Lithuania Minor (Lithuanian: Ma?oji Lietuva; German: Kleinlitauen; Polish: Litwa Mniejsza; Russian: Má ?á), or Prussian Lithuania (Lithuanian: Pr?s? 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 encompassed the northernmost part of this province and got its name from 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 depopulated during the incessant war between Lithuania and the Teutonic 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 Klaip?da Region, which became a mandated territory of the League of Nations in 1920 by the Treaty of Versailles and was unified with Lithuania from 1923 to 1939, the area was part of Prussia until 1945. Since 1945, a small portion of Lithuania Minor has been within the borders of modern-day Lithuania and Poland while most of the territory is part of the Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia, which in turn was part of the Soviet Union until December 1991.
Although hardly anything remains of the original culture due to the expulsion of Germans after World War II, Lithuania Minor has contributed significantly to Lithuanian culture overall. The standard written form of Prussian-Lithuanian provided the "skeleton" of modern Lithuanian, evolved from people close to Stanislovas Rapalionis and graduates from Lithuanian-language schools established in Vilnius, who were expelled from the Grand Duchy during Counter-Reformation years. Those include notable names like Abraomas Kulvietis and Martynas Ma?vydas. During the years of the 19th-century Lithuanian press ban, most of the Lithuanian books printed using the Latin alphabet were published in Lithuania Minor.
The term "Lithuania Minor" (Kleinlitauen or little Lithuania in German) refers to the northernmost part of the former province of East Prussia (about 31,500 km2 or 12,200 sq mi). It was first mentioned as Kleinlittaw in Simon Grunau's Prussian Chronicle of the early 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:
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 1815-1818.[page needed]
The area of Lithuania Minor embraced the land between the lower reaches of the river Dang? (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: Kur?i? mar?s) 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 A?vin? (Swine) river to Lake A?vinis (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 Klaip?da district municipality, the ?ilut? district municipality, Klaip?da city, Pag?giai 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 Lithuania Major.
Before 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 the former Lithuanian state, inhabited by a large number of Prussian Lithuanians. Ethnic Prussian Lithuanians 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, major cities in former Lithuania Minor were Klaip?da (Memel) and Til (Tilsit). Other towns include Ragain? (Ragnit), ?ilokar?ema (Heydekrug), renamed to ?ilut?, Gumbin? (Gumbinnen), ?srutis (Insterburg), Stalup?nai (Stallupönen).
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. 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).
The territory of western Lithuania began to be threatened by the 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 the Holy Roman Empire. It was conqueror's right - awarded them as much lands as they would conquer. After the Battle of Saule the 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 the 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:
All Baltic tribes rose against the Order after the Battle of Durbe (1260). Mindaugas officially canceled his relations with the Livonian Order in 1261 and the acts of grants became invalid. Mindaugas's royal dynasty discontinued when he and two sons were assassinated in 1263. Lithuanian dukes did not join the Prussians in their uprising due to inside instability of the Lithuanian throne. Nadruvia and Scalovia (which comprised much of later Lithuania Minor) had been taken by the Teutonic Knights in 1275-1276 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 the Zemigalians fell under the Order finally during Gediminas's rule. Samogitians, whose land lay 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 the Order did not managed to take it, or the Lithuanian dukes departed from their treaty and grant. Klaip?da 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 Klaip?da in the right side of the river. Both sides agreed to accept the prospective solution of Emperor Sigismund's representative Benedict Makrai. He decided that the right side of Nemunas (Veliuona, Klaip?da) had to be left for Lithuania (1413). Makrai is known to have stated:
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. Klaip?da 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 Klaip?da region (Memelland) was incorporated into Lithuania.
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 Klaip?da Revolt took place and Klaip?da region was annexed to Lithuania in 1923 under violation 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 20 March 1939, demanding the surrender of the Memel region to German control. Ribbentrop vowed that if Memel was not ceded to Germany peacefully, it "will be taken by other means if necessary". 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. 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.
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 death of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev offered the Kaliningrad Oblast to the Lithuanian SSR. Secretary Antanas Snie?kus refused this offer. 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. 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.
