Lithuania Minor

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Lithuania Minor and the other historical ethnographic regions of Lithuania.

Lithuania Minor (Lithuanian: Mažoji Lietuva; German: Kleinlitauen; Polish: Litwa Mniejsza; Russian: Máлая Литвá) or Prussian Lithuania (Lithuanian: Prūsų Lietuva; German: Preußisch-Litauen, Polish: Litwa Pruska) is a historical ethnographic region of Prussia, later East Prussia in Germany, where Prussian Lithuanians or Lietuvininkai lived. Lithuania Minor enclosed the northern part of this province and got its name due to the territory's substantial Lithuanian-speaking population. Prior to the invasion of the Teutonic Knights in the 13th century, the main part of the territory later known as Lithuania Minor was inhabited by the tribes of Skalvians and Nadruvians. The land became depopulated to some extent during the warfare between Lithuania and the Order. The war ended with the Treaty of Melno and the land was resettled by Lithuanian newcomers, returning refugees, and the remaining indigenous Baltic peoples; the term Lithuania Minor appeared for the first time between 1517 and 1526. With the exception of the Klaipėda Region, which became a mandated territory of the League of Nations in 1920 by the Treaty of Versailles and was annexed to Lithuania from 1923 to 1939, the area was part of Prussia until 1945. Today a small portion of Lithuania Minor is within the borders of modern Lithuania and Poland while most of the territory is part of the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia.

Although hardly anything remains of the original culture due to the expulsion of Germans after World War II, Lithuania Minor has made an important contribution to Lithuanian culture as a whole. The written standard form of Prussian-Lithuanian provided the "skeleton" of modern Lithuanian,[1] evolved from people close to Stanislovas Rapalionis and graduating from Lithuanian language school established in Vilnius, who were expelled from Grand Duchy during counter-reformation years. Those include notable names like Abraomas Kulvietis and Martynas Mažvydas. During the years of the Lithuanian press ban, most of the Lithuanian books printed using the Latin alphabet were published in Lithuania Minor.

Lithuania Minor was the home of Kristijonas Donelaitis, a pastor, poet and the author of The Seasons, considered[clarification needed]a milestone of Lithuanian literature, and Vydūnas, a prominent Lithuanian writer and philosopher.


The term "Lithuania Minor" (Kleinlitauen or little Lithuania in German) applied to the northeastern part of the former province of East Prussia (about 31 500 km²). It was first mentioned as Kleinlittaw in the Prussian Chronicle of Simon Grunau at the beginning of the 16th century (between 1517 and 1526) and was later repeated by another Prussian chronicler, Lucas David. The term Lithuania Minor was first applied during the 19th century and used more widely during the 20th century, mostly among historians and ethnographers.

The northeastern limit of the area of Prussia inhabited by Lithuanians was the state border between Lithuania and Prussia, and the northern border was along the Nemunas River, but the southwestern limit was not clear. Thus, the territory of Lithuania Minor has been understood differently by different parties; it could be:

  • either the area limited in the south by M. Toeppen-A. Bezzenberger's line (about 11 400 km²) what is roughly the area of the former administrative Lithuanian Province (about 10 thousand km².), where the population was almost entirely Lithuanian until 1709-11,
  • or the area of the former region with actual Lithuanian majority or of considerable percentage (about 17-18 thousand km².).

The administrative terms "Lithuanian province" (Provinz Litthauen), "Lithuanian districts" (Littauischen Ämtern), "Lithuanian county" (Littauische Kreis) or simply "Prussian Lithuania" (Preuszisch Litauen), "Lithuania" (Litauen) were used to refer to the Lithuanian inhabited administrative units (Nadruvia and Scalovia) in the legal documentation of Prussian state since 1618. The Lithuanian Province was named Klein Litau, Klein Litauen, Preussisch Litthauen, Little Lithuania, Litvania in the maps of Prussia since 1738. The official use of the concepts Prussian Lithuania etc. decreased considerably from the administrative reform of 1815-18.[2]


Pregolya River, a southern ethnic border of Lithuanian speaking territory in the 19th century

The area of Lithuania Minor embraced the land between the lower reaches of the river Dangė (German: Dange) to the north and the major headstreams of the river Prieglius (German: Pregel, now Pregolya) to the south. The southwestern line ran from the Curonian Lagoon (Lithuanian: Kuršių marės) along the Deimena River to its south, continued along the Prieglius River to the Alna (now Lava) river, up to the town of Alna and hence southward along the Ašvinė (Swine) river to Lake Ašvinis (Nordenburger See) and from there eastward to the border of Lithuania Major. The region embraced about 11 400 km². The broader understanding of Lithuania Minor includes the area west from the Alna and south form the lower reaches of the Prieglius and the Sambian Peninsula, making up 17-18 thousand km² in total.

