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.

   Did you know?
The current Lithuanian president, Valdas Adamkus, elected in 1998, emigrated from Lithuania to the United States in 1944. He spent most of his adult life working in Chicago for the Environmental Protection Agency of the United States before returning to Lithuania.