Balts


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Balts

(bôlts), peoples of the east coast of the Baltic Sea. They include the Latvians, the Lithuanians, and the now extinct Old Prussians. Their original home was farther east, but from the 6th cent. they were pushed westward by the SlavsSlavs
, the largest ethnic and linguistic group of peoples in Europe belonging to the Indo-European linguistic family. It is estimated that the Slavs number over 300 million in the world. They are usually classified in three main divisions.
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. In the 13th cent. the Teutonic KnightsTeutonic Knights
or Teutonic Order
, German military religious order founded (1190–91) during the siege of Acre in the Third Crusade. It was originally known as the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of the Teutons in Jerusalem.
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 and the Livonian Brothers of the SwordLivonian Brothers of the Sword
or Livonian Knights
, German military and religious order, founded in 1202 by Bishop Albert of Livonia for the purpose of conquest and Christianization in the Baltic lands.
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 conquered the region later comprising Estonia and Latvia and forced Christianity on the inhabitants. Pressed by the Teutonic Order, the Lithuanians formed (13th cent.) a unified state of LithuaniaLithuania
, Lithuanian Lietuva, officially Republic of Lithuania, republic (2005 est. pop. 3,597,000), 25,174 sq mi (65,201 sq km), N central Europe. Lithuania borders on the Baltic Sea in the west, Latvia in the north, Belarus in the east and southeast, Poland in the
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, which successfully resisted annexation and became one of the largest states of medieval Europe. In 1387, under Grand Duke Jagiello (King Ladislaus II of Poland), Lithuania officially adopted Christianity. The Teutonic Order lost (15th cent.) all but East Prussia, but descendants of the German knights and settlers continued to control land and commerce in Latvia and Estonia until the 20th cent. After the union (1569) of Lithuania with Poland, the Lithuanian nobility became thoroughly Polish in language and politics. The Estonians, a Finnic rather than a Baltic people, came under Swedish rule in 1561 and in 1721 passed to Russia, which by 1795 acquired all the Baltic lands. The incorporation of the Baltic nations of Lithuania, LatviaLatvia
, Latvian Latvija, officially Republic of Latvia, republic (2011 provisional pop. 2,067,887), 24,590 sq mi (63,688 sq km), north central Europe. It borders on Estonia in the north, Lithuania in the south, the Baltic Sea with the Gulf of Riga in the west, Russia in
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, and EstoniaEstonia
, Estonian Eesti, officially Republic of Estonia, republic (2005 est. pop. 1,333,000), 17,505 sq mi (45,339 sq km). It borders on the Baltic Sea in the west; the gulfs of Riga and Finland (both arms of the Baltic) in the southwest and north, respectively; Latvia
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 into the Soviet Union (1940) became a source of political disputes. All three countries gained independence in 1991. For earliest history to the 13th cent. see Marija Gimbutas, The Balts (1963).