Culture of Lithuania

From Academic Kids


Pre-lithuanian period ( till about the end of 10th century AC).

Lithuanian nation rose in 7th9th centuries AC from Baltic nations group. Balts, the ancestors of Lithuanians and Latvians, had arrived to territories between Dnepr, Daugava rivers and the Baltic sea from hypothetic Indo-European original homeland. Many scientists date this arrival to 3 millenary BC.

We may only suppose, that Balts, which had been arrived with the main wave of Indo-Europeans, were not included in forming processes or later Indo-European nations in South and Western Europe. Balts stayed away from this development, and their culture preserved primeval features of Indo-European culture for long time. When, later, contacts with new-formed European nations increased, differences between this primary (not without some evolutionary changes, anyway) culture and culture of new Indo-European nations in Europe were on such level, that closer cultural interchange was quite impossible. This allowed to preserve cultural differences from last Europe and caused isolation (or, maybe, self-isolation) of Balts.

After Goths domination times in Europe, we can find vestiges of Balts in more restricted territory between Wisla and Daugava rivers. It's hard to say anything concrete about their cultural isolation level in these times, but it was likely decreasing. However Balts conserved forms of ancient Indo-European parent-language till much later times.

The most archaic language forms were presented by western Balts, which lived approximately in territory of later Prussia (Kaliningrad Oblast of Russia and north-west Poland presently). These dialects developed into Old Prussian language, which was extinguished finally in the beginning of 18th century AC.

The eastern Balts had less archaic forms of language, having vestiges of some popular-style simplifications (decreasing number of verbal forms and so on), which presumably were made when ancient cultural elite lost his influence over the people. It may take place, for example, in times of "barbarian" invasions and not later than the 8th century AC. Later, eastern dialects of Balts developed into Lithuanian and Latvian languages, existing either now.

The knowledge about Balts cultural life of these times is very stingy. We know, that Balts reached the end of this period having society forms, comparable with ones of Celtic people in South-West Europe in 2nd-1st centuries BC (it doesn't concerns economical processes, which were different and much adopted to European trade and manufacturing level of 10th century AC).

In the 10th century AC Balts had variegated religious life with various forms of cult servants and their communities. Exclusive feature of Balts' culture was willful avoiding of usage of material attainments in their religious life. Not only some more complicated forms of cult architecture or equipment (maybe even, including holy statues, what is under doubt), but even literacy were denied, even when these things were allowed by economical level and well-known from other, mostly neighbouring, nations. Religious life was concentrated on verbal tradition and singing, maybe, with some elements of mystery theatre. Material forms of this life were closely connected with unsophisticated wooden shrines, nature objects (trees, stones, etc.), special ornamented vestments and their accessories, and, maybe, small detailing in shrines.

But it's quite impossible to give more detail picture of Balts' cultural life in this period, because of mentioned cultural isolation and absence of written tradition.

Period of rising of Lithuanian nation (10th – 14th centuries AC)

The Lithuanian nation began to form in about 7th8th centuries AC. Growing difference between western and eastern Balts was a result of some cultural modernization of eastern Balts (linguistic aspect of which was already mentioned) even before this period. But we don't know it in more detail. Other dividing line rose with growing difference between northern and southern parts of eastern Balts. Lithuanians derived from the southern parts of eastern Balts till 9th century AC. At this time, eastern Balts did not make any political unit; they were divided into some autonomous clans, but culturally and religiously they were a part of Balts. However the common name for them, Lithuanians, already was known.

Sometimes historians attribute the name “Lithuania” of this period only to one of eastern Balts' tribes. But there are facts, contradictory to it, too. It's better to say, that we don't know, in what political circumstances Lithuanians acquired their common name, and whether it took place before the beginning of 11th century, when the name was first mentioned, or later.

It's also under question, what level of organization was reached in cooperation of Balts' tribes. Traditionally it's spoken about religious-based union of Balts.

Speaking about religious unity of Balts, we also can find some mostly considered points. Firstly, we can speak about existence of centers of religious life (named Romuva, using present-day variant of this word), concentrated around more significant shrines or holy or mystic areas. We can also speak about influence of religion servants of these centers to ones of other, not central, shrines, which influence was based more on authority than on some structural forms of organization. And finally, there are some historical data, allowing to speak about the main religious center of all Balts.

