Prussia cannot be found on the map of modern Europe. The territory of this country is currently divided between Germany, Russia, Lithuania and Poland. But once the Prussians had their own state, which played a prominent role in world politics. Where did this people go?
What are they?
Contrary to popular belief, the Prussians did not initially have direct kinship with ethnic Germans. Their ancestors were the ancient Balts, an Indo-European tribe that inhabited the eastern and southern coasts of the sea of the same name. Other descendants of these people are Latvians and Lithuanians, they are fraternal peoples for the Prussians.
From the 10th to the 18th centuries, the Baltic state expanded and decreased several times, depending on the success of hostilities. But the territories of the Kaliningrad Region of Russia, the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship of Poland and the Klaipeda County of Lithuania have always been the basis of Prussian lands.
Most likely, the ethnonym came from the name of the Rusne River – the right sleeve of the mouth of the Neman, where these people originally lived. According to another version, the word “Prus” in the Old Slavonic dialect means “mare”. The neighbors could call the representatives of this people, as they often organized riders’ competitions (horse races), and also ate horsemeat and drank mare’s milk. At least, the German chronicler Adam of Bremen (1050-1081) mentioned this in his writings.
In Latin, the ethnonym is written as borusci, it is used in the name of the football team from the German city of Dortmund – “Borussia”.
The Prussians themselves called their country “Ulmigania” (“Ulmigeria”) – the island kingdom. The fact is that their ancestral lands were limited by the Baltic Sea and the rivers flowing into it; there, land plots were often interspersed with water surface.
Knights of the Teutonic Order captured Prussia in the 13th century. The formal pretext for the raid was the need to Christianize the inhabitants of these lands, previously adhering to the pagan faith. Already then the gradual colonization of the southern Baltic coast by the Germans began. Over time, this process only intensified.
First, the Prussian aristocracy adopted the language and customs of the conquerors, and then the bulk of the country’s population underwent Germanization. As a result of assimilation processes in this territory, an ethnic community of people who consider themselves Prussian Germans has formed. In addition to the two aforementioned peoples, local Lithuanians and Poles also participated in their ethnogenesis.
At the beginning of the XVIII century, the plague epidemic and the famine that followed it mowed half the population of these lands. Then the last native speakers of the Prussian language and culture perished among the peasant class. New settlers from Germany moved to their place. And the Prussians completely ceased to exist as a separate people.
Nevertheless, at present more than a million inhabitants of Germany consider themselves their descendants to one degree or another. Such data were pointed out by the German researcher Rainer Eckard in his book “Where did the Prussians get their name from” (Dieburg, 2001).
In addition, 12 of Germany’s 16 federal states are partially or fully located in territories formerly part of Prussia.
Due to the similarity of ethnonyms, some supporters of the theory of the Baltic origin of the Slavs considered the Russians to be direct relatives of the Prussians. Many domestic aristocrats proudly called themselves descendants of representatives of this ethnic group.
Since the ancestor of the famous noble families, such as the Romanovs, Sheremetevs, Boborykins, was a certain Andrei Kobyl who lived in Moscow of the XIV century, some researchers consider his name to be a direct indication that he was a native of Prussia (“Prus” – a mare).
Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) also often called himself a descendant of the rulers of this country, leading their origin, according to legend, from the most ancient Roman emperor Octavian Augustus (63 BC – 14 AD) .
But besides the aristocracy, the heirs of the Prussians who previously inhabited Koenigsberg (Kaliningrad) live in Russia, because this city has long been the capital of their state.
As you know, during the Potsdam Conference, held at the end of World War II, part of the territory of East Prussia became part of the USSR. However, by that time the descendants of the ancient Balts were already completely assimilated by the Germans. They forgot their language, began to consider themselves a part of the people of Germany, where they massively migrated in recent decades.
According to the 2010 All-Russian Population Census, more than 7.3 thousand residents of the Kaliningrad region called themselves ethnic Germans. Most likely, most of these people are descendants of the Prussians.
It is known that modern flywinkles – representatives of one of the nationalities of Lithuania – are partially of Prussian origin. They have long lived in Klaipeda and its environs, contrasting themselves with other Lithuanians, whom they called zhemites. For a long time, the lands of the flywinks were part of East Prussia, which contributed to active assimilation processes and the mixing of the two peoples.
In 1945, following the results of the Potsdam Conference, Klaipeda Territory became part of Lithuania, and its capture by the troops of Hitler Germany in 1939 was recognized by the world community as illegal.
Letuvininki call themselves Prussian Lithuanians. Their total number is estimated by experts at approximately 122 thousand people. Now in Klaipeda itself there are no more than 2 thousand representatives of this people, most of them emigrated to Germany.
Not all Baltic people wanted to live on lands forcibly captured by the knights of the Teutonic Order. Barts – one of the Prussian tribes, which was forced to leave their native lands. They moved to the territory that is now part of Belarus.
In the north-west of this country there are several settlements where the badyaks live – the descendants of those same barts who did not submit to the Germans. Moreover, most linguists consider their language a dialect of Lithuanian.
The villages of barges are located in the Grodno region of Belarus. The number of representatives of this nationality is quite difficult to determine. Official statistics, at least, do not know such nationality. Probably, these people are considered Lithuanians.
Not only Russia and Lithuania replenished the territories of East Prussia as a result of the Potsdam Conference of 1945, part of Pomerania and all of Lower Silesia withdrew to Poland.
For many centuries, these lands were part of different states. For example, Lower Silesia was captured by the Prussian forces in 1730. After the accession of this territory to the possessions of King Frederick II the Great (1712-1786), colonists began to move here. Some of their descendants still live in the Warmian-Masurian and Lower Silesian voivodships of Poland. True, they consider themselves Germans, not Prussians.