The former ethnic region of Lithuania Minor belongs to different states today. The part of Kaliningrad Oblast (excluding the city of Kaliningrad and its surroundings), a few territories in Poland's Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, as well as the following territories in modern-day Lithuania: the Klaipėda district municipality, the Šilutė district municipality, Klaipėda city, Pagėgiai municipality, and Neringa municipality had once ethnically, linguistically and culturally been the latter Lithuanian region. Although now divided among countries, Lithuania Minor had been intact formerly, all these areas were once part of Prussia and thus politically separated from the Lithuanian nation.

Prior to 1918, all of Lithuania Minor was part of the Kingdom of Prussia's province of East Prussia, the core of medieval Prussia. It was a region outside of Lithuanian state, inhabited by a large population of Prussian Lithuanians. The ethnic Lithuanian-Prussians were Protestants in contrast to the inhabitants of Lithuania Major, who were Roman Catholics.

Giving the Prussian Lithuanian name first and followed by the German name, the major cities in former Lithuania Minor were Klaipėda (Memel) and Tilžė (Tilsit). Other towns include Ragainė (Ragnit), Šilokarčema (Heydekrug), renamed to Šilutė, Gumbinė (Gumbinnen), Įsrutis (Insterburg), Stalupėnai (Stallupönen).


Pre-Lithuania Minor

The territory, which was given the denomination Lithuania Minor in the 16th century, was not alien to Lithuanians ethnically as well as politically in earlier times. It had once been partly subject to Mindaugas' Lithuania in the 13th century.[3] Later, captured (1275–76) and ruled by the Teutonic Knights, the land was reckoned, what is recorded in the historical sources, to be their patrimony by Algirdas (officially said) and Vytautas (recorded to be said unofficially).[4]

German-Lithuanian rivalry

The territory of western Lithuania started to be threatened by Livonian order from the north and Teutonic Knights from the south in the 13th century. The Orders were seizing the lands of Baltic tribes, one of which – Lithuanians – had its state and was also expanding its power among neighbouring Baltic and Ruthenian people. The Order was granted the right over the pagan lands by popes and emperors of Holy Roman Empire. It was conqueror's right – awarded them as much lands as they would conquer. After the Battle of Saule Livonian order was crushed and incorporated to the Teutonic Order as part of it. Mindaugas, in critical political circumstances for his rule, undertook to grant Samogitia to the Order in exchange for baptism and the crown from pope. After Mindaugas became a king, a direct subject of the Pope, in 1253, the acts of grants of the lands for Livonian Order were written:

  • 1253 July, the act granting Nadruvia and Karšuva to the Order was written in Lithuanian curia by Mindaugas.
  • 1259 the act granting Dainava and Scalovia to the Order was written by Mindaugas. In the historiography this act is considered to be falsified by the Order.

All Baltic tribes rose against the Order after the Battle of Durbe (1260). Mindaugas officially canceled his relations with Livonian order in 1261 and the acts of grants became invalid. Mindaugas royal dynasty discontinued with his and two sons assassination in 1263. Lithuanian dukes did not join Prussians in their uprising due to inside instability of Lithuanian throne. Nadruvia and Scalovia which comprised much of later Lithuania Minor, had been taken by the Teutonic Knights in 1275-76 after the Prussian uprising and they reached Neman from the south in 1282. Lithuania also did not manage to retain Zemigalian castles lying north from Lithuania and Zemigalians fell under the Order finally during Gediminas rule. Samogitians, whose land lain between the Livonian Order and the Teutonic Order, had been many times granted to the Order juridically by Lithuanian dukes, popes, emperors of Holy Roman Empire, but either Order did not managed to take it, or Lithuanian dukes departed from their treaty and grant. Klaipėda was passed to Teutonic Order from its Livonian branch in 1328.

The patrimony for Nadruvia and Scalovia was remembered by post-Mindaugas grand dukes of Lithuania: Algirdas, during the negotiation on Lithuania's Christianization, postulated (1358) for the emperor of Holy Roman Empire, Charles IV, that he would accept Christianity when the Order was transferred to Russia's border to fight Tatars and Lithuania would be given back the lands to Alna, Pregolya rivers and Baltic sea. Lithuanian grand dukes probably considered the Order to be illegitimate state, propagandizing the mission of Christianization as the fundamental aim and factually seeking political authority at one time. Additionally, after the Order had become Protestant state, the conquered Baltic lands were not acknowledged as its possession by the popes.

After the Battle of Grunwald the dispute between Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Order on Samogitia started. Vytautas wanted the border to be the Neman River, while the Order wanted to have Veliuona and Klaipėda in the right side of the river. Both sides agreed to accept the prospective solution of Emperor Sigismund's representative Benedict Makra. He decided that the right side of Nemunas (Veliuona, Klaipėda) had to be left for Lithuania (1413). Makra is known to have stated:

We find that the Memel castle is built in the land of Curonians. Neither Master, nor the Order was able to prove anything opposing.[citation needed]

The Order did not accept the solution. Later Vytautas agreed the solution to be made by Emperor Sigismund. He acknowledged Samogitians for the Order (1420). Vytautas did not accept the solution. Polish and Lithuanian military, not capturing the castles, devastated Prussia then and the Treaty of Melno was made. Klaipėda was left for the Order. Since the Melno treaty the land later become Lithuania Minor had been officially separated from Lithuania. It became part of the state of the Teutonic Order.