The level of organization and extent of this religiuos cooperation are under discussion. For example, some historians argue, that union was more local and included only southern Balts (Lithuanians and Prussians), but Northern Balts (ancestors of Latvians) did not participate in it.

And, speaking about religious unity, we must remember, that concerning of this problem is influenced by later Lithuanian and Latvian myths and isn't strongly based on historical sources and data of archeology researches.

The new point of distinguishing of Balts' nations and their cultural development was occupation of significant part of the land by catholic military orders in the 13th century. The main areas of Western Balts, known under a name of Prussia, were occupied by Teutonic order. Livonian order occupied northern territories, beginning from ones around the Gulf of Riga, creating so-called Livonia.

This way, later cultural development of these two and the third unoccupied part of Balts areas was different. Old Prussians (Balts) never regain as nation, but the Latvian nation was formed in Livonia. The third unoccupied part was a basis for Lithuanian nation to form.

The outer aggression forced Baltic nations to form more strict institutions of political life. Lithuanian state, Lithuania, was founded in 13th century and it included regions of still unoccupied Eastern Balts and remains of Western Balts' areas (These Western Balts' ethnic groups are known under names Yotvingians and Sudovians).

In the middle of 14th century, Lithuania emerged as big eastern European state with former Kievan Rus' and some Ruthenian regions in North to it (approximately present Belarus) included. The fact of expansion shows a great political potential of Lithuanian ruling classes, and this potential couldn't be reached without respective cultural basis.

The fact that christian Ruthenian rulers became some kind of vassals of non-christian Lithuanian rulers is impressive, but culturally the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (G.D.L.) remained bipolar. It consisted of non-christian Lithuanian part in North-West (later known as Lituania Propria) and Eastern Christian orthodox Ruthenian regions (partial Duchies).

The price of cooperation and recognition of pagan dominance by Ruthenian Orthodoxes in G.D.L. was recognition of wide cultural rights for orthodoxes. These rights included, for example, custom, that Lithuanian duke had to be christened before taking office in a partial duchy in orthodox part. Wives of Lithuanian dukes, if they were Ruthenians, stayed orthodox, but Grand Duke on that case had to ensure possibilities for his wife to perform orthodox rites and take part in orthodox service. Children of orthodox duchesses officially became observers of their father religion, old-Lithuanian one in our case. But in reality the religion of mother could have some (sometimes great) influence.

In this period, the both nations of G.D.L. insistently stood on their cultural basis, and the main directions of Lithuanian culture remained unchanged till christening. Lithuanian culture stayed far from growing significance of literacy in Europe and we can't see some significant changes, for example, in cult architecture. But we find some new tendencies too. Religious intolerance, hardly avoidable during religiously-based war as with crusaders, was offset by tolerance to orthodox Christians, so Lithuanian community stayed tolerant in cultural and religious sense. There were some attempts to modernize Lithuanian religious life too. For example, there were at least two Christian churches, catholic and orthodox, both of brick stonework, in Vilnius town. And the main shrine of the old-religion in the town was bricked too, and not wooden as it was customary. - But nor the extent of changes, neither how much neighboring religions influenced non-material part of Lithuanian religion, are known.

The Early Christian period (The end of 14th – middle of 15th century)

The christening of Lithuania


Cultural changes in lower estates


Cultural changes in higher estates

The cultural background of formation and persistence of higher estates before christening is almost unknown. And it only can be admitted, that the christening activated changes towards European feudalism of 15th century. It's logical, that Lithuanian political culture had some influence of Western European and, especially, Ruthenian feudalism still before christening, but the christening broke the isolating barrier and the influence became more direct.

Plus to it, the strengthening of Western cultural constituent by the christening mostly affected exactly the sphere of political culture and did it not only in the way of direct westernization of Lithuanian life.

