly around Klaipėda and Kretinga. Whether these isolated finds are merely imports from Curonia or the relics of a Curonian colony on Gotland is difficult to tell, but the grave at Hugleifs certainly proves the presence of some Curonians on the island. Other Baltic finds on Gotland, and in Uppland and Öland in central Sweden, point to commercial relations during the tenth and eleventh centuries. A fragment of a silver neck-ring with saddle-shaped end, which is a widely distributed type in central and eastern parts of Lithuania and Latvia, was found on Gotland (Boters near Gerum) together with Arab, Byzantine, German and Anglo-Saxon coins. Another neck-ring of the same type comes from Öland.4

Trade and wars of piracy between the Baltic and Scandinavian Vikings continued intermittently throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries. Rich and well-settled Curonia attracted the rapacious Vikings from Sweden, Denmark, and even from Iceland, but they, in turn, were decoyed by the Curonians who plundered their coasts. Thus the powers were balanced by piratical raids on both sides, and sources do not mention any larger wars. Bands of marauders anything from seven to 30


strong usually carried out such raids, not far from the coast, to facilitate a fast retreat. For this reason, on both sides of the Baltic the settlements are found a considerable distance in from the sea. Almost all the larger Curonian towns and villages were located from 5 to 25 km. from the coast.

A picturesque illustration of Viking raids and a description of the living standard of the Curonian landowners at the beginning of the tenth century is presented by the Icelandic Egils-saga. In it we find a long account of how Thorolf and Egil harried in Curonia around 925.5 It is replete with precious fragments illuminating details in the life of a Curonian feudal lord. We read of fights with swords, spears, and arrows, of clothes being thrown over the enemy’s weapons, of enemies being captured and held in cellars (“holes”) for years or being killed by torture. The feudal lord’s castle comprised many houses and barns, surrounded by ramparts (“fences”). Houses were built of great logs of timber, and had chambers on the first floor and stairs leading to attics. The chambers had flat shield-wainscots. The lord slept in the attic, and serving men made the beds. In the attics were stored weapons and wooden chests full of silver. The lord and his men feasted in a “hall,” which probably was the largest room in one of the buildings. But that is about all that we learn from the Scandinavian narrators, and for the other gleanings we have to return to the graves.

The graves of the Curonians known now from not less than 30 large cemeteries in western Lithuania and western Latvia are extremely rich in grave furnishings and full of silver, bronze and iron. Let us examine one feudal lord’s grave from the! cemetery of Laiviai near Kretinga in western Lithuania dating from around A.D. 1000: cremated bones were in a man-sized tree-trunk coffin, accompanied by nine fibulae, a leather belt ornamented with bronze and amber beads, three spears, an iron battle axe with a broad blade and a socketed axe, an iron


instrument for striking fire, a sickle, an iron key and bronze scales, a saddle and iron bridle-bits; there were in addition several miniature tools and weapons, which either were symbols of his other possessions or belonged to his servants and slaves. Women’s graves were particularly rich in bronze and silver ornaments.6 From what is found in the graves we can readily visualize how all these goods must have filled up the treasure chests kept in the landowner’s house. Equally rich graves also appear all over the Baltic coasts from the Vistula in the south to Latvia and Estonia in the north, and this explains why the Scandinavians were persistently lurking around the East Baltic coasts. Commercial activities between the Prussians and Curonians and the Swedes and Danes are indicated by finds at the trading posts: in Truso (Elbing), Wiskiauten in Samland, at the mouth of the River Nemunas, in Grobin near Liepaja, and at the mouth of the River Daugava. In addition to trading and harrying, the Scandinavian Vikings had missionary aims, but these seem to have been very secondary and without consequences. It is “recorded that one merchant swayed by the Danish King Svein Estrithson (†1076) by many gifts founded a church in Curonia, but it soon became deserted and forgotten.7

Ornaments, Arts and Crafts

From the end of the ninth century onward, the Curonians and other Baltic tribes enjoyed a truly remarkable enrichment of their material culture. The influence of Viking art is conspicuous where the borrowing of certain motifs such as snake or animal heads, or the imitation of Viking sword designs, are concerned. [Plates 68 and 69] Basically, however, either the forms of ornaments, tools and weapons were developed from the prototypes of their own earlier periods or new, exclusively Baltic, forms were created. In geometric ornamentation a true finesse was achieved and in jewelry forms, a great variety; but it is equally true that in overall style, a clear thread can be seen to run right on from the “golden age.”