The state of the Teutonic Order became Prussia in 1525 and the concept Lithuania Minor has appeared around that time (1517–26). Lithuania Minor was part of Prussia until 1701, the Kingdom of Prussia until 1871, the German Empire until 1918 and the German Reich until 1945. The political border set by the Treaty of Melno had been the same since the treaty to 1923, when the Klaipėda region (Memelland) was incorporated into Lithuania.

Post-World War I

Lithuania declared its independence from Russia in 1918 during World War I. Some Prussian Lithuanian activists signed the Act of Tilsit, demanding unification of Lithuania Minor and Lithuania major into a single Lithuanian state, thus detaching the areas of East Prussia from Germany which were inhabited by Prussian Lithuanians. This claim was supported by the Lithuanian government. The part north of the Neman River up to Memel was separated from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, and was called the Memel Territory. It was made a protectorate of the Entente States, in order to guarantee port rights to Lithuania and Poland. In January 1923, the Klaipėda Revolt took place and Klaipėda region was annexed to Lithuania in 1923 under violation[5] of the Treaty of Versailles. The subsequent incorporation of the territory brought economic prosperity to Lithuania, with the region accounting for 30% of the country's economy. However, the region's economic significance declined after economic sanctions were imposed by Nazi Germany in 1933.

German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop delivered an ultimatum to the Lithuanian Foreign Minister on March 20, 1939, demanding the surrender of the Memel region to German control. If it were not ceded to Germany peacefully, Ribbentrop vowed, Memel "will be taken by other means if necessary".[6] Lithuania submitted to the ultimatum and, in exchange for the right to use the new harbour facilities as a Free Port, ceded the disputed region to Germany in the late evening of 22 March 1939. Reunion of the Memel Territory with Germany was met with joy by a majority of Prussian Lithuanians.[7] It was Nazi Germany's last territorial gain prior to World War II. The whole of Lithuania itself came under occupation by the Soviet Union, then briefly became independent again in 1941 before being occupied entirely by Nazi Germany.

Post-World War II

At the end of the war, the local German and Lithuanian population of the former East Prussia either fled or was expelled to the western parts of Germany. The Soviet Union recaptured Lithuania in 1944 and the Memel region was incorporated into the newly formed Lithuanian SSR in 1945 while the remainder of East Prussia was divided between Poland (the southern two-thirds now forming the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship) and the Soviet Union (the remaining territory which was formed into the Kaliningrad Oblast).

After the war, the territory was given to the USSR at the Potsdam convention to take care of it, and was (and isn't) not an official part of RSFSR (nowadays Russia). The fate of the territory was to be decided during the following peace convention, which never actually happened, so today it is an anomaly.

After the death of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev offered the Kaliningrad Oblast to the Lithuanian SSR. Secretary Antanas Sniečkus refused this offer.[8] In 2010, a secret document was found which indicated that in 1990, the Soviet leadership was prepared to negotiate the return of Kaliningrad to Germany against payment. The proposal was declined by German diplomats.[8] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Kaliningrad Oblast has become an exclave of Russia. Lithuania, Germany, and Poland lay no official claims to the region at this time.

Ethnic history

Descent of Lietuvininkai


Originally it was thought that Prussian Lithuanians were autochthones to East Prussia. The base for it was A. Bezzenberger's line of Prussian-Lithuanian language limit. The theory proposed that Nadruvians and Scalovians were western Lithuanians and ancestors of Lietuvininks. It was prevalent until 1919.

The second theory proposed that the first Lithuanian population of the territory which later became Lithuania Minor appeared only after the war had ended. The theory was started by G. Mortensen in 1919. She stated, that Scalovians, Nadruvians and Sudovians were Prussians before the German invasion and Lithuanians were colonists of the 15-16th centuries from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania – Samogitia and Suvalkija. G. Mortensen created a conception of the wilderness, according which the vicinities of the both sides of the Neman up to Kaunas had become desolate in the 13-14th centuries. According G. Mortensen's husband H. Mortensen Lithuanian resettlement began in the last quarter of the 15th century.[9] Lithuanian historian K. Jablonskis etc., arhceologist P. Kulikauskas etc. denied the idea of desolate land, uninhabited forests (Old German wildnis, wiltnis) and mass Lithuanian migration. The idea of Lithuanian immigration was accepted by Antanas Salys, Zenonas Ivinskis. J. Jurginis had studied the descriptions of the war roads into Lithuania and found where the word wildnis was used in the political sense. He deduced that wildnis was that part of Lithuania which belonged to the Order juridically, by the grants of the popes and emperors of Holy Roman Empire, but was not subordinate to it due to the resistance of the residents. The theory of desolate land was also criticized by Z. Zinkevičius, who has thought that old Baltic toponymy could be only preserved by the remaining local people.

