Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Legal.
a group of tribes that once inhabited the southern coast of the Baltic Sea between the lower Vistula and Neman rivers. The material culture of these tribes was similar to that of the linguistically related Letto-Lithuanians, as well as to the Slavic culture. The Prussians are first mentioned in ninth-century sources. Sources dating from the ninth to 13th centuries reveal that their primitive communal social structure was disintegrating and that social classes and a state were emerging. By the 13th century the Prussians constituted a federation of 11 lands governed by an aristocracy. They maintained trade relations with the neighboring Poles and Russians.
The development of an early feudal society and state among the Prussians was interrupted by the incursions of German feudal Catholic forces. The first attempts to Christianize the Prussians date from the late tenth and early 11th centuries. The Teutonic Knights, supported by the pope and German feudal lords, embarked on the conquest of the Prussian lands in the 1230’s. The Prussians’ long struggle against the Knights ended in the conquest of their territory in 1283. The majority of the Prussians were exterminated by the conquerors. The survivors were subjected to forcible germanization, and their territory was settled by German colonists. The name “Prussia” is derived from these tribes.