The love for hanging attachments and for chains secured on large pins or brooches did not diminish. In rich women’s graves, the triangular and cross-shaped heads of pins and the chain-holders were coated with silver-plate and adorned with blue beads. Heads of pins in the Curonian area took a particular variety of forms: cross-shaped, having disc ends; triangular with a rosette motif in the middle; and those with spiral heads, fretworked, or with rhomboid heads decorated with a minute geometric ornament in relief. [Plates 56 and 58] The more delicate ones were used in women’s head-dress to secure the head cloth. [Plate 57] Also found is a series of bronze or silver neck-rings: the twisted kind with plain ends, with double-looped ends, with a saddle end and a loop or with three cones at one end and an ornamented plate at the other, and those made of flattened wire on which triangular or elongated pendants were attached. [Plates 59 and 60] The latter were most characteristic of the Semigallian woman’s ornaments. Those with looped and saddle ends are widely spread over Lithuania, Latvia, and the ancient Sudovian lands. In addition to bronze- or silver-plated crossbow fibulae with a step-like prong, there were gigantic crossbow fibulae with snake-head ends and poppy-head ornament on both sides of the bow. These continued in vogue until the eleventh century. After the ninth century, however, the horseshoe fibulae, common to all northern Europe, became the most popular. The earliest, dating from the seventh century, had spiraled ends; in the ninth and tenth centuries they developed into a great variety of forms in the Baltic lands: some with ends that thickened or were flattened, others with poppy-head, animal, star-shaped, rectangular plate or octagonal ends. [Plates 61 and 62] In men’s and boys’ graves they appear attached to linen blouses, sometimes from ten to 20 of them covering the whole width of the chest, or are pinned on the garment along the whole length of the body from the neck to the knees. A separate series among the fibulae were made of round or rectangular plates, usually fretworked and


Fig. 52. Bronze necklase with flat overlapping ends and pendants attached. Tenth–eleventh centuries A.D. Aizezari near Sakstagals, Latgale

showing cross, rosette or swastika patterns. The swastika ends were sometimes finished with animal heads reminiscent of the Viking animal whorl. An enormous variety of bracelet forms are encountered, a great many of which were banded and richly decorated geometrically. Characteristic of ancient Prussia and Curonia, as well as the adjacent areas, were those with stylized animal heads in which the Viking influence can be recognized, but their bands were decorated in purely Baltic


style; dotted lines, forming rectangles, cross patterns, circles, tiny triangles, or rhombs and striations. Men’s bracelets were broad and weighty. On them we find a painstaking geometric decoration in bands of zig-zags and rhombs as if in imitation of woven patterns. [Plates 63 and 64]

Similar ornamental motifs were applied everywhere: on all flattened parts of neck-rings, fibulae, bracelets, belts, on the hilts of swords, on the sockets of spears, on bronze-coated leather sheaths for knives, and on horse bridles. Larger surfaces were divided into horizontal or vertical bands. This can be seen for instance on a bronze-coated leather sheath for a knife, a weapon with which a warrior in the tenth and eleventh centuries was usually equipped. Whether these motifs — incised, engraved or embossed on bronze and silver — appeared in woven garments, we do not know, but woolen head-cloths and kerchiefs were embellished with bronze plates. Thanks to this decoration, some woolen kerchiefs woven with the aid of

Fig. 53. Bracelets with stylized animal-head ends and geometric decoration. Tenth–eleventh centuries A.D. Pryšmantai near Kretinga, western Lithuania


Fig. 54. Iron knife sheathed in a richly decorated bronze scabbard. Turaida, central Latvia, c. eleventh century A.D. 2:3

four heddles and having edges finished with a twisted band were preserved almost intact. They were either solidly covered with rectangular bronze plates and had several rows of spirals along the edges and attached pendants, or decorated with tiny bronze plates forming multiple swastika, triangle and other patterns. [Plate 65] These decorated woolen kerchiefs were a part of the national costume of the Semigallian and Lettigallian women. Leather belts were likewise adorned with round, conical or rectangular plates of bronze or of lead coated with silver, and


bronze staples forming bands of zig-zags, triangles, or rhombs. [Plate 66] Sometimes, on both sides of the bronze or silver clasp hung tassels of bronze spirals with amber beads at the ends.

