Lithuania (Lith. Letuva; Pol. Litwa; Ger. Lithauen), a large tract of land in eastern Europe, which now belongs to the Russian empire, with the exception of a small part included in the East Prussian district of Gum-binnen, but which in the middle ages formed an independent state, and subsequently a great principality or grand duchy united with Poland. At the period of its greatest power in the 14th century it extended from the shores of the Baltic to those of the Black sea, and from the northern Bug to the Don. At the time of the first dismemberment of Poland, in 1772, it consisted of the palatinates of Wilna, Troki, Novogrodek, Brzesc (Brest), Vitebsk, Polock (Polotzk), and Mstislav, and the duchy of Samogitia; almost the whole of these territories is now included in the Russian governments of Wilna and Grodno, or Lithuania proper, Kovno, Vitebsk, Mohilev, Minsk, and Suwalki; area estimated at about 100,000 sq. m. Lithuania is generally a flat and low country, covered in great part with sand heaths, forests, marshes, and fens. The marshes of Pinsk, in the government of Minsk, are very extensive, and form a kind of dreary and gloomy desert. The principal rivers are the Niemen, Duna, Wilia, Dnieper, Beresina, and Pripet, all of which abound in fish.
The chief exportable productions are grains, flax, hemp, honey, timber, cattle, and horses. Among the wild animals are bears, wolves, elks, lynxes, wild hogs, foxes, and the aurochs or European bison, which is now confined exclusively to the great forests in the government of Grodno. The climate is moderate and healthy. The inhabitants consist chiefly of Lithuanians proper, Poles, Russians, Tartars, and Jews. - Lithuania is first mentioned under this name about the beginning of the 11th century, when the inhabitants were little more than half savages living on the rude products of their extensive forests. They were long tributary to various neighboring Russian principalities, and, having recovered their independence, became involved in the 13th century in a long struggle with the knights sword-bearers, who established themselves on the shores of the Baltic, and in connection with the Teutonic order subdued and converted the kindred pagan tribes of the Prussians and others. Though inferior to their enemies in the art of war, the Lithuanians not only maintained their freedom, but also commenced a series of aggressive wars with their eastern neighbors, and rapidly grew in power.
Rin-gold appears as the first great prince or grand duke of the united country before the middle of the 13th century. His son Mindog received the royal diadem from the pope after having adopted the Christian religion, and was crowned at Novogrodek, but soon relapsed into paganism. Under Gedimin, in the earlier part of the 14th century, Lithuania became a powerful state by the conquest of Volhynia, the principalities of Kiev and Tcher-nigov, and others. His son and successor, O1-gerd, even thrice appeared before the gates of Moscow. The son of the latter, Jagello, who married Hedvig, the daughter of King Louis of Hungary and Poland, becoming king of the latter country, united with it Lithuania, and converted his hereditary subjects to Christianity. Under Sigismund II. Augustus the two countries were still more closely united in 1569, though Lithuania retained separate armies, finances, and laws. (See Poland.) - The Lithuanian language, a branch of the Lettic (see Lettic Race), is spoken in parts of East Prussia, in Samogitia, and in Lithuania proper. Its close affinity to the Sanskrit and relation to other languages have been established by Bohlen, Bopp, Schleicher, and others.
The Latin form of writing was introduced with the religion of Rome. The vowels are the Italian a, e, i, (or y), o, u, the pronunciation of which is determined by the use of the three French accents (', ', A), and u (uo). The consonants are: b, c (as in Polish, like ts in English), c or cz (the Polish cz, Eng. tch), d, g (hard), i before vowels (Pol. j, Eng. y consonant), k;, l, t (resembling rl), m, n, p, r, s, sz (Eng. sh), t, w (Eng. v), z (as in English), z (Eng. j). There is no letter h. A dropped nasal sound is marked by a little line in the vowels. Like the Slavic tongues and the Latin, the Lithuanian has no article, and three genders for nouns and adjectives. There are seven cases of declension, the same as in Polish: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, vocative, instrumental, and locative. The noun has five forms of declension, depending upon the termination and gender. The comparative degree is formed by esnis or esne, the superlative by ausas or ansa. The numerals are: wienas (Lat. unus), du (Lat. duo), trys (Lat. tres), keturi (Lat. quatuor, Pol. cztery), penke (Pol. piec), szessi (Lat. sex, Pol. szesc), septyni (Lat. septem), asstuni (Lat. octo), dewyni (Pol. dziewiec), dessimti (Pol. dziestyc', Lat. decern), etc. The pronouns resemble those of most Indo-European languages.
The tenses of the verb are the present, imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, and future; it has conjunctive, factitive, inchoative, frequentative, and reciprocal forms, various participles, and a passive formed by auxiliaries. The language is rich in formatives and particles of every kind. Prepositions govern the cases of declension. Among the earlier grammars and dictionaries are those by Ruhig (1747) and Mielcke (1800), and the Polish-Latin-Lithuanian dictionary by the Jesuit Schyrnoid (died in 1631), whose sermons are the earliest extant work printed in the language. The most important works on the language are Schleicher's Handouch der litauischen Sprache (2 vols., Prague, 1856-'7), his Litauische Marchen, etc. (Vienna. 1857), and his edition of the Lithuanian verses of Donaleitis (St. Petersburg, 1865). There is hardly any Lithuanian literature, the principal productions being popular songs, religious and liturgical hymns, riddles, and other poetry.