H. Łowmiański thought that Nadruvian and Scalovian tribes had changed ethnically due to Lithuanian colonization as early as times of tribal social order. Linguist Z. Zinkevičius has presumed that Nadruvians and Skalovians were transitive tribes between Lithuanians and Prussians since much earlier times than German invasion had occurred.


The German invasion and the war was the factor changing the former order of the Baltic area. While German Order was expanding its territory, the holding of Lithuanian grand dukes was withdrawn in some places. The political situation during the war was influenced by the following factors:

  • The situation of the war technologies. The Teutonic Order built many stone fortresses in the Baltic lands thus gaining the control over the ethnically foreign lands. Nadruvia was full of German castles.
  • The geographical situation. The Neman became a kind of a front line between the Order and Lithuania during the several decades of the war after the German invasion. There were German castles up to Kaunas by Neman in the 14th century. Germans built their castles by the Lithuanian and vice versa. The wide forest stretched in the land by the left side of the middle reaches of the Neman, what was Sudovia or Suvalkija. It could originate as a wide border between Lithuanian and Sudovian tribes before pre-nation times of Lithuanians and also could expand due to the war. The land was sparse of German castles. The conquered Baltic lands were all called Prussia by the Teutonic Order but not all the lands with the German castles managed to build in them became occupied. The presence of the Neman river, also possibly the forests in Sudovia, Karšuva afforded the most economical variant for the defensive fortifications.

The war probably changed the situation of populations of the area:

  • The demographic situation. The population of the territory which lain between the chief lands of Lithuanian state and Nadruvia – what was in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the northern half of Sudovia or Suvalkija – was sparse. Nadruvia possibly also became more depopulated than those Lithuanian lands, which lay on the right side of the Neman during the warfare between the Teutonic Order, the Old Prussians, and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
  • The ethnical situation. The German invasion and the war between the latter state and Lithuanian one reduced, was expelling the local population to some extent and impelled some migrations of Baltic tribes. In the abstract, Nadruvia, Scalovia and Sudovia had to be inhabited by Nadruvians, Scalovians and Sudovians. All these three tribes are considered to have once been western Baltic, but the Lithuanian impact, close relations and immigration, is likely to be occurred before the German invasion.

Prussian Lithuanian population

The main two lands later become Lithuania Minor, Nadruvia and Scalovia, had Prussian ethnic substratum. Lithuanian elements prevailed in the toponymy of the territory, though. It is possible that Nadruvia and Skalovia had changed ethnically in the process of Lithuanian penetration to and consolidation of the Baltic lands in the pre-state times. The contacts between Nadruvian and Scalovian populations with those to the north and west, where the grand dukes of Lithuania were ruling from the 13th or the 12th century, were probably close. Nadruvia had bordered on Sudovia and Samogitia, Skalovia – on Samogitia and Nadruvia. The inside Baltic migration, trading and ethnic consolidation presumably had happened since the earlier times than the German military invasion occurred.

The land was probably depopulated during the warfare and the source of the regeneration of the population was internal as well as presumably major external from the neighbouring areas. The land had been resettled by the former refugees and newcomers from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[10] After the permanent war had ended finally with the Treaty of Melno in 1422, the population continued to grow. The newcomers were Lithuanians from Trakai, Vilnius voideships and Samogitia. Lithuanian farmers used to flee to the Sudovian forest, which lain in the Trakai voivodeship, and live here without dues, what was possible until the agrarian reform of Lithuania, performed during the second half of the 16th century.

The tribal areas such as Nadruvia, Scalovia, Sudovia had to some extent later coincided with the political administrative and the ethnic areas. Nadruvia and Scalovia became Lithuanian Province in East Prussia and the Yotvingian population persisted in their lands more commonly as western Lithuanians in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and East Prussia.


As a distinctive ethno-cultural region, Lithuania Minor emerged during the 16th or the 15th century. The substratum of Prussian Lithuanian population comprised mostly ethnic Baltic tribes – local (Old Prussians – Sambians, north Bartians, Natangians; either probably formerly Lithuanized or Prussian Scalovians and Nadruvians; Sudovians, some Curonians) and neighbouring (newcomers, including returning refugees, from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: Lithuanians from the right side of the middle reaches of the Neman or Suvalkija, Samogitians, Sudovians, Prussians etc.). Colonists from the Holy Roman Empire also contributed to Lithuanian population to some extent. Prussians and Yotvingians tended to be assimilated by Lithuanians in the northern part of East Prussia, while by Germans and Poles in the southern one.

Lithuanian percentage decreased to about half of population in about half of the area eastwards from Alna river and northwards from the lower reaches of Pregolya during the 18th century. Lithuanian percentage of the area was continually decreasing during the ages since the plague of 1709-11. Lithuanians constituted the majority only in about half of the Memelland area and by Tilžė and Ragainė from the last quarter of the 19th century upwards to 1914. Lithuanian percentage was marginal in the southern half of the region of Lithuania Minor at that time. There resided about 170 thousands of Lietuvininks in East Prussia till 1914.