Such fragments of linen and woollen garments as were found indicate several weaving techniques. Some were woven with the aid of four heddles; some, three. For the latter, horizontal looms must have been used. Also, during these centuries girdles were made of twisted white and red woollen thread. These are the forerunners of the present girdles, called juostos, a peculiar Baltic ornament used by men and women for tying around, or decorating the edges of, garments. In teenage-girls’ graves of the tenth and eleventh centuries, instruments for girdle-weaving are frequently found. [Plate 67]

Women’s and men’s costumes from the last centuries of prehistory can be almost fully reconstructed. Although each tribe’s costumes varied in details and in the application of local sets of bronze ornaments, in general style they were very much the same all over the Baltic area. Girls continued to cover their heads with a woollen cap decorated with bronze plates and pendants; women used a head cloth secured by a diadem, or pins. The linen blouse had a high closed neck around which several bronze or silver necklaces, with glass or amber beads, bronze spirals, or pendants, were worn. The blouse was secured at the neck with round or horseshoe fibulae. The woollen skirt reached to below the calf; the woollen apron, the lower part of which was embellished by rows of bronze spirals, being shorter. The kerchief worn over the shoulders was made of a relatively thick woollen cloth. It was secured in front either with a massive bronze or silver-plated fibula or with large pins from which hung one or several chains. On each arm were worn from one to two or six bracelets.

Men were dressed in linen blouses secured with pins, woollen trousers, a long woollen jacket girdled by a leather belt, and a woollen cloak pinned with a massive fibula. The richer the


man, the more elaborate was his belt, and instead of bronze he used silver ornaments — necklaces, fibulae, bracelets, and finger-rings. To complete the warrior’s equipment there was a knife in a leather sheath coated with bronze or silver plates and attached to the belt, an iron instrument for tinder, as well as helmet, shield, long iron sword, spear, battle-axe, bow and arrows with iron tips, and spurs.

From the chainholders or brooches hung triangular or trapezoid bronze plates, jingle bells, miniatures of horses and water-birds, pincers, combs, and incisors of wild animals. This peculiar assortment of pendants suggests that they were not used for their aesthetic value alone, but had a symbolic significance. They tinkled when the wearer moved or walked, and thus helped to ward off evil spirits.

Our brief survey of ornamental and symbolic art would not be complete without a glance at the artistic skill which went into the decoration of horse harnesses. In their love for the horse, the Baits are on a par with the Scythians. In no other European country — not excluding the Indo-European groups — do we find the horse held in such high esteem down the ages; and this is still borne out by present-day folklore. In no other country but the Lithuania of the eleventh and twelfth centuries do we encounter separate large cemeteries for horses.8 It was the riding horse, the žirgas (this Lithuanian word being connected with žergti, to straddle), who was the faithful companion of the warrior, and in full decorative splendour went with him to the grave. The headgear and the leather belts of the harness were solidly covered with lead plates coated with silver and embossed with rosettes, intertwined zig-zags and other motifs. [Plate 70] Some more elaborate harness decorations were covered with gold plate in patterns combining animal heads and geometric motifs. On both sides of the horses’ head or on the forehead, jingle bells or chains with bronze or silver pendants were suspended from the harness belts. [Plates 71 and 72] The round


Fig. 55. Ornament (details) on horse bridle. Gold plate. Lake Vilkumuiža, Talsi, western Latvia

or cross-shaped spacers between the leather belts of the harness were of bronze, lead or silver, or iron coated with silver and incrusted with bronze. The bridle-bits and cheek-pieces were usually of iron. The horse belonging to a more important personage had cheek-pieces covered with silver and curved in baroque style, their ends taking the form of stylized animal heads and their edges having incrustations of bronze or embossings. [Plates 73 and 74] Saddle-cloths were adorned with triangular and rhomboid plates. The iron stirrups were usually covered with silver, the examples from the twelfth century being decorated with highly stylized animal heads and plant motifs. [Plates 75 and 76] Even horsetails were not left without ornaments: they were encircled by large spiral rings of bronze.

