(Chapter IX, section 12)


The Baltic-Speaking Peoples


Our study of the northern racial zone of Europe has proceeded nearly to its conclusion; except for the northern Slavic regions there remain only the countries at the southeastern corner of the Baltic Sea, Latvia and Lith uania. These countries are occupied by the Letts and Lithuanians, the only surviving speakers of the Baltic branch of Indo-European languages. Baltic is a member of the Satem division, closest to Slavic, and is at the same time the most archaic surviving form of Indo-European speech. It was formerly once spoken by a number of other peoples, including the Prussians, who gave it up in favor of German at the time of the Teutonic Knights, and perhaps also the White Russians, who may have adopted Slavic. Like the rest of the Indo-European-speaking world, the original Balts were presumably Nordics, representing a blend of some sort between Neolithic Danubians and Corded peoples; unlike the other Indo-European groups, however, they have left no sure skeletal remains from their early history with which we may check this assumption. Their original home is believed to have lain between the territories of Finns, Slavs, and early Germanic tribes; it probably lay north of the old Slavic territory in southwestern Russia, on the upper reaches of the Dnieper. 107

It is not known when the ancestors of the Baltic peoples left this primeval home and moved northwestward to their present habitat, but the bulk of the migration probably did not antedate the beginning of the Iron Age. During the late Neolithic of the northern countries, the River Düna, which now bisects Latvia, formed the southern boundary of the Kammkeramik culture, with which the Salis Roje and Lake Ladoga cranial types are associated; south of this river, descendants of the Corded people were apparently in possession of the land until the arrival of Germans and of the Baltic ancestors.

The ancestors of the Letts were the first to move northward; they were not followed by the Lithuanians until the dawn of historic times, and history began in that region about 1200 A.D. About that time the top of the Kurland peninsula was occupied, more extensively than at present, by the Livs, who also held the coastal portion of Livonia, along the eastern shore of the Gulf of Riga. South of the Livs, in Kurland, were the Kurs themselves, a tribe of undetermined linguistic affiliation, but which, whatever its former idiom, was soon converted to Lettish speech. South of Riga lived the Baltic-speaking Zemgali tribesmen; east of them, along the Düna, were the Seri; while the Letgali, or Letts Proper, occupied the whole eastern half of modern Latvia. In historic times, the last named moved westward and absorbed the remnants of the other tribes, giving their speech and nationality to the present Lettish people.

The Germans, from the beginning, have played an important part in the history of the Baltic states, both as immigrants and as purveyors of Christianity and of mediaeval European civilization. In 1201 A.D. the city of Riga was founded by Germans from Bremen and Hamburg, and this was the commencement of along period of concentrated German influence which made itself felt racially as well as culturally. The central points of German culture in the Baltic lands were the cities of Riga, Dorpat, and Reval, which belonged to the Hanseatic league.

In the thirteenth century the German religious orders began their work of conversion and conquest in this neighborhood; first the Sword-brothers, and then the Teutonic Knights. The latter were especially concerned with battling the Lithuanians, who had, in the thirteenth century, forced themselves into the territory between outposts of the order in Livonia and Prussia. One of the results of the activities of the Teutonic Knights was the defeat of the Zemgali; these tribesmen left their homes in numbers and joined forces with the Lithuanians, while the Letts themselves moved westward to replace them.

Despite the activity of the orders, the Lithuanians became, during the thirteenth century, a very powerful people, and founded an empire which reached from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and which included much territory occupied by Russians. In 1401 a Lithuanian prince married the Polish crown princess, uniting these two kingdoms, who together warred effectively against the Teutonic orders. A century later the Russians invaded Livonia, with 90,000 Tatar and Russian troops, and from this time on the Lithuanian political power was weakened. The independence of the Baltic peoples was destroyed in 1561, when Esthonia went to Sweden, and Latvia and Lithuania were handed back and forth between Russia, Poland, and Sweden; at the time of the final partitionment of Poland they went to Russia. In the sixteenth century the reformation spread over Latvia and Esthonia, and as a result of this the Letts are now Protestants, while the Lithuanians, who were the last Balts to be converted to Christianity, and who fell under Polish influence, are Catholics.