Of the portion of Lithuania Minor that is currently in Poland, Go?dap, (Lithuanian: Geldap?, Galdap?, Geldup?), the seat of Go?dap County, is the largest municipality of the region within the Polish state, making it the de facto capital of Polish Lithuania Minor. Unlike the area around Sejny, this area of Poland is no longer home to an autochthonous Lithuanian population.
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 the ancestors of Lietuvininks. It was prevalent until 1919.
The second theory proposed that the first Lithuanian inhabitants 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 to which the vicinities of both sides of the Neman up to Kaunas had become desolate in the 13-14th centuries. According to G. Mortensen's husband H. Mortensen Lithuanian resettlement began in the last quarter of the 15th century. Lithuanian historian K. Jablonskis etc., archaeologist 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. Zinkevi?ius, who has thought that old Baltic toponymy could be only preserved by the remaining local people.
H. ?owmia?ski thought that Nadruvian and Scalovian tribes had changed ethnically due to Lithuanian colonization as early as times of tribal social order. Linguist Z. Zinkevi?ius 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 war probably changed the situation of populations of the area:
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 probably depopulated during the war and the source of the regeneration of the population was internal as well as presumably mainly external from neighbouring areas. The land was resettled by returning refugees and newcomers from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. 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 the Prussian Lithuanian population comprised mostly ethnic Baltic tribes - either local (Old Prussians - Sambians, north Bartians, Natangians; either probably formerly Lithuanized or Prussian Scalovians and Nadruvians; Sudovians, some Curonians) or neighbouring (newcomers 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 the Lithuanian population to some extent. Prussians and Yotvingians tended to be assimilated by Lithuanians in the northern part of East Prussia, and by Germans and Poles in the southern part.
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 1709-1711. Lithuanians constituted the majority only in about half of the Memelland area and by Til and Ragain? 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. The administrative Lithuanian Province (part of the administrative province of Sambia) (about 10 000 km²) comprised four districts of that time: Klaip?da (Memel), Til (Tilsit, Sovetsk), Ragain? (Raganita, Ragnit, Neman) and ?srutis (Insterburg, Cerniachovsk). There were three provinces in the Duchy of Prussia overall:
|Nadruvia||One of two parts that constituted Lithuanian Province|
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):
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 ] ?ventapilis (Mamonovo), Pr?s? Ylava (Preußisch Eylau, Bagrationovsk), Bartenstein (Bartoszyce), Bar?iai (Dubrovka), Lapgarbis (Cholmogorovka), M?r?ni?kai (Meruniszki), Dubeninkai (Dubeninki). The southern limit of the most compact Lithuanian area went by[dubious ]?uvininkai, Königsberg, Frydland, Engelschtein (W?gielsztyn), Nordenburg (Krylovo), Angerburg, Geldap?, Gurniai, Dubeninkai.
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.
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. 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:
The historical sources indicate that Lietuvininkai is one of two historical ways to call all Lithuanians. Lietuvninkai () 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 Suwa?ki region "Polish Lithuanians". Some sources used the term Lietuvininkai to refer to any inhabitant of Lithuania Minor irrelevant of their ethnic adherence.
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 Auk?taitian 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 1709-1711.
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 1709-1711. 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.
In 1824, shortly before its merger with West Prussia, the population of East Prussia was 1,080,000 people. Of that number, according to Karl Andree, Germans were slightly more than half, while 280,000 (~26%) were ethnically Polish and 200,000 (~19%) were ethnically Lithuanian. As of 1819, there were also 20,000 ethnic Curonian and Latvian minorities as well as 2,400 Jews, according to Georg Hassel. Similar numbers are given by August von Haxthausen in his 1839 book, with a breakdown by county. However, the majority of East Prussian Polish and Lithuanian inhabitants were Lutherans, not Roman Catholics like their ethnic kinsmen across the border in the Russian Empire. Only in Southern Warmia (German: Ermland) Catholic Poles - so called Warmiaks (not to be confused with predominantly Protestant Masurians) - comprised the majority of population, numbering 26,067 people (~81%) in county Allenstein (Polish: Olsztyn) in 1837. Another minority in East Prussia, were ethnically Russian Old Believers, also known as Philipponnen - their main town was Eckersdorf (Wojnowo).
