Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Lithuanians, an Aryan people, whose domain formerly comprised most of the Baltic provinces and extensive tracts in East Prussia and about the frontiers of Poland and Russia, but is now mainly restricted to the region enclosed by the Lower Dwina and Niemen rivers. They are interesting, especially to philologists, on account of the extremely archaic type of their Aryan speech, which is most akin to the Slav branch, but preserves many grammatical forms older than Greek or Latin and, in some instances, even than Sanskrit. Since the 10th century they have been divided into three distinct groups: - the Bourssians (Prussians), Germanised in the 17th century; the Lettons (Letts), of Courland and parts of Livonia, Esthonia, and Vitebsk, some of whom are also Germanised and others Russified; the Lithuanians, including the Yoniids (Samoyitians), of the lowlands, and the Lithuanians proper (Intra) of the uplands. Total population of Lithuanian speech (1883) over 3,200,000. Of the two surviving languages, Lithuanian proper is by far the more ancient, bearing somewhat the same relation to Lett that Latin does to Italian. Its preservation for thousands of years between the Slav and Teutonic domains enclosing it on the west, south, and east, is all the more inexplicable that it has never been cultivated as a literary language, and reduced to written form only in quite recent times. The culture received from the Germans and Poles never penetrated beyond the highest circles; and when the Lithuanians overran several Russian provinces in the 12th and 13th centuries, they adopted the Slav alphabet and composed all their chronicles in Russian. Even now nothing is printed in this ancient Aryan tongue except religious tracts and a single newspaper published in Prussia. After the annexation of Lithuania to Poland, on the extinction of the Jagellon dynasty (1572), most of the people became, and still remain, Roman Catholics; while others under analogous political influences became Lutherans or Orthodox Greeks; but all preserve reminiscences of pagan times, and the names of the old gods are still familiar to all classes. In other respects the Lithuanians are an extremely slow'and stolid people; an unenterprising, almost spiritless, peasantry, formerly serfs, now little better than farm labourers; yet possessed of some intelligence, as shown by their rich unwritten literature, which abounds in national songs, idyllic and lyric poetry inspired by much tender sentiment and love of nature. Since the 14th century Wilna (founded 1320) has been the chief centre of Lithuanian culture, such as it is. (Koeppen, Ber Litanische Volltstamm, 1855.)