For example, this situation caused interesting effects on jurisprudence. Presence of old Ruthenian legal norms and old Lithuanian traditions as well as coming of Western European legal norms raised various inconveniences, and, in the beginning of 16th century, the own Lithuanian law codex (Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, 1529) was issued. Lithuanian law obtained in the territory of G.D.L. till 1840, surviving not only times of state independence before Union of Lublin of 1569, but the state itself. Thus, since its beginning, Lithuanian law became one of factors of political integrity of G.D.L. and distinguished Lithuania from other European regions including The Crown of the Polish Kingdom.

The issue of the codex also can be taken as an illustration of two different tendencies in political elite of G.D.L. The fact of issue of written law codex shows a significant western influence on Lithuanian political culture of this time. But the fact of existence of own law shows that cultural differences from Western Europe existed and were acknowledged by ruling classes.

In this time, Lithuanians were getting acquainted with Western European culture and this process had interesting discoveries, which caused also later ruling political ideas. But the process wasn't trivial. To become “educated in aristocratic manner” a Lithuanian had to learn at least three languages: Ruthenian, Polish and Latin. German with variety of its dialects and Italian were also used. In reality this educational objective was hardly realizable, so knowledge of languages (and even cultural orientation) depended on estate of person. Priests and humanitarians learned Latin, merchants did German. Polish was preferred by higher, but Ruthenian by lower strata of nobles.

Since the end of 14th century Lithuanians began to study in universities abroad, mostly in Kraków and Prague Universities and, sometimes, in Western European ones. Latin, being church and humanitarian language, became known by number of Lithuanian citizens, mostly Catholics. And Latin had a specific side, to be interesting for Lithuanian-speaking Lithuanians. Being acquainted with Latin language, Lithuanian humanitarians discovered the great similitude of quite a big number of Lithuanian and Latin words, such as (Lithuanian words are given in their modern form) aušra – aurora (a dawn), dūmas – fumus (fume, smoke), mėnesis – mensis (a month), senis – senex (an old man) and so on. This paradoxical in their opinion similitude were explained, raising idea, that Lithuanian language was directly derived from Latin one.

This idea, joined with one, maybe earlier, myth about modernized cultural hero Palemon, treating him as Latin language pioneer in earlier pre-Christian Lithuania, has a Great influence to political mindset of noble Lithuanians. It constricted area of Lithuanian cultural independence, prescribing to Lithuanians affinity with Italics and showing Lithuanian culture as secondary, derivative and mixed. But also it stimulated patriotism, arguing, that Lithuanian popular culture is more “Latin” than Polish and German cultures, so more cultured according to thinking of that time. This theory raised prestige of old Lithuania (called by neighbors “pagan” and “barbarian”) firstly in the eyes of Lithuanians themselves, and had the same effect on foreign people (especially Poles, who often treated their mediating in the christening as their own cultural achievement against “eastern” or “pagan” “barbarism”).

But, despite of using existence of Lithuanian language as patriotic argument, the usage of the language itself became more and more narrow among the higher strata of nobles. The Ruthenian language became official after the christening for it had more developed written tradition and, maybe, because of negative attitude of orthodox nobles towards Lithuanian language. During the 15th century, Ruthenian language anchored more and more in all machinery of the state. As it was common European tendency of 15th17th centuries to make transition from feudalism to bigger state dominance, the role of state grew, and prestige of Lithuanian language decreased. Documents of Lithuanian law were written in Ruthenian, and it looked normally. Usage of Ruthenian however never reached amounts of official language usage in modern sense, and stayed comparable with usage of Latin in Medieval Europe.

On other hand, not only Ruthenian, but also Latin and Polish narrowed Lithuanian language usage area. It's a known fact that the Great Duke of Lithuania (later, also the king of Poland) Alexander (as the Great Duke reigned 1492-1506) was taught “Lithuanian language”. And even if we supposed, that “Lithuanian” doesn't mean “Ruthenian” here, Alexandr would have been the last Great Duke, which knew Lithuanian.

But the loss of ethnic basis didn't reduce patriotism among nobles. The variegate Lithuanian mythology of this time (legend about emigration of Palemon from Rome to Lithuania, legend about founding capital of Lithuania Vilnius by Duke Gediminas, and other pieces) has been presented in a spirit of high lucid and virtuous patriotism. Also original architectural style (with Western-European and Byzantine tendencies fused in it) and other manifestations of material culture of this time attest Lithuania as something different from other states, as distinctive cultural unit. However Lithuania was too little known for Western-Europeans in these times.