The ethnic significance of the history of this region is that much German blood must have been assimilated as a result of the building of the German cities, especially in Livonia, and Swedish and Russian influence during the historical period must have had some effect as well. Seven per cent of the modern population of Latvia and Esthonia is still German, and the nobility is almost entirely German in origin.

Opportunities for the absorption of mongoloid blood came at several times, especially in 1410, when the Lithuanian prince Witold sought help from the Tatar Khan Tochtamysch, and was given 40,000 men who subsequently settled on the banks of the Niemen River near Vilna. In 1432 more Tatar allies came from the Volga, and 3000 of them remained in the service of the great Lithuanian princes.

The great Russian census of 1887 found 6540 persons of admitted Tatar ancestry in Lithuania, Poland, Volhynia, and Podolia. Many more must have been absorbed, while others, soon after their arrival, may have wandered eastward to their former homes. At any rate, in studying the racial composition of the Baltic peoples, the Finnic tribes who have been absorbed by the Letts (and in particular the Livs), the Germans, and the Tatars must not be forgotten.

There is an abundance of adequate modern anthropometric data on the Letts,108 which indicates, on the whole, that despite regional and individual variations this people may, as accurately as the Finnish speakers upon whose territory they border, be considered representatives of the East Baltic race. The mean stature of Latvian males is nearly 172 cm., as tall as modern Nordics; this stature reaches the height of 174.7 cm. in the district of Liepaja, in southwestern Kurland, along the Baltic shore. In general it decrease, slightly from west to cast, but never goes below 170 cm. in the country districts. The city population, which contains a large foreign element, especially German, is two centimeters shorter than that for the nation. Bodily proportions show the Leas to be long legged, wide shouldered, and long armed; a mean relative span of 107 places them in the same class with the Finnish peoples.

The cranial dimensions and proportions arc nearly the same as those of the Baltic Finns; the mean head length of 190 mm. and breadth of 153 mm. yields a sub-brachycephalic cephalic index of 81, while the vault height is of normal East Baltic dimensions. A selected sample of supposedly pure Leas, from the district of Cesvaine in eastern Latvia, has the same head form as the others, but larger length and breadth dimensions (193 mm. by 157 mm.). Unlike the Finns, however, the Letts seem once to have been longer-headed; early skeletal material which may definitely be ascribed to their ancestors, and which dates from 800 to 1200 A.D., is dolichocephalic, with a mean cranial index of 74.1 for a series of eleven male crania,109 and of 74.4 for the same, with twelve female skulls added. These skulls are of moderate vault height, quite short and moderately broad faced, with mesorrhine to chamaerrhine noses, and low orbits. On the whole they represent a variety of Nordic in which a short-faced, loworbitted element is especially prominent. The change in head form of the Letts,110 less radical than that found in many parts of central and eastern Europe, may almost certainly be ascribed here to a general absorption of round-headed racial elements, of which several have been historically traced.

In facial dimensions, the living Letts are again East Baltic, with broad foreheads (110 mm.), moderately broad bizygomatic diameters (137140 mm.), and broad jaws (ca. 110 mm.). The face heights, at the same time, are only moderately great (122 min.), and the facial index is mesoprosopic. An upper facial index of 50 falls into the broad category, and emphasizes the depth of the Lettish mandible. The nose, moderately leptorrhine, with mean indices varying from 63 to 67, is similar in sire and proportions to the Baltic Finnish standard. In a combined sample of hefts, Lithuanians, and White Russians, Hesch has shown that taller stature is associated with relatively long heads, narrow faces, and narrow noses, and vice versa. This evidence indicates that a Nordic or Corded clement, or both, can probably still be isolated.

Pigmentation data on the Lefts is abundant, and shows clearly that the Letts, as a group, are as blond as Swedes and Norwegians. The skin color, observed on the yon Luschan chart, is uniformly fair, but rarely very vascular. The lair color is ash-blond in half the entire series, while the other half is more brown than golden blond. There seems to be very little black hair, and red totals less than one per cent. The distribution of hair color shows regional variations, of reversed concentric order, for the ash-blond hues are concentrated in the eastern half of the country, in the purest Lettish territory, while the western and coastal regions, occupied in earlier times by the Fl time tribes and by the enigmatic Kurs, is characterized by brown shades, especially on the golden side of the scale. The eye color of the Letts as a whole is predominantly light, with pure blues and grays totalling one-third, and predominantly light shades reaching between 57 per cent and 59 per cent; pure brown eyes arc very rare, but. darkmixed eyes are not uncommon. On the whole, the hair color tends to be proportionately lighter than eve color.