At the dawn of history the arts and crafts had reached their most advanced stage. Metallurgy, leather working, glass and amber industries, and pottery were in the hands of craftsmen who had their workshops in the larger towns, in feudal castles and in the villages. Only weaving, spinning and sewing remained family affairs, and even here the highest-ranking


families probably had local seamstresses, spinners and weavers at their beck and call. The potter’s wheel, introduced around the tenth century, had gradually replaced the ancient craft of hand-made pottery which in each tribal group had its own distinctive appearance; now it became more uniform, was ornamented with wavy and horizontal bands, and sometimes was marked by the maker’s symbol. Also by this time, mill-stones (revolving querns) had replaced the primitive saddle querns.

Progress in Agriculture

Progress is noticeable in all branches of the economy. All tools show a development in form. Iron axes assumed broad edges which in building houses and fortifications and in clearing forests served better than the previous narrow edges. Scythes became longer; sickles were more gracile, taking on a curved point, and some having a dentate edge. Iron plough-shares became more popular. Some time between the ninth and twelfth centuries the two-field system in agriculture appears to have been replaced by the three-field, to judge by the preponderance of winter crop grains over wheat and barley in a number of settlements. Peas and beans were now widely used. Among the domesticated animal bones found, those of pig are second in number only to those of cattle.

Currency and Trade

Before the tenth century, currency had apparently not yet supplanted the trading of cattle, fur, amber, silver, and other barter goods. These became inconvenient with the new demands of a growing population, towns, trade routes, and stepped-up commerce. Local currency appeared in the form of finger-like silver bars with one flattened side, weighing either 100 or 200 grams. Characteristic of the earliest stages of Lithuanian history, they are found in rich graves together with silver ornaments, or in large hoards, and were in use from the tenth to the beginning of the fifteenth century. The silver bars and rare metals were weighed by tiny folding scales made of two bronze dishes suspended on bronze chains attached to a cross-bar. The weights were barrel-shaped, of different sizes,


marked with from one to five circles or triangles and one cross, or a cross with circles in between the cross-arms. Scales and weights were widely used in the tenth and eleventh centuries. They are usually found in rich men’s graves.9

During the tenth–twelfth centuries the Balts participated actively in local and international trade with the Russians, the Swedes and western Europe. Trade routes are indicated by numerous huge hoards of Lithuanian silver bars and Baltic silver ornaments, of Arab, Byzantine, Danish, Swedish, German and Anglo-Saxon coins, and of Kievan Russian silver ornaments; also by finds of Viking swords and swords of “Ulf berth” type imported from the Rhineland in western Germany, and Russian helmets, in the graves of Prussian feudal lords.10 Truso (Elbing), Samland, the Nemunas estuary (present Klaipėda), the Curonian coasts, the Daugava estuary (present Riga), and the Estonian coasts, were all connected by sea routes with the Swedish commercial centers in Visby (Gotland) and in Birka (central Sweden). The Daugava-Dvina was a river link between Scandinavia and western Europe, the Baltic lands, Russia and Byzantium. Along its banks, hoards containing Arab (Kufian) silver dirhems, Byzantine gold, silver and copper coins, Anglo-Saxon silver denarii, Swedish and Danish coins, Baltic silver bars and silver necklaces, and Russian ornaments abound.11 It certainly was one of the busiest international routes. From the upper Dvina the continental waterways went north to Novgorod and Ladoga, and south to Kiev and the Black Sea area. The products of Kievan Russia reached the lands of the southern Prussians across Volynia, and the Pripet and Bug rivers. Another important trade route was the River Nemunas and its tributaries. From the Kaunas and Vilnius areas the routes branched out, leading to Semigallia, to Lettigallia, Pskov and Novgorod, and across eastern Lithuania to Polotsk, Smolensk, and Novgorod.