The earlier part of Middle Christian period (The middle of 16th – end of 17th century)

The Protestant Reformation in G.D.L.

The Protestant Reformation was met differently by different strata of Lithuanians. Ruling classes entered into Reformation strives both on pro and contra sides. Urban people in biggest towns, especially in the catholic part of G.D.L., were involved to these strives too, mostly as clients of some persons of influence in the highest stratum. Ordinary people of towns played a role of believers in both catholic and protestant churches. Since middle of 16th century till its end sporadic street scuffles between catholic and protestant hotheads was repeated thing in these towns. However even in the time of the religious struggle, some partial tolerance existed, and both involved sides proclaimed abstaining from solving the question in form of violence. So the scuffles always were restricted by officials and they never grew into military conflicts or massacre.

The answer of ordinary country people to the Reformation was their return to “paganism”. After some stabilization, both catholic Jesuits in G.D.L. and protestant priests in Prussia describe the situation such, as if Lithuania was christened not before 250 years, but still before the events. It seems likely, that both sources described this situation such emphatically in order to simulate bigger merits in rechristening. But it also points, that “pagan” tendencies still existed not only in subconscious form, but also in performing rites. Besides to it, Christian life had to remain in some forms in country-regions too.

We also must add to it, that eastern part of G.D.L. stayed orthodox and orthodox culture had its broad cultural life. The same we more or less can say about Jewish, Tatar and Karait minorities in G.D.L. And all these facts show, how variegated and different-sided cultural situation in Lithuania was.

Plus to it there were some tendencies in cultural life of G.D.L., not directly connected with religious problems on Reformation background. In the first place, absorption of ideas of Western cultural development in 13th16th centuries by nobles (especially, urban ones). Italian cultural ideas of Rinascemento had especially big influence. They were reflected on literature (written mostly in Latin or Polish, or, in case of orthodox, in Ruthenian) and architecture of that time.

The main reasons for such exceptional estimation of Italy were conservatism of Lithuanians and position of the Royal court. All facts showed Italy to Lithuanians as country of ancient and high culture. Additionally, the Queen of Poland wife of Sigismund I Bona was Italian. Thus despite the growth of Reformation, the cultural orientation hadn't changed.

The Reformation in Lithuania remained on level of political and religious regulating ideas and didn't turn into a cultural movement as it did in West Europe countries did. disputes about the Reformation had the form of peaceful verbal discussion among the highest estate of the country. And in these discussions, the Latin language, eloquence, citation and knowledge of ancient philosophers more referred to Italy, then to any other country of Western Europe.

In this atmosphere catholics decided to use this cultural attachment to improve their position. Their leaders decided to found a unit of Jesuit order in Lithuania (Jesuits were known as masters of discussion and providers of a modernized Latin-based scholastic education). In their turn Jesuits founded the university of Vilnius (officially 1579). Students and graduates of the University soon became true supporters of the Catholic church.

These events caused the wave of Reformation to fall. With the decreas of Reformation aspirations in the higher strata, activity of reformers among other urban population was more and more restricted by officials. Thus after the middle of 17th century Lithuania (non-orthodox part) became firmly catholic (with a protestant minorities in some towns, as Vilnius, Kėdainiai, Biržai).

Printing of books

Another cultural factor, not connected with reformation directly, was printing of books. First printed books reached Lithuania before the beginning of the Reformation. But multiplied religious discussions and the increase of printing in Western Europe both activated interest in printing books in Lithuania. The first book in Lithuanian language was printed in 1547 in Königsberg (it was a protestant Catechism by Martynas Mažvydas). The first typography in G.D.L. was opened in approx. 1575 in Vilnius.

Presence of printed books became the signal factor to change ancient Lithuanian cultural attitude against literacy. The necessity of literacy became evident. But in G.D.L. at the same time the growing of literacy coincided with refusal of Lithuanian culture among nobles.