The territory known as the main part of Lithuania Minor had been distinguished in administrative terms first as Nadrauen and Schalauen, later the names Lithuanian counties, Lithuanian Province, Prussian Lithuania or Lithuania (Litauische Kreise or Litt(h) auen) became predominant.[10] The administrative Lithuanian Province (part of the administrative province of Sambia) (about 10 000 km²) comprised four districts of that time: Klaipėda (Memel), Tilžė (Tilsit, Sovetsk), Ragainė (Raganita, Ragnit, Neman) and Įsrutis (Insterburg, Cerniachovsk). There were three provinces in the Duchy of Prussia overall:

Province Areas Comment
Sambia Sambia peninsula none
Nadruvia One of two parts that constituted Lithuanian Province
Natangia Natangia none
Oberland none


The factual Prussian Lithuanian living area was broader than the administrative Lithuanian Province. Several Lithuanian-linked areas were determined on different criteria in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century by mostly German researchers (Lithuanians, without doing difference between the residents of Russian Empire and of Prussia, were considered by Germans in the 19th century to be the little nation facing its end. Therefore, the various researches on Lithuanian culture were made):

  • Lithuanian inhabited area indicated by toponymic data. The language line between Old Prussian and Lithuanian languages was determined by A. Bezzenberger (linguistic, archaeological and geographical data) and M. Toeppen (historical data). A. Bezzenberger found that toponyms in the right side of Alna and north from Pregolya after the Alna fall were mostly Lithuanian (with -upē (upē – a river), -kiemiai, -kiemis, -kēmiai (kiemas – a village)) and in the left side – mostly Prussian (with -apē (apē – the same), -kaimis (kaimis – the same). Thus, the area (11 430 km²) was considered to be Lithuanian lived and its southern limit was roughly the same as the southern limit of Nadruvia administrative unit. Lithuania Minor is commonly understand to be this area.
  • The area of traditional Lithuanian architecture: the original layout of the country seats, the architectural style. The territory between Koenigsberg, the lower reaches of Pregolya and Alna river was architecturally mixed – of German-Lithuanian pattern. The latter area was inhabited by mostly Prussians and Lithuanians, later – Germans and Lithuanians. The Lithuanian Province together with the latter area and Sambia peninsula presents the broader perception of Lithuania Minor (about 18 000 km²).
  • The area of the everyday vocabulary of Lithuanian country
  • The area of churches where Lithuanian sermons were used in 1719. F. Tetzner on the ground of the list of villages where Lithuanian sermons were used in 1719 defined the southern limit of Lithuanian parishes. F. Tetzner wrote in the beginning of the 20th century[dubious ]: 200 years ago the Lithuanian language area embraced, not mentioning the ten present districts of Prussia, also these: Koenigsberg, Žuvininkai, Vėluva, Girdava, Darkiemis and Gumbinė districts. Lithuanian sermons were finished in the last century in Muldžiai, Girdava district, also coastal villages around Žuvininkai and in the Koenigsberg district.

The limits of the latter Lithuanian areas were more southwest. Various other fragmentary demographic sources (the first general census was made in 1816) and the lists of colonists of the 18th century showed the area of Lithuanian majority and the areas of considerable percentage of Lithuanians to the first half of the 18th century. It was more southwest from the once existed administrative Lithuanian Province.

The southern limit of Lithuania Minor went by[dubious ] Šventapilis, Bagrationovsk, Bartoszyce, Barčiai (Dubrovka), Lapgarbis (Cholmogorovka), Mėrūniškai (Meruniszki), Dubeninkai (Dubeninki). The southern limit of the most compact Lithuanian area went by[dubious ]Žuvininkai, Königsberg, Frydland, Engelschtein (Węgielsztyn), Nordenburg (Krylovo), Angerburg, Geldapė, Gurniai, Dubeninkai.

Ethnic composition

The economic and especially demographic statistics had been fragmentary previous to the first general census of 1816. The accounting after the native tongue had begun since the census of 1825-1836. Thus, the situation of ethnic composition previous to the century is known from the various separate sources: various records and inventories, descriptions and memoirs of contemporaries, language of the sermons used in the churches, registers of births and deaths; various state published documents: statutes, acts, decrees, prescriptions, declarations etc. The lists of peasants‘ pays for plots and grinding of flour was also demographic source. Lithuanian and German proportion of Piliakalnis (Dobrovolsk) in the middle of the 18th century was determined by O. Natau on the ground of these lists. The toponymy of Prussia and its changes is also a source for situation of Lithuanians.[2]

The nationality of the residents of the country of Lithuania Minor is best shown by the sources from the fourth decade of the 18th century. In the process of the colonization of Lithuania Minor the order to check the circumstance of the state peasants was issued. The data showed the distribution by nationalities and the number of state peasants in the Lithuanian Province.[2] The data was used by M. Beheim-Svarbach, who published the tabulations of the territorial distribution of Lithuanian and German villeins (having their farm) in all the villages and districts of Lithuanian Province. The data from the lists of colonists, which shown their descent, was published by G. Geking, G. Schmoler, A. Skalveit in their researches.


