Was there a “Lithuanian People” in Early Modern Lithuania?

Mathias Niendorf  (Greifswald University, Germany)

To speak of a “Lithuanian people” in early modern Lithuania raises several problems.  First, there is the fact that Lithuania from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that the nobility of Lithuania became heavily polonized during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Language, customs, and habitus of the Lithuanian gentry were modeled along the lines of Polish patterns.  Moreover, the nobles saw upon themselves as “Sarmatians,” a social group of particular historical origin distinct from the Lithuanian-speaking peasants.  Second, the Lithuanian part of the commonwealth was, similar to the Kingdom of Poland, a multiethnic, multireligious, and multicultural realm and in it the Catholic, Lithuanian-speaking population was a minority. The question is, which criteria could nonetheless be considered to justify the concept of a “Lithuanian people” in the early modern Grand Duchy of Lithuania?  This paper examines possible indications for a Lithuanian ethnic consciousness beyond the frame of reference of state, estate, constitution, and religion.  It will also deal with the question how terms such as “people” or “ethnos” were understood in a pre-modern historical context.

Comments are closed.