Historical Considerations

Prepared by the Commission to Study the Ethnographic Boundaries of Eastern and Southern Lithuania For Consideration by the Lithuanian Research Institute*

Ethnographic Lithuania encompasses those areas where the inhabitants have common ties of anthropological origins, nationality and culture. The autochtons of Ethnographic Lithuania comprise a general ethnic group based on mutual relations, a common history and cultural self-consciousness. Relying upon the information provided by history, demography, philology and cultural anthropology, the ethnographic boundary of the Lithuanian Nation can be delineated in approximation as follows:
The Eastern Boundary:
It commences from the southern banks of the Daugava (5 km. to the east of the town of Dysna), southward, leaving Orzechnowo on the Byelorussian side, Prozorokai on the Lithuanian side, to Kublichi, thence in a straight line southwest to the Vilija River (10 km. east of the Dolginavo-llginavo headwaters). That is, the line from the Daugava to the headwaters of the Vilija coincides with the Soviet-Polish border of 1921-1939. Further on, the eastern boundary coincides with the boundary of Lithuania Propria to the upper reaches of the Nemunas River.
The Southern Boundary:
It begins from the point where Lithuania Propria cuts across the Nemunas, moves southward along the Nemunas, leaving the county of Korelyčia on the Lithuanian side, then it turns westward through Korelyčia to Novojelnia, cutting across the Molčade River at Dworzec (on the Byelorussian side) and continuing to the Ščara River, leaving Zietela county on the Lithuanian side. The boundary runs westward from the Ščara through Piaski (on the Lithuanian side), Volpa (on the Polish side), Eismantai (on the Lithuanian side), Sakalėnai (Sokolany, on the Lithuanian side), leaving Sokolka on the Polish side; then it runs through Sidra (on the Lithuanian side), Jonava (on the Lithuanian side) to the Brzozowka River, continues along the Brzozowka to the Augustavas Canal. From the Augustavas Canal the border is a straight line to Raigardas.
In support of these boundaries, the following information is proffered:

