LITEWSKA GRANICA ETNICZNA NA WSCHODZIE OD EPOKI PLEMIENNEJ DO XVI WIEKU
LITHUANIAN ETHNICAL BOUNDARY IN THE EAST FROM THE ANCESTRAL EPOCH TILL THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
The historical east Lithuania from the point of view of changeability of ethnographical relations, and especially linguistic ones constitutes an exceptional area on the European scale. The original Lithuanian element for more than a millenium receded slowly to the West under the pressure of the expansion of settlement of East Slavs, their language and culture as well as their weapons. Approximately from the sixteenth century the Russian linguistic and cultural influences on Lithuania began to lose their strength giving more and more place to Polish language and culture.
In the course of the process of Ruthenization and Poloinization lasting many centuries the Lithuanian character in its eastern border suffered enormous losses and have been actually irreversible in large measure. In the direction of Vilnius-Minsk the Lithuanian language retreated it the cours e of centuries at least 150 kilometers to the West and even the capital of Lithuania Vilna (Vilnius) found itself as early as the eighteenth century in the Slavic environment. East of Vilnius there were only smaller or bigger islands of Lithuanian settlement (Diewieniszki-Dieveniškės, Gierwiaty-Gervačiai, Lazduny-Lazdūnai) marking the area of the Lithuanian language which had been formerly compact.
The task of this study was to reconstruct this enormously changing, eastern ethnic boundary of Lithuania, to establish the course of this boundary in the possibly, earliest historical period, on the basis of the possibly complete source materials — historical, archaeological and linguistic. As a terminus ad quem was considered the close of the sixteenth century from which come the supplementary source materials like land inventories (descriptions of landed estates) helpful for the control of the obtained results.
The fight that lasted for two centuries (eleventh and twelfth) with the aggressive Russia for the political boundaries ended finally with the success of Lithuania. It was already at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries that Lithuania suppressed not very independent Russian duchy at Minks together with smaller duchies like Zaslav (Izjaslavl) and Lohojsk incorporating them under her own direct sovereignty. At the beginning of the thirteenth century it has received supremacy over the hitherto strong Duchy of Polotsk which was weakened by the intensive struggles with Kiev, Novgorod and Smolensk. Before the half of the thirteenth century Lithuania managed to subordinate already from the point of view of politics Polotsk. However, it has retained the separate Duchy of Polotsk although it has been governed since then by the Lithuanian dukes. In this way within the so colled Lithuania proper boundaries — "Lithuania Propria" — were all the lands populated by Lithuanians and which were until that time taken from the aboriginal Lithuania by the Russian princes
What strikes here is the stability of Lithuanian settling at the border of Braslav and Polotsk and of Oshmiana with Minsk. After incorporation of Braslav (82) in the thirteenth century and the lands of the former Duchy of Minsk to Lithuania, the process of Russification (and partly also that of extermination) of Lithuanians in these territories had been most evidently stopped thanks to their own statehood. Later on the Catholic Church contributed considerably to the consolidation of the Lithuanian character. The Catholic Church on the strength of the order of King Vladislav Jagiello of 1387 prohibited marriages between Catholic Lithuanians and Orthodox Russians.
The development of the network of parishes on the borderland of Oshmiana , and Minsk which occurred from the close of the fourteenth to the half of the . sixteenth centuries strengthened still more the Lithuanian character in this area. That is why the Lithuanian settlement was retained in the southern-western part of the Minsk district: towards Dekshniana (and surely Bakshta) and probably as far as Hajna. To the compact Lithuanian ethnical territory adjoined also in the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries the areas populated to a great degree by the Lithuanians near the place called Iwieniec. On the other hand, the wedge of Russian settlement running the furthest up in the ethnic Lithuania, very early because already about the year 1000 moved from Krasne Sielo, between the rivers Uisha and Berezyna, past Lebiedzievo as far as Sloviensk and Vishniev.
The decline of the Lithuanian language on the borderline of Oshmiana and Minsk therefore had to take place later, after the sixteenth century.
The theory of „intertribal vacuum" between Lithuania and Russia, and the hypothesis of the progressing Lithuanian colonization in the East since the eleventh or else thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, which is connected with this hypothesis, will not hold water for one reason: it did not reckon with the fact which is irrefutable today that the Old Lithuanian population inhabited the area of Byelorussia for long centuries before the settlement expansion of Slavs. Lithuanians had not been completely exterminated in Byelorussia, ousted or assimilated by Slavs. Those Lithuanians survived in their ancient territories forming islands and settlement wedges connected with the rest of Lithuania. They existed throughout the whole period of Middle Ages and survived until the beginning of the twentieth century in the form of areas whose inhabitants lost indeed their mother Lithuanian language but they differed from Russia in their Catholic religion.