The hair foam of the Lots is straight in over 90 per cent of cases. I lair form was observed with hair color in the large recruit survey, and regional differences noted. Such differences, however, are slight when compared with those of hair color. The western regions, especially the country of the Livs and Kurs, have more straight hair than the east, but in no district does wavy hair attain more than 10 per cent. The Letts are surely straighter haired than are the peoples of Scandinavia, with the necessary exception of the Lapps.

The foreheads of the Letts slope very slightly or none at all in the vast majority of cases - retreating forehead profiles such as characterize the classical Nordic type are seldom encountered. The foreheads are in most cases likewise rather high and broad, and only moderately curved. The cranial vault is of a rounded form, and lacks the sharp transitions between the bones of the skull which have been seen in the Nordic. The occiput is in most instances well curved, and both flat and excessively protruberant forms are rare. The very few flatttened occiputs found by Hesch are attributed by him to a minority Armenoid element brought in by the Tatars, but it might equally well be ascribed to other sources.

The root of the nose is moderately high to quite high, and is of medium breadth. The bridge is of moderate breadth, and is usually straight in profile, although concave forms outnumber the convex. The tip of the nose is well rounded, and usually horizontal in inclination. Both elevated and depressed forms are infrequent. The wings are thin, highly placed, and of medium lateral extension, although compressed forms arc quite frequent. The general impression of the nose is one of moderate height and breadth, and of medium, normally inclined tip and wings. It is not notable for its height or narrowness, and at the same time is only rarely broad or everted. It is a normal, intermediate European type of nose, not very different from the Nordic. The lips are medium to thin, and usually have little or no eversion, possibly because the bite is frequently edge-to-edge. The teeth are said to be remarkably large and of excellent quality, with a minimum of caries and malformations.

In the soft parts of the eye region, the upper eyefold hangs down to or over the outer corner of the eye, in a characteristic external fold, in the majority of fully adult instances. The opening of the eye slit is medium to wide, and usually straight of axis, although in one-third of instances an upward obliquity of the outer eye corners was observed. The malars are rather prominent among the Letts, although not as frequently as among most Finns. The lower angles of the jaw, too, are frequently salient, and the face, although oval or elliptical in over two-thirds of instances, is in other cases rectangular in form.

Body hair is absent in more than half of adult male Letts, and arm and leg hair quite scanty. The mustache is described as being sub-medium in thickness in over half of the cases, and the hair on the: cheeks and chin is even less abundant. Although the head hair is usually straight, the mustache and beard are characteristically wavy, the body hair wavier, and the pubic hair, as with practically all Europeans, curly.

Although Nordic types may frequently be picked out of the Lettish population, the general impression is that alongside the Nordic is found a much more numerous element, equally blond, which is essentially East Baltic, and which is much the same as that found among the Finnicspeaking peoples farther north. The one region of Latvia in which unusual or atypical racial conditions are found is the southwestern coastal section of Kurland, the home of the linguistically unidentified Kurs, who seem to have been especially characterized by extremely tall stature and brown hair. This racial element is probably that which entered into the composition of the Livs to differentiate them from other Finns; and its general description would suggest that here we are concerned with a maximum survival of the descendants of the Corded people who found in this northern retreat a relatively inviolable asylum.

Whereas the Letts have long been in close contact with Finnish peoples, and have absorbed whole Finnish tribes, the Lithuanians have been in contact rather with Slavic peoples, especially Poles and Russians. German influence has been important in each, while in Lithuania there is a not inconsiderable Jewish population. In Lithuania, however, we begin to arrive in that complex part of Europe in which a village of one ethnic and linguistic type is alternated with that of another; in which many kinds of people live side by side, but between whom wholesale mixture is infrequent. Among the Lithuanians themselves there are two linguistic divisions; the Jmouds or Samogitians, who number nearly half a trillion and live in the western part of the Kaunas district, near the East Prussian border, and the Lithuanians proper, who number more than three millions.