Lithuanian-language culture and its situation

The situation

Lithuanian-language culture derived directly from old Lithuanian culture, among lower strata prevalently. The language barrier caused, that it remained out of way from innovations in culture in 15th century. However the Christianity of higher estates and presence of Christian parishes even in country regions weakened a base of old religion and induced some non direct changes towards culture, based on common European values.

But higher strata in Lithuania for unknown reasons accepted innovations in culture directly, without any attempts of inculturation or adaptation to local cultural thinking. It meant accepting of extraneous culture in all its complexity, with using new language and so on. So, old Lithuanian culture (or, as later form, Lithuanian-language culture) was negated and rejected by a part of population in Lithuanian part of G.D.L., especially by highest estates since approx. middle 15th century. This situation became a serious impediment to Lithuanian-language culture. Lithuanians of lower estates could not become acquainted with European Christian culture, but their peculiar cultural life was strongly slowed too. So all later facts of Lithuanian cultural life till the middle of 19th century were more or less sporadic.

And national Lithuanian culture didn't become a factor of unification of Lithuanian elite during this period. Christianity was declared then as such factor, but different European cultural influences made this idea complicated. There were followers of Polish, German, Italian cultures, and protestants and catholics contested in Lithuania in that time. And both orthodoxes and Jews, even if they stayed a bit in a side, contributed to all this variety. - But this situation saved Lithuanian-language culture as well. Being strictly negated, it also hadn't clear directions of change and stayed original. In its turn this having no direction was dangerous for self-isolation and remaining stagnate without creative flight.

But then the Catholic church (or the Lutheran one, if we speak about Lithuanians in Prussia) became a provider of new ideas for Lithuanian people, it became something like a window to the extraneous world. It's a question, how much this role was accepted voluntary by the church. Some historians argue, that it was made by pressure of rivalry between catholics and protestants and it weakened, when Reformation strives decreased.

At any rate, the other, opposite to negating Lithuanian culture, tendency had its supporters too. Even more, these two tendencies, the inculturating and the negating one, remained as two main components in Lithuanian culture till the beginning of 19th century and have their evident consequences till now.

The development

Changes of old Lithuanian culture became mostly evident in a sphere of religion. We know only approximately, what new elements had been introduced into (old) Lithuanian cult, clothing and so on in the beginning of this period. But the popular-kind simplifying (or becoming more rustic) of old Lithuanian religion is unquestioned thing. The ritual became strictly connected with calendar of rural works and other factors of this kind; witnesses of that time found multitude of sacred objects (they simply described them as “gods”), which were connected totally with all material life, but didn't refer to more philosophically common or abstract ideas (in opposition to descriptions of religion in the 14th century). It allows us to think about some form of pantheism, as if all the world was holy for Lithuanians.

This old vision of world retreated slowly and finally was extinguished only in the end of 18th century. There were two stages of this process. Firstly we can speak about extinguishing of original attributes of the old religion, as names, forms of rite, details of clothing, and especially words of holy prayers, singings and poems. All these traditional forms still have some existence in 16th century, but they become less and less known a century later. And we can date the beginning of new stage approximately to the last quarter of 16th century.

Two other processes started in this time. The first was stabilization of some old cultural forms, maybe less confronting to Christian requirements. Later, some of them survived the time of the very understanding old culture values and became known for neighboring nations as Lithuanian popular traditions since the middle of 19th century or sporadically even earlier. The traditional popular songs (dainos) and Lithuanian woven sashes (juostos) are among them. Lithuanians began to create the songs in these times instead of forgotten or forbidden old holy singings and prayers. The melodic base of dainos, especially in the very beginning, was the same as in these singings. Juostos had been woven by women since old times. During this period they became the main ware, in which traditional Lithuanian ornaments still were used. The ornaments maybe had some conventional symbolic significances, but during this period they began to be seen only as forms of art, which later developed into a standard of Lithuanian popular art.