Not amber but furs were now prominent among exports to western Europe, as is vividly described by Adam of Bremen in 1075; “They [Prussians] have an abundance of strange furs, the odour of which has inoculated our world with the deadly poison of pride. But these furs they regard, indeed, as dung, to our shame, I believe, for right or wrong we hanker after a martenskin robe as much as for supreme happiness. Therefore, they offer their very precious marten furs for the woollen garments called faldones.”12

Castles, Townships, Administrative Units

Almost all excavated earthworks from the tenth to the thirteenth century show considerable enlargement and additional fortifications. The ramparts on the inland side, or encircling the castle from all sides, became very lofty. The castle of Impiltis near Kretinga in ancient Curonia was surrounded by a rampart up to 10 m. high and nearly 40 m. across. Such huge ramparts would heighten the steep bank of the promontory and from the river or lakeside give the impression of a powerful fort rising to 30 m. or more. [Plate 77] Above the ramparts stood wooden fortifications — high fences, towers and log cabins with steep walls on the outer side. In these cabins lived the castle’s garrison and craftsmen, who kept animals and grain there. Wooden or stone towers were built at the corners. In the centre or to one side of the level area paved with stones or rectangular logs were the castle buildings, built mainly of wood though stones and clay were also used, and rectangular in plan. Castles were burnt down and rebuilt, and the excavations have shown consecutive destruction layers, in some cases numbering ten or more in the course of several centuries. In historic times they were superseded by brick buildings, making the reconstruction of earlier wooden castles all but impossible.

The earthwork was protected from two or three sides by rivers and streams, lakes or marshes. A deep ditch filled with water separated it from inland. Access to the castle was by a


portcullis, and at the entrance was a wooden gate flanked by small towers, or a tunnel. In the castle of Impiltis the entrance tunnel, built of oak logs, was 8 m. long, 2 m. high and 3 m. wide. Deep wells or water reservoirs were discovered in some earthworks. The excavations in Apuolė revealed rectangular wooden frames for a well, 2 m. deep and 4.5 × 4 m. wide. In some of the earthworks, wells are still filled with water and the present villagers living near by use them. From historic records we know that even during protracted sieges of the castles, the Baltic tribes managed to survive.13

In every tribal territory were several principal castles each with an adjoining town, and in addition there were smaller castles, also arranged on heavily fortified earthworks each surrounded by a settlement of smaller dimensions. Of the castle-hills and towns so far excavated the most impressive are: in Curonia, the above mentioned Apuolė (“Apulia”) and Impiltis, the latter with a town extending over at least five hectares (about 12¼ acres);14 in Semigallia, Daugmale on the bank of the River Daugava with an adjoining settlement of more than one hectare (about 22 acres),15 Tervete in western Semigallia,16 and Mežotne on the bank of the River Lielupe, south-east of Riga, surrounded by a town 1 km. across and ending with another, smaller earthwork;17 in Lettigallia (Latgala), the castle-hill of Jersika on a bank of the upper Daugava, occupying 7,500 sq. m., and the adjacent small town covering an area of 750 by 200 m. In the same tribal area four other important earthworks have been excavated: Dignāja, Asote, Kauguru Pekas Kalns and Raunas Tanīsa Kalns.18 Others are in eastern Lithuania: the castle-hill of Nemenčinė near Vilnius, covering an area of 2,000 sq. m. within the fortifications and showing foundations of rectangular houses built of stone and clay; and in central Lithuania, Veliuona, set on a steep bank of the River Nemunas which together with the rampart was 33 m. high, its leveled area covering 1,500 sq. m.19 And there are


Fig. 56. Plan of the Jersika hill-fort on the River Daugava in ancient Lettigallia (Latgala)


hundreds of other impressive castle-hills which either have been unsystematically excavated or are still completely untouched by the spade.

The largest or the most powerful castle with a town became the military and administrative centre of the tribal district. The ninth-century sources, as mentioned above, found five such “states” in Curonia; at the beginning of the thirteenth century there were eight “states,” or districts, with their centers in each of which were several villages (“castellatura”). A similar pattern of separate districts pertained to all the other Baltic tribes. The more powerful feudal “kings” extended their rule over two, three, four, or more districts.