The ethnic Lithuanian inhabitants of Lithuania Minor called themselves Lietuvininkai (other form Lietuvninkai). L. Baczko wrote around the end of the 18th century:

all this nation, which, mixed with many German colonists, is living form Memel to Labiau, from Schirwindt[11] to Nordenburg,[12] call themselves Lietuvninkai and their land – Lithuania

The historical sources indicate that Lietuvininkai is one of two historical ways to call all Lithuanians. Lietuvninkai (Литовники) are mentioned in the recording (1341) of the second chronicle of Pskov. In what had been the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the word lietuvis became more popular, while in Lithuania Minor lietuvininkas was preferred. Prussian-Lithuanians also called their northern neighbors in Samogitia "Russian-Lithuanians" and their south-eastern neighbors of the Suwałki region "Polish-Lithuanians". Some sources used the term Lietuvininkai to refer to any inhabitant of Lithuania Minor irrelevant of their ethnic adherence[citation needed].

Lithuanian population presumably grew after the wars ended with the Treaty of Melno in 1422. The Samogitian newcomers were more common in the northern part of it and Aukštaitian in the western one.

Lithuanians lived mostly in the rural areas. German towns were like islands in the Lithuanian Province. The area was inhabited by almost only Lithuanians until the plague of 1709-11.

Plague of 1709-11 and the aftermaths

There were not less than 700,000 persons in East Prussia, up to 300,000 of them resided in the Lithuanian Province and the Labguva district prior to the plague of 1709-11. About 160,000 Lithuanians died in Lithuanian Province and Labguva district, which was 53 percent of the population of the latter area. About 110,000 people died in the other areas of East Prussia, which overall lost about 39 percent of its population during the plague.

Pre-1914 and present day situation

There were Lithuanian speakers and the Lithuanian language was effective throughout Lithuania Minor at the beginning of the 20th century, though the concentration places of Lithuanians were near Neman – Klaipėda, Tilžė (Tilsit), Ragainė (Ragnit). At the end of the war, the German and Lithuanian population of the former East Prussia either fled or was expelled to the western parts of Germany. There resided about 170,000 Prussian Lithuanians in East Prussia previous to 1914. Lithuanian fellowships functioned in Gumbinė, Įsrutis, Koenigsberg, Lithuanian press was printed in Geldapė, Darkiemis, Girdava, Stalupėnai, Eitkūnai, Gumbinė, Pilkalnis, Jurbarkas, Vėluva, Tepliava, Labguva, Koenigsberg, Žuvininkai.

No Germanization was performed in Lithuania Minor prior to 1873. Prussian Lithuanians were affected voluntarily by German culture. In the 20th century, a good number of Lithuanian speakers considered themselves to be Memellandish and also Germans. After the Treaty of Versailles divided East-Prussia into four parts (Polish, German, Danzig, and Lithuanian), Lithuania started a campaign of Lithuanisation in its acquired region[citation needed], the Memel Territory. In the regional census[13] of 1925,[14] more than 26% declared themselves Lithuanian and more than 24% simply as Memellandish, compared with more than 41% German. The election results to the Landtag (the territory's local parliament) between 1923 and 1939 revealed approximately 90% votes for German[citation needed] political parties and about 10% for national Lithuanian parties.

The former language of Lietuvninkai (which is very similar to standard Lithuanian) is currently spoken and known by only about several hundred people who were sometime residents of Lithuania Minor. Almost all former Prussian Lithuanians – including Lithuanian speakers – had already identified themselves with German speakers, or Prussians, by the end of the 19th century because of the influence of German culture and attitudes of the residents of East Prussia, which had been in quick progress during the 19th century. The majority of the Lietuvininkai population has migrated to Germany, together with Germans and now lives there.

Prussian Lithuanians spoke in western Aukštaitian dialect, those living by the Curonian lagoon spoke in the so-called "Curonianating" (Samogitian "donininkai" subdialect; there are three Samogitian[dubious ] dialects where Lithuanian "duona" (a bread) is said dūna, dona and douna) subdialect, and small part of them spoke in Dzūkian dialect. Prussian Lithuanians never called themselves and their own language Samogitian.

Old Prussians

Prussians were the native and main inhabitants of the lands which later became the core lands of the Teutonic Order. After the conquest, Prussian nobility became vassals of the Order and became Germanized. The officers of the Order were forbidden to speak in Prussian with local inhabitants in 1309. After the cancellation of the Order and the introduction of Protestantism, the situation of Prussians became somewhat better. Three catechisms in the Prussian language were issued in 1545 and 1561. Prussians villagers tended to be assimilated more by Lithuanians in the northern half of East Prussia, more by Germans and Poles in the southern half. There were parts of East Prussia where Lithuanians and Prussians constituted the majority of inhabitants. Prussian Lithuanian and German populations were the minority until the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century in the Sambia peninsula. Later, Germans became the ethnical majority in the peninsula, while Lithuanians were left as a minority there. The case of Jonas Bretkūnas illustrates the phenomenon of Prussian-Lithuanian bilingualism. The last Prussian speakers died around the end of the 17th century.


