The first inhabitants of the area were nomadic hunters.
Between 8000 and 4000 B.C., they established settlements along the banks of
the Nemunas River, where they survived by hunting, fishing and gathering berries.
Around 2000 B.C., Indo-European tribes moved into Lithuania from the south and
west, and established farming communities. Over time, the various tribes
intermarried and formed the race known as the Balts. By the 1st century A.D.,
the Balts had established a trade in amber with merchants of the Roman Empire
to the south.
The Balts were grouped into several major tribes. The most important were the Aukstaiciai (Highlanders) in the east and the Samogitians (Lowlanders) in the west. In the 10th and 11th centuries, Christian missionaries tried unsuccessfully to covert the inhabitants of the region. In the 13th century, the Teutonic Knights, who were German warrior-monks, came from the south to convert the Baltic tribes by force. In response, a noble called Grand Duke Mindaugas unified the tribes of Lithuania. Mindaugas converted to Christianity in 1251 and was crowned king of Lithuania in 1253.
Over the course of the 14th century, Mindaugas's successors
continued to fend off the Teutonic Knights, while expanding the Lithuanians'
influence eastward. In 1386, the Lithuanian leader Grand Duke Jogaila, married
Jadwiga heir to the Polish throne, uniting the two countries in an economic and
political alliance. Jogaila converted to Christianity and required the Lithuanian
people to accept Christianity also. Under Grand Duke Vytautas, who reigned from
1392 to 1430, the combined territory of Lithuania and Poland stretched to the
Black Sea. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Lithuanians and Polish armies fought
the Russians and the Swedes, who repeatedly invaded their territory. These constant
wars weakened the country.
In the late 18th century, Czarist Russia finally succeeded in annexing Lithuania. After a revolt by Lithuanians in 1831, the Russians instituted repressive measures to enforce their rule. Land was confiscated, schools were closed and the Lithuanian language was replaced by Russian. During this time, many Lithuanians emigrated to North America. After another rebellion by the Lithuanians in 1863, the Russians intensified their efforts to impose their language and culture.
The First World War and the Russian Revolution of 1917 threw
Russia into turmoil. Lithuania declared its independence in February 1918. For 22
years, Lithuania was an independent republic, but at the beginning of the Second
World War, the Germans helped the Soviet Union annex Lithuania. When Germany declared
war on the Soviet Union in 1941, the Nazis occupied Lithuania. In 1944, Lithuania was
once again taken over by the Soviet Union.
After the war, the Soviets deported many Lithuanians to Siberia to eliminate resistance to Soviet rule. The Soviets established collective farms and large industrial complexes. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the rejection of communism by the Soviet-dominated Eastern European countries, Lithuania declared its independence in 1990, becoming the first Soviet republic to break away from the central Soviet government. Today, Lithuania has undergone the transition to democracy and a modernized economy.