Historical Considerations
A common past with unified aspirations, common traditions and mutual heroes unifies the autochtons of a territory and becomes a factor in the development of national consciousness. The regions of Vilnius, Naugardukas, Gardinas, and Suvalkai have a common past which binds the inhabitants of these areas to the Lithuanian Nation.
The Lithuanian Nation was formed through the amalgamation of Samogitian, Lithuanian Highlander (Aukštaičiai), Sudovian, Selonian, Yatvygian, and Prussian tribes, which had joined in the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The following areas or ducal domains formed the first ethnographic territory of the Lithuanian state: Samogitia, Upytė, Deltuva, Nalšėnai, Lietuva, Dainava, Sūduva and Jotva (Yatvygia) or Black Rus' The archeologist C. Engels points out that already in the sixth century A.D. Lithuanian tribes inhabited the areas of the counties of Lyda, Švenčioniai, Vilnius, Vileika, and Ašmena.
Thirteenth century sources permit us to estimate that the Sudovian land extended northward from the Bebra headstream (a tributary of the Narew) to the Nemunas near Gardinas. The Polish historian Henryk Lowmiahski sketches the boundaries of the Sudovians from the Prussian region of Galinda to the east including the sites of Bebras and Lukas (Lyck), but not crossing the Narew, because Wizna was a Polish frontier castle (see H. Lowmianski, Studya nad początkami spoleczenstwa i panstwa litewskiego, II, 1932). The Polish chronicler Jan DIugosz described the nationality of the Sudovians)Yatvygians as: ,,gens jaczwingorum natione, lingua, ritu, religione et moribus, magnum habebat cum Lithuanis, pruthenis et samogitis confirmitatem/' (DIugosz, Annales Poloniae, II, kn. 6-7).
The oldest known archeological monuments of the Sudovians are to be found near the villages of Šiurpilis, Šveicarija, Uosinė, Asava, Bilvinavas, Gulbiniškės, and Volovnia, that is, in the region of Suvalkai. In historical times, the western limit of the Sudovians coincided with the line drawn according to the 1422 Treaty of Melno concluded between the Lithuanians and the Teutonic Order. This line begins at Raigardas. The Soviet archeologist P. Rapoport derives the placename Rajgrod or Raigardas from the Lithuanian raistas or Yatvygian Rai + gard (gardas, stockade). The 13th century chronicles of the Teutonic Knights refer to Raigardas as a Sudovian castle. During the period of expansion by Halich-Volhynia the castle of Raigardas fell into Ruthenian hands. Grand Duke Traidenis regained Raigardas, restoring the Lithuanian castle. Since the reign of Gediminas Raigardas had trade relations with Gardinas. The Teutonic Order recognized Grand Duke Vytautas' claim to Raigardas as part of his patrimony. In 1509 Grand Duke Sigismund the Elder conveyed Raigardas to Mykoies Radvila.
Generally speaking, the early historical sources do not indicate the limits of the territories inhabited by Lithuanians, because the regions were forested and swampy. Moreover, nationalism in its modern sense with the condept of territoriality had not yet evolved. Ethnographic Lithuania, the nucleus of the Mindaugian state, was separated from the Daugava River by great forests. The Baltvyžiai-Bialowiež Forest separated the Yatvygians from the Mazurian Poles. During the 13th century Lithuanians lived along the Nemunas, Nerys and Nevėžis rivers. Individual homesteads were scattered in the wilderness backcountry. The oldest eastern castles — fortified settlements were Lyda, Rudnia, Kašetai, Mardasavas, Kernavė, Trakal,
Vilnius, Naugardukas, Merkine, Eišiškės; Alšėnai, Gardinas, Maišiagala, Kreva, Nemenčinė, Perloja, Darsuniškis, Bielica and Geranainys.
To the east, beyond Svyriai, Kreva and Geranainys were sparsely settled areas. There the Lithuanian hunters came into contact with Dregovichian hunters who were infiltrating form the east. In the northeast the Lithuanians came into contact with the Polotskians in the headwaters of the Daugava. According to the Latvian ethnographer K. Stalšans, the Russian historian 1. D. Beliajev had asserted that the Dysna territory was an area inhabited by Lithuanians. In the 13th century, the Brėslauja territory was still a forest. The town of Brėslauja emerged only in the 15th century.
The approximate western limits of the Ruthenians could be drawn. In the 13th century the border fortresses of the Byelorussians were the line of Iziaslavl, Minsk, Lokhaisk and Gorodets. The zone between the two nations witnessed cross-colonization. The Russian chronicles fix the western line of Ruthenian settlement: in 1127-28 the Krivichians had settled Lokhaisk, Drutsk, Borisov, and Zaslavl (Polnoe Sobranie Russkich Letopisei, Vol. I, pp. 130-131). The Polotskians (Ruthenians) settled in the area of the headwaters of the Daugava. Their castle was named "Polotsk" after the tributary Polota (Samuel Cross, The Russian Primary Chronicle, Boston, 1930, p. 138, 140). The Dregovichians lived in Turov near the Pripet marshes; their colonization moved northward to Slutsk, Kletsk and Minsk (Paszkiewicz, p. 27).
Ancient Yatvygian castles stood on the sites of Gardinas and Naugardukas. The Volhynian expansion affected the Yatvygians and gave the two castles the names of Grodno and Novogrodok. In 983 A.D. Grand Duke Vladimir of Kiev marched against the Poles and Yatvygians; he devastated the Yatvygian lands as far as the Bug. Jaroslav marched twice against the Yatvygians (in 1038 and 1040). Volhynians (Ruthenians) partially colonized the destroyed areas of the Bug and Nemunas Rivers. They named the settled region "Black Rus' " The Volhynians constructed a new castle at Naugardukas in 1235 (Polnoe Sobranie Russkich Letopisei, II, p. 775). In consolidating the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Mindaugas recaptured Gardinas and Naugardukas. His son Vaišvilkas governed Naugardukas. Later, Gediminas' son, Karijotas, whose capital was at Geranainys, ruled the Naugardukas region (see J. Puzyna).