These “kings,” or chieftains, possessed the largest of all the castles. In the earliest written records, the most influential lords who ruled over a large area of the tribe are called “rex,” “dux,” or “princeps.” Under their control were the rulers of less powerful districts. A strict hierarchical system prevailed within the limits of a tribe as well as within the limits of a smaller tribal district. The chronicles enumerate the names of the chieftains and even those of their subordinates. The power and the land-ownership were inherited. So, for instance, Viestarts, the lord of Tervete in western Semigallia, was a “dux” and “maior natus” and under his rule were all the lands of western Semigallia. The ruler of the district of Beverina in Lettigallia at the beginning of the thirteenth century was Tālivaldis, who is described as a rich man having much silver; his three sons were rich also, and possessed many lands. The hierarchical structure of chieftainship is illustrated by the chronicle of Volynia,20 which tells how 21 Lithuanian dukes came to sign the treaty of 1219 between Lithuania and the Rus’ of Halich-Vladimir. Of these, five — the most powerful ones — were “grand dukes,” the other 16 dukes of minor importance. From this we may deduce that Lithuania at that time was ruled by a confederation of the most powerful chieftains. It is quite possible that such a system


of government was also in existence in earlier prehistoric centuries.

As is usual in feudal states, there were many wars between the rulers. The power switched from one “king” to another and stable government was practically impossible. Wulfstan witnessed “very much war” among the Prussians at the end of the ninth century, and we learn of much warring among the Semigallian, Lettigallian and Lithuanian dukes from the chronicles of the thirteenth century. It was possible to maintain this type of feudalism and government as long as the Balts were surrounded by neighbours whose societies and leadership were based on a similar pattern. After it had lasted for a millennium or so, the situation changed when a vigorous enemy — the Teutonic Order supported by all Europe — appeared on the western border in 1226–30. The Prussians succumbed during the course of the thirteenth century, but the Lithuanians, united under one leadership, not only survived and stopped the Teutonic expansion, but extended their state borders to the east. Mindaugas, one of the five most powerful chieftains of Lithuania mentioned in connection with the treaty of 1219, managed through internal wars and family relations to extend his power over a greater part of Lithuania between 1236 and 1248. Soon thereafter he was crowned as a king, and thus was founded the Lithuanian state.

The Teutonic Order

The Order of the Teutonic Knights was a monastic and military organization, founded in Palestine during the Crusades. Driven from Asia Minor, they withdrew to Europe and settled in the lower Vistula area (1226–30). The Order immediately began to support the military enterprises of the German colony in Latvia, founded in Riga in the middle of the twelfth century. The chief purpose was to create a German state in the East Baltic area. Christian slogans were used in this war against the last “pagans” in Europe, or “the Saracens of the North,” as they were called, so that the Order easily enlisted numbers of


adventurous kings, princes, and knights with their armies from all Europe to. fight for the Order’s cause.

In the thirteenth century, the Knights attacked the Prussians by land from the west and the Curonians, Semigallians, Selonians, Lettigallians and Estonians from the Bay of Riga. The Curonians were conquered in 1267; the Prussians resisted the bloody Teutonic onslaught for almost 60 years, from 1231 to 1288. Being divided into many small principalities and unable to organize a united army of all the Prussian people, they could not hold back the increasing numbers of their enemy. Teutonic castles, superior to Prussian ones, covered the whole territory of the Prussian tribes by the end of the thirteenth century.

The “crusade” (in quotation marks, since it entailed slaughtering of people and a complete devastation of villages and fields) started in the lower Vistula area, and by 1237–38 Pamedė (Pomesania) and Pagudė (Pogesania) were already under the Order’s rule. Next, the Teutons pushed on along the Frisches Haff and in 1240 defeated the united Bard, Notangians and Varmians. A Prussian uprising in 1242 held back a further Teuton advance for some time, but by 1260 almost all the western and northern Prussian provinces had been conquered. In 1260, another uprising started which was crushed with the utmost severity in 1274. Nadruvians were slaughtered almost to the last man and their lands became a desert. The last to fall as a result of continuous wars with the Poles (Masurians) and Teutons in the last quarter of the thirteenth century was Sūduva, the land of the Sudovians (Jatvingians). After the loss of nearly two-thirds of the Prussian territory in the south due to Russian and Polish expansion before the thirteenth century, and after a tremendous loss of life in the wars with the Teutons, only some 170,000 ancient Prussians were left; in the Peninsula of Samland, the previously most thickly populated area, their number was reduced to a mere 22,000.