The second process, which took place after the end of 16th century, was introduction ideas of Christianity into Lithuanian environment, using its own symbols and traditions. This program was initiated by Jesuits (in G.D.L. only). The worship of various old religion holy essences was changed into cult of saints. On other hand, traditional catholic art forms of sacred objects were supplemented in Lithuania by some forms, which were comparable with ones, taken from old Lithuanian art ware. As the best example, traditional (both iron and wooden) crosses in present Lithuania, West Belarus and Northern Poland with raying sun and moon could be noted. In this case we can see old symbols still having symbolic (maybe different prom pre-Christian times) sense too. During this period, new forms were added to country art. Local craftsmen made (mostly wooden) statues of saints, chapels, wooden an iron crosses (statues and chapels often had well-seen prototypes, made by famous European artists, but there were also original ones). Till the 19th century it became a significant branch of Lithuanian country art, known and used also by urban people.

And all this program of inculturation needed a good knowledge of Lithuanian language. The superiors of Jesuits in Lithuania always paid some (though not very big) attention to it. The time after founding Jesuits in Lithuania was exceptional in this point. The rivalry with Reformers and, maybe, more direct survey from Rome caused, that attention, paid to Lithuanian language by Jesuits was greater, than before or after it. Jesuit Lithuanian Daukša even wrote a manifest (printed in his “Postilla”, a collection of sermons in Lithuanian, in 1599), in which he exhorted Lithuanian nobles to regard and to use Lithuanian language. Twenty years later the first vocabulary with Lithuanian words was published (Polish – Latin – Lithuanian dictionary by Jesuit priest Konstantinas Širvydas, approx. in 1620) and it became a significant fact of Lithuanian cultural life. The dictionary had a big influence to development of Lithuanian language, especially to its standardization and modernization. Plus to it, Lithuanian language was presented in very pure form in the dictionary, borrowings made only a small part of all word corpus, and it meant not only a difference of Lithuanian-language culture from others, but also a big potential of this culture.

So the short period during which Lithuanian-language culture was fostered by the Jesuit order, had positive effects.

After the middle of 17th century, moderate rise of Lithuanian-speaking culture took place. Politically it was the time of turmoils and wars. Despite of it towns were growing in Lithuania and various new realities came into life. The number of urban people increased and newcomers (in much cases Lithuanian-speaking) had significant input to it. The degree of communication between state and town officials and ordinary inhabitants increased as well. This development caused necessary changes in language policy. In non-orthodox regions of G.D.L. the middle and lower strata of urban people used Lithuanian language. And only some regions in the South of G.D.L. as Grodna, Augustow regions and Vilnius town (not region) were exceptions to it, having however Lithuanian-speaking population parts, mostly in lower strata. This situation caused necessity for the highest stratum of nobles to know Lithuanian language too. The prestige of Lithuanian language was increasing at this time and we can speak about some relative expansion and renovation of Lithuanian-speaking culture.

But Lithuanian didn't gain official status then. Among various causes of it, some more significant must by accented. Firstly, the two biggest towns in G.D.L. were polonized earlier and more than other towns. Secondly, position of Catholic church in G.D.L. was favourable to Polish language. Plus to it, whereas publishing of books was sponsored by the highest nobles and by Catholic and Orthodox churches, publishing of books in Lithuanian did not increase. Lithuanian-language books became more and more inconspicuous among Polish and Latin publications.

And, as result of it, Lithuanian-speaking culture did not expand among the highest nobles. But some positive changes took place in this time too. Language was modernized, it wasn't longer a language of mere country people. Style of courtesy re-appeared in the language (some style of this kind had to exist in pre-Christian Lithuania). All this much contributed to existing of Lithuanian-speaking culture among further generations of nobles and urban people. And these processes, going on only on a part of territory o G.D.L., were like a sign of growing modern Lithuania.

Lithuanian-language culture in Prussia duchy

Lithuanians, mostly villagers, lived in Prussia in North and North-East regions of this country. This fact was confirmed later in administrative way, and administrative unit, called Lithuanian counties was created. Unofficially it was called Lithuania, Prussian Lithuania, or, in later times, also Lithuania Minor. In the beginning of 16th century Lithuanians in Prussia had the same cultural traditions as neighboring Lithuanians in G.D.L., and some inessential differences aren't worth to mention here.