Except for Hesch's study of war prisoners, the anthropometric sources on the Lithuanians are old, and less complete than those on the Letts.111 They show, however, that the Lithuanians averaged two centimeters less in stature than the Letts, both in the Russian census of 1874-83, and during the World War. If they have increased in pace with the Letts, their present stature mean should be 168 or 169 cm. If not, it should fall between 166 and 167 cm. Despite a shorter stature, the Lithuanians have slightly broader shoulders and hips than the Letts, and these differences are magnified in the indices of bodily proportions. The span is both absolutely and relatively shorter, with an index of 105.6. The trunk length of the Lithuanians is greater, and the lower arm segment shorter. Thus in body build the Lithuanians frequently approach a thick-set constitutional type, while the Letts are more characteristically linear.

In head and face measurements, the Lithuanians differ from the Letts only in sagittal and vertical dimensions; the Lithuanian head is shorter, with a mean length of 188 mm., while the cephalic index has a mean of over 82; the facial breadths are similar to those of the Letts, while both total and upper face heights are a millimeter less; both facial and upper facial indices show a greater tendency to euryprosopy. The nose, at the same time, is a little shorter; the interorbital diameter slightly wider. In the interorbital, Hesch finds modes in his total. series at 31 mm. and 34 mm.; the former seems to be Nordic, the latter East Baltic or Neo-Danubian.

In pigmentation the Lithuanians are less frequently blond than the Letts. This is true in skin color as in hair and eye shades, for over 70 per cent of Lithuanians have skin darker than von Luschan # 10, while only 46 per cent of Letts were listed in this category. Dark brown hair (Fischer #4-5) is found in 40 per cent of Hesch's Lithuanian series, as against 21 per cent for his Letts. Of the remaining shades, ash-blond is the most frequent, and the darkest grade of ash-blond (Fischer #26), is the most frequent of all single numbers. Larger series observed without scales agree essentially with Hesch's material, but ,give the Lithuanians about 7 per cent of black or nearly black hair. The vast majority of Lithuanians have mixed eyes; only 10 per cent have pure light irises (Martin #15-16), as compared to 25 per cent for Letts; at the same time pure brown eyes number but 3 per cent. On the whole, therefore, one cannot say of the Lithuanians, as of the Finns, Esths, Livs, and Letts. that they are as blond as Scandinavians, but they are still predominantly light. There are probably regional variations of which our present data give us little positive indication.

A comparative study of hereditary landed aristocrats and of small land owners112 shows, however, that class differences in physical type must be even greater. The privileged class had, in 1912, a mean stature of 172.8 cm., the small land owners of 164.8 cm.; there was a slight difference in pigmentation, with the gentry running to brown hair and blue eyes, and their economic inferiors to lighter hair and mixed or brown eyes. The head size of the upper class was much larger, but the head form, face form and nose form were the same in each.

In hair form the Lithuanians, like the Letts, are almost all in the straight category. Three per cent of Lithuanians have curly hair, as against 7 for the Jmouds, indicating that the farther east one goes, the straighter the hair becomes. Among Lithuanians proper and Jmouds, and among Letts as well, curly hair is almost always blond or light brown.

In observations of general head and forehead form the Lithuanians resemble the Letts, except that rounder heads with broader foreheads are more frequent. The nasal root is less frequently high, but little different in breadth; the bridge is somewhat broader, and runs to more convex and concave extremes in profile. The tip points upward in 35 per cent of cases, and is definitely snubbed in 22 per cent. In the high frequency of this broad, up-tilted form the Lithuanians exceed the Letts by two to one. On the whole the frequencies are greater at the extremes in the Lithuanian sample than in that of the Letts, and indicate a greater diversity of nose form.

The lips of the Lithuanians arc somewhat thicker membranously, and more frequently evened than those of the Letts, although still they must be considered as medium. Great differences are found in tire soft parts of the eye, for while an external fold occurs in 55 per cent of Letts, only 17 per cent of Lithuanians have it. Some degree of upward obliquity of the eye slit is found in 40 per cent of casts, slightly higher than with Letts. The chin form is usually rather wide and rounded. Although we have no comparative data on malars, the indication is that they are no less prominent, in any event, than those of the Letts. Although the Lithuanians arc clearly less Nordic morphologically than are the Letts, they are at the same time less typically East Baltic in the Finnish sense in the total contour of the face, for more elliptical and fewer rectangular shapes are found among them.