Fig. 57. The Lithuanian empire in the fourteenth–fifteenth centuries A.D., showing Poland in the fifteenth century


The colonization and Germanization of the Prussian lands began immediately. By 1400, the Teutonic Order could boast 54 towns, 890 villages, and 19,000 farms of new colonists. During the wars the Prussian upper class and the leaders had perished; those remaining yielded to the control of the Order, were baptized, and in striving for social status gradually accepted German customs and language. The lower and the lower-middle classes were underprivileged and peasants were forced into serfdom. The language and customs of the Prussians were preserved by this lower, underprivileged class, and Prussian continued to be spoken for another 400 years. The western provinces were more rapidly Germanized than the peninsula of Samland where the old population lived in compact groups. Catechisms published in Prussian in the sixteenth century show that not everyone understood German. It is known that at the beginning of the seventeenth century sermons were preached with the help of translators, but the Prussian language was living through its last stages at the end of this century. It was only spoken by the old people in villages.21

Resistance of the Lithuanian State

The thirteenth century was one of the most critical in the history of the Balts. Had it not been for the unification of the Lithuanian state in that century under able leadership, the Teutonic expansion would have proceeded to the east and easily swallowed up all of the remaining Baltic tribes. As soon as the Teutons began building their castles on the River Nemunas, they met well-organized resistance from the Lithuanians. The northern branch of the Teutonic Order was defeated by the Lithuanian king Mindaugas in 1236 at Šiauliai. Throughout the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, devastating wars between the Germans and Lithuanians continued to be waged along the Nemunas. Thanks to the clever and energetic leadership of Gediminas (1316–41), Algirdas (1345–77), and Algirdas’ heroic brother Kęstutis


(†1382) who spent all his life fighting against Teutons, Lithuania grew into a powerful state instead of succumbing to the German threat.

From the thirteenth century on, the central power in Eastern Europe was the growing Lithuanian state. Lithuania began its very rapid expansion to the east and south through the Russian and Ukrainian lands, to Tartary and the Black Sea. In the period between 1200 and 1263 Lithuanians fell upon Russians seventy-five times. On horseback they conquered Slavic lands. Gediminas occupied nearly all of Byelo-Russia and the north-western Ukraine (Volynia). Algirdas, a son of Gediminas, defeated the Tartars in 1362 near the Blue Waters in Podolia and took from them almost the entire basin of the Dnieper and Dniester. Later, Vytautas the Great (1392–1430), the most powerful of the rulers of Lithuania, annexed the Donets and Oka basins, surrounding Moscow from the west and south, making this area part of the Lithuanian empire.

This expansion was directed toward lands which for the most part had been possessed by Lithuanians and other East Baltic tribes in the prehistoric period. During its peak period (1362–1569), the empire covered 350,000 square miles. The huge state played an important role in protecting western Europe, as well as its own lands, from being invaded by the Tartars.

However, the Russian territories were not “Lithuanized.” As from the early sixteenth century, Lithuania began to lose her eastern provinces on the upper Volga, Oka and Donets, to the Russians. The growing threat from Moscow forced Lithuania to conclude a political treaty with Poland in 1569 and cede her Ukrainian lands to Poland. Livonia (present Latvia and southern Estonia) became a condominium of Lithuania and Poland. During the following centuries, Lithuania and what was to become Latvia failed to regain either their power or their lost territories. When they emerged as independent


states in 1918, after being under the rule of Tsarist Russia and Germany for 123 years (1795 to 1918), Lithuania and Latvia covered the smallest ethnographic territory to which the Baltic speaking people had ever been reduced.