On the Origin of the Name of Lithuania

On the Origin of the Name of Lithuania

By Tomas Baranauskas

Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences,Volume 55, No.3 (2009)

Lithuania's name in writing 1009
Lithuania’s name in writing 1009

Abstract: Lithuania’s name was first mentioned as Lituae (the genitive form of the Latin word Litua) in the entry for March 9, 1009 AD in the Annals of Quedlinburg recording the martyrdom of St. Bruno. Recently, a significant contribution to the question of the origin of the name of Lithuania has been made by Artūras Dubonis, who used historical evidence to support his hypothesis that the primary form of the Lithuanian ethnonym was leitis (the ethnonym leitis is still used in Latvia for “Lithuanian”) and that in some historical sources Lithuanians were called leičiai in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Tomas Baranauskas analyzes this theory as well as earlier historical and linguistic arguments on the origin of Lithuania’s name.

Introduction: The name “Lithuania” (Lituae) is first mentioned in the entry for March 9, 1009 AD in the Annals of Quedlinburg recording the death of St. Bruno of Querfurt. Another reference, in the Chronicon Thietmari written by Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg, gives the date for the same death as February 14, 1009 without, however, mentioning the name of Lithuania. This latter date is likely more reliable because Thietmar of Merseburg was a relative and a fellow student of Bruno’s, had been an associate of Bruno’s father, and was very possibly the author of a lost book on Bruno.

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The news of the martyrdom of Bruno near the border of Lithuania, Prussia and Rus’ reached Germany (Saxony) through the court of Bolesław the Brave, the king of Poland. The king had arranged St. Bruno’s mission to the lands of the Yatvingians and later ransomed Bruno’s remains when the mission failed. Since at the time of the martyrdom Poland and Germany had been at war, it is believed that the news from Poland did not reach Germany until 1010, during peace negotiations with Poland. In these negotiations, King Heinrich II of Germany had been represented by Waltred, a relative of Bruno’s, who undoubtedly would have used the opportunity to inquire about the fate of his martyred relative.

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