Lithuania Propria or Lithuania Proper was the appellation given to the ethnic nucleus of the Lithuanian state. After the demise of Gediminas Lithuania Propria was divided into two parts: Grand Duke Algirdas ruled Vilnius and the Eastern Highlands (Rytų Aukstaitija). Kęstutis received the Duchy of Trakai. One could delineate the boundaries of the Duchy of Trakai by referring to the donative writ of Grand Duke Jogaila: from the Livonian border (Upytė) to Kobrynin (Masuria), and eastward from Podlesie to Pinsk. Naugardukas was still part of the Duchy of Trakai. Fighting for his birthright and patrimony Vytautas considered himself the legitimate ruler of the Duchy of Trakai and from 1384 used the title "hercoge czu Trachen" (see A. Prochaska, Codex Epistolaris Vitoldi, p. 3). The separate palatinates of Vilnius and Trakai were created by the Act of Horodlo (October 2,1413). In 1565 the palatinate of Naugardukas was created from the Lithuanian powiat of Naugardukas and the Byelorussian counties of Slonimas, Volkoviskas and Kletsk.
In order to reduce friction between Catholic Lithuanian and Orthodox Ruthenians, in 1566 the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was divided administratively into Lithuanian and Byelorussian woewodztwos or palatinates. The lands wherein the Lithuanian language predominated were assigned to the three Lithuanian palatinates, while the Ruthenian or Slavic lands were divided into 6 palatinates. The Vilnius palatinate consisted of the powiats (counties) of Vilnius, Ašmena, Lyda, Ukmergė,
and Brėslauja, the Trakai palatinate consisted of Trakai, Gardinas, Kaunas and Upytė powiats. The Vilnius and Trakai palatinates collectively were called Lithuania Propria. This term was used to differentiate Lithuanian lands from Byelorussian areas. According to prof. Kazys Pakštas, 83% of the inhabitants of Lithuania Propria spoke Lithuanian in the 16th century. This Lithuania Propria consisted of the Duchy of Samogitia (Žemaitija) — 23,300 sq. km.; the Palatinate of Trakai — 31,300 sq. km.; and the Palatinate of Vilnius — 44,300 sq. km. At the end of the 16th century this territory was densely inhabited by Lithuanians. Furthermore, the Lithuanian element was strong in the powiat of Dysna (in the Palatinate of Polotsk) and in the powiat of Naugardukas (Palatinate of Naugardukas). All in all, the Lithuanian linguistic area covered 114,000 sq. km.
Even then Polish and Byelorussian colonists and courtiers appeared in the southern and eastern parts, but their element was not numerous.
Since the 15th century small groups of Polish artisans settled in Lithuanian towns. The local boyars began to speak Polish and intermarry with the Polish pans. However, even as late as 1554, the city of Vilnius used the Lithuanian, Polish, and Church Slavonic languages in the courts and in transactions. In 1588 the Lithuanian Statute, which was abolished in 1840, prohibited Polish nobles from obtaining estates in Lithuania. Only a fourth generation native-born Polish noble received the same rights as his Lithuanian counterpart. This detered Polish nobles from seeking residence in Lithuania. Thus, in historic times, there was never a mass influx of Poles into Lithuania Propria, i.e., the Vilnius region.
In 1697 the Polish language became the language of the Lithuanian Chancellery and courts, replacing the Church Slavonic and Latin Languages. The Polonization of the Lithuanian boyars and townspeople spread rapidly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Intensive Polonization of the peasantry by the estateowners and clergymen occurred only during the 19th century. There were few ethnic Poles in Lithuania, whith the exception of the Suvalkai and Balstoge-Bialystok regions, which were settled by Masurian colonists. In the course of time, the Lithuanian element desappeared under a Polish and Byelorussian deluge in the Bialystok-Volkovisk areas, since mass colonization accompanied cultural Polonization.
The Byelorussification of eastern and southeastern Lithuania began in the 16th century (see Adolfas Šapoka, Vilnius in the Life of Lithuania, Toronto, 1962, p. 58). The Byelorussians and their dialects moved toward Gardinas along the Nemunas. Nonetheless, Lithuanian language enclaves survived in the Naugardukas area until the 20th century. According to J. Jakubowski, the Byelorussian language had reached the Lyda — Ašmena — Pastovis line at the start of the 17th century. However, even then, many of the "Byelorussians" were of Lithuanian descent. Jakubowski based his generalizations on the number of Slavified Lithuanian names and surnames registered in the local inventories of the powiats of Vileika, Lyda, Ašmena, and Gardinas (Jan Jakubowski, Studya nad stosunkami narodowosciowemi na Litwie przed Unią Lubelską, 1912).
According to the 1793 Treaty of Partition, the Russian empress Catherine II reclaimed "Russian" lands (i.e., Orthodox lands) from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The counties of Dysna and Vileika came under Russian rule because the majority of inhabitants belonged to the Eastern Orthodox confession. However, one should remember that many Lithuanians in these counties belonged to the Orthodox faith (see Lebedkin's statistics). In 1842 the Russians returned Dysna and Vileika counties to the Government (gubernia) of Vilnius because of the historical and economic ties of the local inhabitants with the Lithuanian capital.

* Translated from the original Lithuanian language report titled Memorandumas del Etnografines Lietuvos Rytiniu ir Pietiniu Sienu, Lietuvos Rytu Sienu Komisijos paruostas Lietuvos Tyrimo Institutui rysium su projektu nustatyti Lietuvos Etnografines Sienas.

Commission to Study the Ethnographic Boundaries of Eastern and Southern Lithuania - New York, May 23, 1967


"Religion as a Factor", "Linguistic Considerations", "Place-Names" & "The Limits of the Lithuanian Language Area"

"Influence of Lithuanian on the Other Languages Spoken in the Region"

"Manifestations of National Awareness" & "Sources"


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