Baltic States - Etymology and Toponymic History

Etymology and Toponymic History

The term "Baltic" stems from the name of the Baltic Sea – a hydronym dating back to the 11th century (Adam of Bremen mentioned Latin: Mare Balticum) and earlier.

The Latvian and Lithuanian term Baltija most likely originates from the Indo-European root *bhel meaning white, fair. This meaning is retained in modern Baltic languages, where baltas (in Lithuanian) and balts (in Latvian) means "white".

Beginning in the Middle Ages and through the present day, the Baltic Sea appears on the maps subscribed in Germanic languages as German: Ostsee, Danish: Østersøen, Dutch: Oostzee, Swedish: Östersjön, etc. In English "Ost" is "East", and in fact, the Baltic Sea mostly lies to the east for Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Clearly, part of the Baltic Sea lies to the east of Germany and Sweden, and due north of parts of Germany.

In the 17th century, the Kingdom of Sweden grew to be one of the great powers of Northern Europe. However, at the beginning of the 18th century "the Great Power Era" (Swedish: Stormaktstiden) of the Swedish Empire was challenged by the Russian Empire which was seeking to restore its access to the Varangians Sea—as the Baltic Sea was called in the Land of Novgorod. De facto in 1700 - 09, and de jure beginning in 1721, Swedish Livonia (today the northern parts of Latvia and Estonia, and the western part of the Leningrad Oblast) which had been acquired by Sweden in accordance with Treaty of Oliva of 1660, came under the rule of the Russian Empire. Legalizing this acquisition by the Treaty of Nystad, instead of taking an indemnity from the defeated Swedes, the Russian Empire paid Sweden two million jefimoks, or about 980 kilograms of silver. The first collective name for two administrative units established here in 1713 was Ostsee Governorates (Russian: Остзейские губернии).

Initially these were two governorates named after the largest cities: Riga and Reval (now Tallinn). After the Partitions of Poland which took place in the last quarter of the 18th century the third Ostsee Governorate was set, the one of Courland (presently a part of Latvia). This toponym stems from Curonians, one of Finnic or Baltic indigenous tribes. Accordingly, two others were renamed to the Governorate of Livland and the Governorate of Estland.

The presence of the Germanic morpheme "Ostsee" within the Russian collective name of those provinces is not limited to the personal inclination to the Western lexics which was shown by Peter the Great who conquered these lands from the Swedes. In fact, since the Livonian Crusade (religious colonization) at the turn of the 12th to 13th century "Terra Mariana", Livland and Estland were under the German influence. These were Germans who formed the backbone of the local gentry, and for centuries German was the language of international communication and record keeping there.

By coincidence, it was German philologist Georg Nesselmann living at the Baltics (in East Prussia) who in the middle of the 19th century substantiated the concept of Baltic languages using the name of one of the local pagan tribes, the Balts. Endre Bojtár (1999) argues that it was around 1840s when the German gentry of the Governorate of Livonia devised the term "Balts" to mean themselves, the German upper classes of Livonia, excluding the Latvian and Estonian lower classes. They spoke an exclusive dialect, baltisch-deutsch, legally spoken by them alone. Thus the usage of "Baltic" and similar terms to denote this region dates back not earlier than 1840s.

Simultaneously, in 1840s the usage "Ostsee" was superseded by "Baltic" in Russian. The article "Прибалтийский край" ("Baltic Krai") in the Brockhaus encyclopedia and other sources notes that 1840s mark a shift of the local population towards Russian language and, to a certain extent, to orthodoxy. A lot of the local Baltic Germans became loyal subjects of the Russian Empire.

Lithuania occupies a specific place within the scope of the region named "Baltic states". Through many centuries of its history Lithuania was more than a state at a Baltic seacoast. Born at a turn of the 12th to 13th century the Grand Duchy of Lithuania encompassed most part of Kievan Rus' and by the middle of 16th century stretched to the Black Sea. From 1569 it has been a backbone element of such large and strong geo-political power as Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, so it is not incidental that up to 1920s Lithuania was treated separately from the Baltic states. Only after Lietuvos Taryba proclaimed its independence in 1918, Lithuania began to be mentioned in the same list with her two northern neighbours.

In the 1920s, the newly established countries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland, formerly territories of the Russian empire, were referred to as the Baltic states.

After the incorporation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the Soviet Union as Soviet republics, they were informally grouped as "Baltic republics" (прибалтийские республики).

The United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names defines a Baltic Division.

Read more about this topic:  Baltic States

Other articles related to "etymology and toponymic history":

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... Lithuania occupies a specific place within the scope of the region named "Baltic states" ... Through many centuries of its history Lithuania was more than a state at a Baltic seacoast ...

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