Out of the three so-called Baltic republics, Lithuania is the largest by landmass.

There are in total about 4 million Lithuanians in the world, only 3 million of which live in Lithuania. The rest lives in other countries, especially in the USA.

The Lithuanian language has long been considered one of the most archaic Indo-European languages; it is probably also the oldest still-spoken Indo-European language. The original motivation behind the Lithuanian language research was the intention to learn the Indo-European “proto-language”; it is believed that Lithuanian preserves many original forms and language features. Sometimes it is even (half-jokingly) referred to as still living Sanskrit.

The capital of Lithuania, Vilnius, is among the most beautiful in Europe. Its historical centre with countless baroque sites is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Basketball is extremely popular in Lithuania. It is the national sport of Lithuania (and a religion...). The Žalgiris Kaunas team (“Grunwald Kaunas”) is a phenomenon even worldwide.

The University of Vilnius, with its main seat in a beautiful and valuable campus (both historically and architectonically), is the oldest university east of Vienna.

Since ancient times, the Baltic area has always been one of the most prominent amber fields. Archaeological research in the territory of Lithuania has unearthed a number of pieces of jewellery and other amber artefacts; this precious stone (actually fossilised resin) also plays an important role in Lithuanian folklore and mythology. Amber was traded along the so-called Amber Road from the Baltics to the south, all the way to Italy, Greece, and even Egypt.

Lithuania is currently one of the leaders in the field of modern laser technologies and biotechnologies. Experts in these branches are respected worldwide; in laser technologies, Lithuania is even in the top ten globally, both in research and in production and export.

Historical trivia

Did you know that Lithuania was the last European country to accept Christianity?

It happened in 1387; mind you, one Lithuanian region, Žemaitija, was baptised as late as 1413. (To compare: Bohemia and Moravia accepted Christianity as early as the 9th century.) It was one of the reasons Lithuania maintained its unique nature for a long time and remained independent of the then centre of European civilisation.

Did you know that Czech kings Přemysl Otakar II, John of Luxembourg and Charles IV all took part in crusades to Lithuania?

Lithuanian pagans often clashed with Christian Europe on the battlefield; among the Christian leaders were indeed also the abovementioned Czech kings (it was the Baltic pagans who cost John of Luxembourg his eye). Wars with military orders and crusades were par for the course; victory and defeat happened often on both sides. The Lithuanian fighters reached the height of their glory in the Battle of Grunwald in 1413 when the crusader forces suffered devastating defeat (and allegedly, Jan Žižka, the Czech military leader, lost an eye to the Baltic warriors there). The territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at that time stretched from the Baltic Sea to the shores of the Black Sea.

Did you know that the Jagiellonian dynasty, two members of which also sat on the Czech throne, was actually Lithuanian?

The first historically recorded ruler of the Jagiellonian dynasty was prince Gediminas, who later became a character in several Lithuanian legends. Members of the dynasty ruled not only Lithuania, but also Poland, the Czech Kingdom and Hungary.

Did you know that the first constitution in Europe came into force in Lithuania?

It was in 1791 in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The famed French constitution of the same year came into force later. It is the second oldest constitution worldwide, preceded only by the United States Constitution.

Did you know that smugglers can play an important role in spreading culture?

In the late 19th century, when Lithuania was part of the Russian empire that forbade the use of any script other than the Cyrillic script, smugglers did join the fight for preservation of Lithuanian culture. Books were printed in Prussia, using the Latin alphabet – the traditional alphabet of choice for Lithuanian – and subsequently smuggled across the Lithuanian border by knygnešiai (“book carriers”) – smugglers who agreed to add books to their secret cargo. In today’s Lithuania, their contribution to the preservation of Lithuanian culture is very much appreciated.

Famous people

Renowned writer Adam Mickiewicz wrote in Polish, but he unwaveringly considered himself Lithuanian (at that time, national identity was perceived differently, and especially concerning language it was a very complicated question.)

An accomplished American film director, Jonas Mekas also is Lithuanian by birth. He is considered to be one of the founding fathers of American avant-garde cinematography. He was on friendly terms and co-operated with – to name but a few - Andy Warhole, Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Salvador Dalí. And last but not least, he was one of the initiators of the impressive project of Anthology Film Archive – one of the largest archives of avant-garde films in the world.

Also, George Marciunas, whose birth name was Jurgis Marčiūnas, an avant-garde artist of world renown, was of Lithuanian ancestry. Like Jonas Mekas, he lived and worked in exile – in New York, to be precise. It was he who contributed to the world of modern art by founding Fluxus - the international movement of artists, composers and designers (which, by the way, has its roots in the 1950’s, in John Cage’s experimental music).

The world-renowned Marija Gimbutienė (who also used the male version of her surname “Gimbutas”, for non-Lithuanian speakers’ convenience), combined archaeology with linguistics, ethnology and religious studies in her work, thus creating the new field of archaeomythology. While other archaeologists were content with discovering artefacts and describing them, Gimbutienė started to interpret them and to explain the meaning ascribed to them by their owners. She was one of the pioneers of the theory that some prehistoric societies were matriarchal.

World-renowned linguist Algirdas Julius Greimas laid the foundation of French semiotics, earning an indisputable place in the history of linguistics; he also co-founded the Paris school of semiotics. One of his major achievements is introducing the concept of isotopy into linguistics. Later, he devoted his life to the research and reconstruction of Lithuanian mythology.

Further information

Essential Lithuania 2010 (Travel Channel): A short documentary; a brief introduction to Lithuania – its glorious past, the most impressive historical sites and places worth visiting, plus Lithuanian culture and traditions as well as contemporary life.

Virtual historical Vilnius: An interactive website dedicated to the capital, Vilnius, including a virtual tour of the historical campus “Vilnius University Ensemble”.

Basic Lithuanian phrases

Good day! / Hello! Laba diena!
Hi! Labas!
My name is Jan Novák. Mano vardas – Janas Novakas.
What’s your name? Koks tavo vardas?
I am from Czechia. Aš esu iš Čekijos.
Where are you from? Iš kur tu esi?
How are you? Kaip sekasi?
I am fine, and you? Man sekasi gerai, o tau?
Thank you. Ačiū.
You’re welcome. Nėra už ką.


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