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 - Klaip?da, Til (Tilsit), Ragain? (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 Gumbin?, ?srutis, Koenigsberg, Lithuanian press was printed in Geldap?, Darkiemis, Girdava, Stalup?nai, Eitk?nai, Gumbin?, Pilkalnis, Jurbarkas, V?luva, Tepliava, Labguva, Koenigsberg, ?uvininkai.
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, the Memel Territory. In the regional census of 1925, 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 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 Auk?taitian 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 d?na, dona and douna) subdialect, and small part of them spoke in Dz?kian dialect. Prussian Lithuanians never called themselves and their own language Samogitian.
Prussians were the native and main inhabitants of the lands which later became the core lands of the Teutonic Order. After conquest and conversion to Christianity, the Prussian nobility became vassals of the Order and Germanized. The officers of the Order ceased to speak in Prussian with local inhabitants in 1309. After the extinction of the Order and the spread of the Reformation of the church, the lot of Prussians became somewhat better. Three Reformed catechisms in the Prussian language were published between 1545 and 1561.
Prussian villagers tended to be assimilated as Lithuanians in the northern half of East Prussia, and as Germans or Poles in the southern half. There were parts of East Prussia where Lithuanians and ethnic Prussians made up 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 ethnic majority in the peninsula, while Lithuanians remained as a minority. The case of Jonas Bretk?nas illustrates the phenomenon of Prussian-Lithuanian bilingualism. The last Prussian speakers disappeared 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 1709-1711. Later, Germans became the main ethnic group of Prussia, in the number of people as well. By 1945, Soviets had genocided them all, whether Prussian, Lithuanian, or German; in winter the physically fit walked across the frozen bays and anyone who remained at home was eliminated.
Poles immigrated to royal Prussia, especially around the Masuria region (about 7000 km²) and Roman Catholic enclaves of Varmia (about 4000 km²) up to the 17th century. Poland controlled about one-third of East Prussia until the end of the century. By the 18th century, bordering Prussia were mostly Lithuanians on one side and Poles on the other. Speakers of Lithuanian could be found in the capital Königsberg ("King's mount"), originating from the hamlets of Bagrationovsk, Bartoszyce, W?gorzewo, Benkaimis, ?abynai (Zabin), Go?dap, Dubeninkai (Dubeninki) on the outskirts of old Prussia.[dubious ]
The process of Germanization of other ethnic groups was complex. It included direct and indirect Germanization. Old Prussians were welcomed with the same civil rights as Germans after they were converted, while the Old Prussian nobility waited to receive their rights. There were about nine thousand farms left empty after the plague of 1709, remedied by the Great East Colonization. Its final stage was 1736-1756. Germans revived the farms vacated by the plagues. Thus, the percentage of Germans increased to 13.4 percent in Prussian villages as well as in neighboring Lithuania, also stricken by the plague. By 1800, most Prussian Lithuanians were literate and bilingual in Lithuanian and German. There was no forced Germanization before 1873. After Germany was unified in 1871, Prussian Lithuanians were influenced by German culture, leading to the teaching of German in schools--a practice common throughout northern and eastern Europe. The Germanization[dubious ] of Lithuania Minor 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 were held in the Lithuanian language, even during the Nazi era. At the same time, Lithuanian periodicals were printed in areas not far from Russian-controlled Lithuania, such as Auszra or Varpas, and smuggled into Lithuania proper. Between the two world wars, in the regions lost by Russia following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russian and Jewish communists printed seditious literature in local languages until 1933.
Lithuania Minor was the home of Vyd?nas, philosopher and writer, and Kristijonas Donelaitis, pastor and poet and author of The Seasons, which mark the beginning of Lithuanian literature. The Seasons give a vivid depiction of the everyday life of Prussian Lithuanian country.
Lithuania Minor was an important center for Lithuanian culture, which was persecuted in Russian-controlled 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 knygne?iai. The first Lithuanian language periodicals appeared during the period in Lithuania Minor, such as Auszra, edited by Jonas Basanavi?ius, succeeded by Varpas by Vincas Kudirka. They had contributed greatly to the Lithuanian national revival of the 19th century.