But later the cultural difference between Prussian Lithuania and Lithuanian part of G.D.L. increased. The main points of this process were: In 1530, Prussia became secular protestant state. So Prussian Lithuanians became protestants (Lutherans), while Lithuanians in G.D.L. stayed Catholics. The next point was presence of some official attention to religious education in native language in Prussia. At the beginning, after 1530, for this purpose the first secular ruler of Prussia, the duke Albert invited a number of educated Lithuanians protestants from G.D.L. They became senior priests in Prussian Lithuania and authors of church texts, holy songs in Lithuanian and their translations into Lithuanian, but one of them, Martynas Mažvydas, wrote a catechism, which was published in 1547 in Königsberg, becoming the first printed book in Lithuanian.

Since this time priests of Lithuanian parishes were obliged to know Lithuania language and they did this obligation more or less. There were talented persons among them, and sometimes books in Lithuanian with new translations of religious texts, new holy songs and so on were published. In 1653 the first Lithuanian grammar, Grammatica Litvanica by Daniel Klein, was issued in Königsberg . And unpublished material on Lithuanian language and culture, collected by them, was big too.

The interest of Lutheran priests of Prussian Lithuanian parishes in Lithuanian language was deeper than the one of their Catholic colleagues in G.D.L., and they managed to print more books for a relatively small Lithuanian population in Prussia, than Catholic editors for all Lithuanian population in G.D.L.

However it must be noticed, that Catholic priests had more gentle attention towards Lithuanian popular traditions, than Lutheran ones. Also the existence of G.D.L. had some influence to Prussian ruling persons and even made some pressure on them, and it did not allow to disregard existing of Lithuanians and their cultural needs. And the situation of Lithuanians was more better, than, for example, one of Old Prussian population, whose language was called “barbarian” and attained only minimal attention.

Despite of good attention to Lithuanian language, Lithuanians were not admitted to Prussian ruling class, which remained German. And the church career was the only, available for Lithuanians. Concentration of Lithuanian intellectuals in priest estate had some significant consequences. The Lithuanian language remained in usage in Prussian Lithuania till the beginning of 20th century and later. Besides to it, Lithuanians became loyal and faithful to protestant church and protestantism, their faith assumed some forms of pietism. And, in its turn, they became loyal and devoted subjects and patriots of Prussia. Thus, in fact, this part of Lithuanian nation was separated from the main part in G.D.L. during this period.

The later part of Middle Christian period

(period of decline of the Grand duchy of Lithuania, the end of XVII – the middle of XIX centuries)

List of cultural events of XVIII – XX centuries

The table below contains main historical events connected with cultural life in Lithuania in 18th20th centuries.

Date or period

Events in the G.D.L.

Events in Prussian Kingdom (Prussian Lithuania, or Lithuania Minor)

The 1st half of 18th century


After a plague epidemic in the beginning of the century,

Prussian authorities start colonization of empty villages in Prussian Lithuania by colonists from other territories of Prussia. At the same time, they hinder settling from neighboring territories of G.D.L., where Lithuanians live. It much contributes to later germanization of Prussian Lithuania.

The middle 18th century


Lutheran priest of Tolminkiemis (German variant

Tolmingkehm) Kristijonas Donelaitis writes first work of fiction in Lithuanian language, the poem about life of peasants in Lithuania, Metai (The Year). It was published after author's death in the beginning of 19th century.

The 2nd half of 18th century

  • In the wake of cultural polonization of the highest

    aristocratic estate and linguistical polonization of main towns, cultural polonization of the nation begins. Lithuanian and Belarusian-speaking majority accepts this process without resistance.


  • The last relics of the old religion disappear in Lithuania.

    Personages of rich spoken tradition no more are treated as gods or god-like figures.


Kościuszko Uprising in 1794 raises Polish patriotic feelings among urban population in the G.D.L..


The 19th century

  • Lithuanian-speaking people make great jump of literacy, from

    minimal in the end of 18th century to approx. 70% - 80% in the beginning of 20th century.

  • Lithuanians, Poles (in Lithuania) and Belarusians declare themselves as different ethnic groups.

The same processes of growing education and literacy precede

ones in the former G.D.L. by 20 – 30 years.

The 1st half of 19th century

Polish national Renaissance begins. Poles of Lithuania much contribute to it. The main known names are: poets Adam Mickiewicz, Ludwik Kondratowicz known as Syrokomla and others.