The native-born Germans who lived in Prussia since the expansion of the 13th century resided mostly in the western and southwestern parts of Duchy of Prussia and were an ethnic minority there until the 18th century. Germans were the politically dominant ethnic group in East Prussia. The percentage of Germans in Lithuania Minor was low prior to 1709-11. Later, Germans became the main ethnic group of Prussia, in the number of people as well.


Poles came to Prussia, especially to Masuria (about 7000 km²) and Catholic Varmia (about 4000 km²) until the 17th century. Poles constituted about one-third of the inhabitants of East Prussia by the latter century. By the 18th century, the border between the areas was inhabited by mostly Lithuanians towards one side and by Poles towards the other. Speakers went by Köningsberg, Bagrationovsk, Bartoszyce, Węgorzewo, Benkaimis, Žabynai (Zabin), Gołdap, Dubeninkai (Dubeninki) in Prussia.[dubious ]


The process of Germanization of other ethnic groups was complex. It included direct and indirect Germanization. Old Prussians were discriminated against[dubious ] after they were conquered, though Old Prussian nobility was not. They[who?] were not allowed to live in towns and were only allowed to farm. The situation of Prussian Lithuanians was presumably similar in earlier times. Prussian Lithuanians paid higher taxes and usually had no personal freedom and no law of succession to their plots. The high taxation was the cause of the bad economical situation of Lithuanians and the consequent high death rate of East Prussia during the plague of 1709-11. There were about 9 thousand farms left empty after the plague and the colonization called the Great started. Its final stage was 1736-56. Germans were preferred by the government to newly inhabit the vacant farms. Thus, the percentage of Germans increased to 13.4 percent in the villages of Lithuanian Province. By 1800, most Prussian-Lithuanians were literate and bilingual in Lithuanian and German. There was no forced Germanization prior to 1873. After unification of Germany, so called Germanisation by Lithuanians, but not by Lietuvininkai themselves, included the installation of the German language in schools - a usual practice in all states. The Germanization[dubious ] process accelerated in the second half of the 19th century, when German was made compulsory in the education system at all levels, although newspapers and books were freely published and church services in the Lithuanian language were held even during Nazi times. Even Lithuanian periodicals were printed in Lithuania Minor, such as Auszra or Varpas. During interbellum times, Lithuanian communists printed their own periodicals in Lithuania Minor, until 1933. By the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, many Prussian Lithuanians identified themselves more with Germans than Lithuanians, possibly after and due to the influence of Germanization[dubious ].


Auszra was printed in Tilsit

The first book in Lithuanian, prepared by Martynas Mažvydas, was printed in Königsberg in 1547, while the first Lithuanian grammar, Daniel Klein's Grammatica Litvanica, was printed there in 1653.

Lithuania Minor was the home of Kristijonas Donelaitis, pastor and poet and author of The Seasons, which mark the beginning of Lithuanian literature. The Seasons gave vivid depiction of the everyday life of Prussian Lithuanian country.

Lithuania Minor was an important center for Lithuanian culture, which was persecuted in Russian Empire occupied Lithuania proper. That territory had been slowly Polonized when being part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and was heavily Russificied while part of the Russian Empire, especially in the second half of the 19th century. During the ban on Lithuanian printing in Russia from 1864 until 1904, Lithuanian books were printed in East Prussian towns such as Tilsit, Ragnit, Memel, and Königsberg, and smuggled to Russia by knygnešiai. The first Lithuanian language periodicals appeared during the period in Lithuania Minor, such as Auszra, edited by Jonas Basanavičius, succeeded by Varpas by Vincas Kudirka. They had contributed greatly to the Lithuanian national revival of the 19th century.

Lithuanian claims

Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1422 Treaty of Melno refused of all territorial claims in Prussia. Grand Duchy of Lithuania was occupied by Russia in 1795 and Lithuania became independent in 1918. The first time in modern times Lithuanians put eye on East Prussia was in 1914, August 17 when so called Amber Declaration was signed. The leaders of Lithuanian national revival expressed hope to Czar that East Prussia would be attached to autonomous Lithuania within Russian Empire. In the document East Prussia was viewed as a part of Samogitia.

Lithuanian leaders viewed to Lietuvininkai people as a part of Lithuanian nation. While Prussian Lithuanians had different aspirations[citation needed], Lithuanians didn't look seriously to this. Lithuania declared own independence basing on Wilsonian Self-determination right, but Lithuanian leaders didn't want to use this right to Poles[citation needed] of Lithuania, and to Prussian Lithuanians[citation needed]. Prussian Lithuanians were viewed as Germanised who should be re-lithuanised no matter they want to or not[citation needed]. Such policy was being done during reign of autocratic Antanas Smetona in 1926-39 in Memel Territory.