The Lithuanians differ again from the Letts in having much less body hair, on chest and on arms and legs. Only 25 per cent have a medium mustache thickness, as judged by ordinary European standards, while the proportions on chin and cheek fall to 17 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. The unusual glabrousness of the Baltic-speaking peoples, as best exemplified by the Lithuanians, totally differentiates it from central European brachycephals of Alpine inspiration.

Talko-Hryncewicz, in his time one of the most assiduous students of race in eastern Europe, measured a series of so-called Lithuanian Tatars, the descendants of those Tatars who were brought into Lithuania for military purposes during the Middle Ages.113 They differ physically from the Lithuanians in many respects, and thus show that their absorption has not yet been completed. In skin color more than one-fourth are brownish, and an equal number yellowish, while less than half may be classed as light or white; less than 30 per cent are light or light brown haired, and over 70 per cent dark brown or black in hair color. In eye color almost half are classified as brown, and very few appear to be pure light. Although these Tatars are not purely brunet, they are much more brunet than the Lithuanians, and the light elements among them may not wholly be accounted for as the result of recent or local mixture.

In stature they are appreciably shorter than the Lithuanians, with a mean of 162.8 centimeters. Their head form, with a cephalic index of 81.9, is no different from that of the Lithuanians, although the absolute dimensions of the head, 183.6 and 151.4 millimeters, are smaller. Although the facial measurements are not comparable, the forehead is even broader than that of the Lithuanians, and the nose, while identical in breadth, is even shorter, with a nasal index of 69.4. As nearly as one may judge, these Tatars seem to have preserved in large measure the characters of their ancestors.

The deviation of the Lithuanians from their Lettish kinsmen cannot, however, be attributed in major degree to the absorption of Tatar blood. The Lithuanians are more southerly in habitat than the Letts, and are in contact with different neighbors; they form as a national group a branch of the greater East Baltic race, but a somewhat different variety from that of the other peoples living on the eastern side of the Baltic Sea. Their divergence in a racial sense points to the populations which we will study later in eastern Germany, Poland, and western Russia.


107 Hesch, M., Letten, Litauer, Weirsrussen.

108 Backman, G., FUL, N. F., vol. 29, 1923-24, pp. 99-126, 127-163; LUR, vol. 12, 1925, pp. 367-379.
Hesch, M., Letten, Litauer, Weissrussen.
Jerums, N., and Vitols, T. M., LUR, vol. 18, 1928, pp. 279-375.
Waeber, O., Beiträge fur Anthropologie der Letten.

109 Knorre, G. von, ZFMA, vol. 28, 1930, pp. 256-312.

110 An inbred group of free farmers, holding special rights granted their ancestors in the thirteenth century and confirmed by Gustavus Adolphus, has been studied by Jerums and Priman. These people, who call themselves the "Kurish Kings," had been reduced, by 1925, to a total of 11 men and 12 women. They are very blond, and the men have a mean C. I, of 77.4, the women of 75.2. Backman believes that they represent the lettish racial type of 700 years ago, preserved by inbreeding.

111 Baronas, I. O., RAJ, vol. 3, 1902, pp. 63-87; AFA, vol. 30, 1904, pp. 220-222.
Brennsohn, L, ,Zur Anthropologie der Litauer.
Hesch, M., Letter, Litauer, and Weissrussen.
Jantschuk N. A., IILE, vol. 12 #6 1890, pp. 200-211. Résumés in AFA, vol. 26, 1900, pp. 839-840; Anth, vol. 3, 1892, pp. 475-476.
Olechnowicz, W., ZWAK, vol. 18, 1895, pp. 47-76.
Talko?Hryncewicz, J., ZWAK, vol. 17, 1894, pp. 51-172; MAAE, vol. 9, 1907, pp. 11-86; vol. 12, 1912, pp. 3-112.

112 Talko-Hryncewicz, J., 1912.

113 Talko-Hryncewicz, J., 1907.