  • Prussian authorities open Lithuanian primary schools in

    villages with Lithuanian population.

  • Western European intellectuals get to know more about Lithuanian life and cultural specifics, mostly from publications of Prussian humanitarians.



Philosopher Immanuel Kant

writes the article, defending cultural rights of Lithuanians.

1818 – 1825


Prussian humanitarian (of Lithuanian origin) Ludwig Rhesa

publishes poem Metai (The Year) by Kristijonas Donelaitis(see this table above) (in 1818) and its translation to German language and selected examples of Lithuanian folk songs, also with their German translations (in 1925).

The middle 19th century

Interest to Lithuanian history, its cultural origins increases

among Polish-speaking intellectuals in Lithuania. Archeological and ethnographic researches are made in Lithuania.


1835– 1841

Lithuanian Pole Theodor Narbutt writes wide, romantically

colored History of Lithuania. Being written in Polish language and promoting Polish humanitarian values, it however shows Lithuanian nation and history as heroic and unique, and this historical work becomes as one of flags for all the movement, mentioned above.



Manners of ancient Lithuanians Aukštaitians and

Samogitians (Būdas senovės Lietuvių kalnėnų žemaičių) by Simonas Daukantas is published. It is a history of culture of Lithuania and the first printed historical work in Lithuanian language.


The 2nd half of 19th century

  • The transitional area between ethnic Lithuania and ethnic

    Belarusia (in which area also two biggest cities, of the former G.D.L., Vilnius and Grodna, lie) became Polish. Polonization is caused by: traditions of the G.D.L., mixed ethnic composition of the population with weak traditional ethnic identity, and position of rulers of Vilnius catholic diocese.

  • Ethnic Lithuanians became bishops of two other dioceses in ethnic Lithuania. This fact has great positive effect on Lithuanian national consciousness.
  • Cultural requirements of Lithuanians increase. However

    Lithuanian population in Prussia don't join to left modernistic or revolutionary movements, staying in traditional pro-monarchistic and pietistic trend.

  • Prussian (or, since 1871, German) authorities pursue policy of germanization. Lithuanian primary schools are converted to German ones.
  • Lithuanians begin to resist against germanization. Forms of the resistance, when many Lithuanians were faithfully committed to Prussian monarch, are very soft (such as writing of petitions and so on), but it's the beginning of Lithuanian ethnic resistance in modern times.

1864 – 1904


Russian authorities forbid public use of the Lithuanian

language and use of Latin-based alphabet for it. Lithuanian people begin wide resistance, not accepting Lithuanian books, printed in Cyrillic alphabet.


Lithuanians print books abroad (mostly in nearby Prussia) and

haul them secretly to Lithuania.

Prussian Lithuanians do great job, printing and transporting

Lithuanian books.


Lithuanian monthly Aušra (the Dawn) starts to be

issued in Tilžė (German variant, Tilsit), East Prussia. In this political and cultural monthly the difference of Lithuanian nation from Poles and necessity to stand on unity of both parts of Lithuanian nation (Catholic, being under Russian rule and Lutheran under German one) declared clearly for the first time. The new modern definition of Lithuanian nation, given in Aušra, will become basic one in modern Lithuania later.

 1905 –1918

Lithuanian leaders widely expand Lithuanian cultural life,

using modern means. Many Lithuanian societies, choirs, amateur theaters begin their existence, Lithuanian books and newspapers are published widely in Lithuania. Somewhere limited lituanization of primary schools begins.



  • Lithuanian leaders declare independent Lithuanian state. They

    project new Lithuania only in ethnic territory, not pretending to Belarusian areas. However transitional area between Lithuania and Belarus is partially Polish and its definition and status become disputable (see “Central Lithuania”).

  • Lithuanian language becomes official language of Lithuania.
  • Leaders of Lithuanian Poles doesn't agree with the new conception of Lithuania. Cultural and political contradictions suddenly become very sharp and all it leads to the Polish – Lithuanian conflict. (see “History of Lithuania” , “Central Lithuania”).



The first Lithuanian professional theater opens doors in




The first democratic elections in Lithuania.



Lithuanian University is founded in Kaunas.


pt:Cultura da Lituânia

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