In 1919 Versailles, Lithuania asked for large areas in East Prussia. Though delegation of Lithuanians was not recognized, such claims were quickly used by Poland and, with help of Clemenceau anti-German policy, the part of East Prussia was detached from Germany. Detached area was named Memel Territory.

The capture of Memel Territory by Soviet Army in 1944 in Soviet Lithuania was named a "liberation of Samogitia".

It was set in the Potsdam conference that the question of the status of the Königsberg region, which was passed to the Soviet Union, would be discussed during the future fifty years. But the Soviet Union has collapsed and the territory became the enclave oblast of Russia.

The opinion requiring attachment of the Kaliningrad oblast to Lithuania exists among Lithuanians today.[15][16][17][18] According members whole Kaliningrad oblast, is an ancient Lithuanian land i.e. Lithuania Minor is understand as a Lithuanian land from times immemorial. The political party which has no seats in Seimas, Lithuanian nationalist union, requires the attachment of the Kaliningrad oblast and the rest of East Prussia to Lithuania too. According to Lithuanian nationalists, Lithuania can be seen as the rightful successor-state of Old Prussians, and even all Balts[19] The opinion of attachment is popular among Nationalistic people and sparse movement of Neopagans in Lithuania.

On the other hand, in Russia and mainly in Kaliningrad exists an opinion that Memelland was transferred to Lithuania unlawfully, as Lithuania entered Soviet Union in its borders of year 1939, and Memel was included into Soviet Union as part of East Prussia. Moreover, the Klaipeda Convention of 1924 stated that Klaipėda was given to Lithuania as an exchange for Polish-occupied Vilnius Region. In 1939, Klaipėda was returned to Germany after an ultimatum. According to some polytologists, namely Mikhail Aleksandrov, the head of Baltic States department of CIS Countries Institute, the rights of modern Lithuania for controlling Klaipėda are questionable.[20]

See also



  1. (German) [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 A. Matulevičius Mažoji Lietuva XVIII amžiuje (Lietuvių tautinė padėtis) [Lithuania Minor in the 18th century (the national situation of Lithuanians)]; Vilnius 1989; p.
  3. Baranauskas, Tomas (23 March 2003). "Mindaugo karūnavimo ir Lietuvos karalystės problemos". Voruta (in lietuvių). 6 (504). ISSN 1392-0677. Archived from the original on 2005-10-26. Retrieved 2006-09-17.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Lietuvos istorija [The history of Lithuania]; redactor A.Šapoka; Kaunas 1936; p.140
  5. (German) [2] Bericht der nach Memel entsandten Sonderkommission an die Botschafterkonferenz
  6. Mažoji Lietuva. Klaipėdos krašto istorijos vingiuose.
  7. Vareikis, V. (2001). "Memellander/Klaipėdiškiai Identity and German-Lithuanian Relations in Lithuania Minor in the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries" (PDF). Sociologija. Mintis ir veiksmas. 1–2: 54–65. ISSN 1392-3358.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Milan Bufon (2014). The New European Frontiers: Social and Spatial (Re)Integration Issues in Multicultural and Border Regions. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 98.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. (German) An extract from the Die litauische Wanderung by Von Hans Mortensen; 1928
  10. 10.0 10.1 (Lithuanian) Lithuania Minor
  11. now Kutosovo, Lithuanian: Širvinta, a village in the east of Kaliningrad Oblast
  12. now Krylovo, Lithuanian: Ašvėnai, a village in the south of Kaliningrad Oblast
  13. Das Memelgebiet Überblick (German)
  15. "Karaliaučiaus problema" (in lietuvių). Retrieved 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. "Tvirta ranka ar kinkadrebystė?" (in lietuvių). Retrieved 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Potsdam and Lithuania are burning". Retrieved 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "Prijunkite Kaliningradą prie Lietuvos..." (in lietuvių). Retrieved 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Karaliaučiaus krašto ateitis - su Lietuva!" (in lietuvių). Retrieved 2007-10-18.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> "8. Lietuvos valstybė - tikroji šios teritorijos baltų (lietuvių ir prūsų) teisių ir pareigų perėmėja turėtų būti pripažinta Karaliaučiaus krašto suverenu."
  20. Почему мы вспоминаем Крым, но забываем о Клайпеде? (in русский). Retrieved 1 July 2012. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Simon Grunau, Preussische Chronik. Hrsg. von M. Perlbach etc., Leipzig, 1875.
  • Adalbert Bezzenberger, Die litauisch-preußische Grenze.- Altpreußische Monatsschrift, XIX–XX, 1882–1883.
  • K. Lohmeyer, Geschichte von Ost- und Westpreußen, Gotha, 1908
  • R. Trautmann, Die Altpreußischen Sprachdenkmaler,Göttingen, 1909
  • L. David. Preussische Chronik. Hrsg. von Hennig, Königsberg, 1812
  • M. Toeppen, Historische-comparative Geographie von Preußen, Gotha, 1958

External links