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Ethnographic regions of Lithuania.
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Samogitia (Samogitian: Žemaitėjė, , literally lowlands) is one of the five ethnographic regions of Lithuania. It is located in northwestern Lithuaniamarker. Its largest city is Šiauliaimarker/Šiaulē. The region has a long and distinct cultural history, reflected in the existence of the Samogitian dialect. Its status as a dialect rather than as an ISO-recognized language was challenged in the 2000s.

Etymology and alternate names

Old Russian sources mentioned the region as Žomaiti; this gave rise to its Polish form, Żmudź, and to the Middle High German Samaythen, which was Latinized as Samogitia. The region is also known in English as Lower Lithuania and in Yiddish as Zhmud.

Geography

The region is located in northwestern Lithuaniamarker in the territories of Palanga city municipalitymarker, Rietavas municipality, Tauragė district municipality, Šilalė district municipality, Skuodas district municipality, Jurbarkas district municipality, Mažeikiai district municipality, Kretinga district municipality, Plungė district municipality, Telšiai district municipality, Akmenė district municipalitymarker, Kelmė district municipality, Šiauliai district municipality, Raseiniai district municipality, eastern parts of Klaipėda district municipality and Šilutė district municipalitymarker, western part of Joniškis district municipality, also the Šiauliai city municipalitymarker. The largest city is Šiauliaimarker, or Klaipėdamarker if the latter is considered in the region. Telšiaimarker is the capital, although Medininkai (now Varniaimarker) was once the capital of the Eldership of Samogitia. The largest cities (those with over 20,000 inhabitants) are (Samogitian name, if different, is provided after slash):

Demographics and language

The people of Samogitia speak Samogitian, a dialect of Lithuanian that was previously considered one of 3 main dialects (modern linguists have determined that it is one of two dialects, the other being Aukštaitian, and that both of these dialects have 3 subdialects each). Samogitian has northern and southern subdialects (which are further subdivided). A western subdialect once existed in the Klaipėda region, but it became extinct after World War II after its inhabitants fled the region, as a result of being expelled or persecuted by the Sovietmarker authorities (since the 16th or even 15th century the Samogitians of the Klaipėda region called themselves "Lietuvininkai", and since the end of 19th century they called themselves "Prūsai"; after World War II the territory of the western subdialect was resettled mainly by northern and southern Samogitians, and by other Lithuanians also).

Samogitia is one of the most ethnically homogenous regions of the country, with an ethnic Lithuanian population exceeding 99.5% in some districts; in the 1st part of 19th century it was a major center of Lithuanian culture (Samogitians traditionally tended to oppose any anti-Lithuanian restrictions). The region is predominantly Roman Catholic, although there are significant Lutheran minorities in the south.

The use of the Samogitian dialect is decreasing as more people tend to use standard Lithuanian, although there have been some minor attempts by local councils, especially in Telšiaimarker, to write certain roadside information in Samogitian as well.

History

The modern concept of "dialectological" Samogitia appeared only by the end of 19th century. The territory of ancient Samogitia was much larger, than current ethnographic, or "dialectological" Samogitia, and embraced all of Central and Western Lithuania.

The very term "Samogitians" (Žemaičiai in Lithuanian) is a Latinized form of the ancient Lithuanian name for the region's lowlanders, who dwelt in Central Lithuania's lowlands. The original subethnic Samogitia, i.e. the Central Lithuania's flat burial grounds culture, was formed as early as the 5th-6th centuries, whereas the Western part of historical Samogitia became ethnically Lithuanian between the 13th-16th centuries, – before that time it was inhabited by southern Semigallians and southern Curonians. The primal eastern boundary of historical Samogitia was the Šventoji Rivermarker (a tributary of the Neris Rivermarker), and from the end of the 13th century (approximately about that time the Lithuanian ruler Vytenis had expanded the territory of his domain in Aukštaitija at the expense of Samogitia) it ran along the Nevėžis River.

Due to the fact, that in 13-16th centuries the Teutonic order and the Livonian order bordered Samogitia, it was always threatened by their expansionist aims. As such, Samogitian territory was offered to these Orders, or exchanged in peace treaties, a number of times. Lithuania would regain Samogitia back again in subsequent conflicts.

For more than two hundred years, Samogitia played a central role in Lithuania’s wars against the crusading order of the Teutonic Knights (Knights of the Cross and Knights of the Sword). Invasions started in Lithuania in 1229. Combined military forces undertook numerous campaigns against Samogitians and Aukstaitians. Saule (1236), Skuodas (1239), Durbe (1260), Lievarde (1261) are just a few of the battles that took place. Since Samogitia was the last pagan region in Europe left to be invaded and christened, Teutonic order set their sights on this last mission. Between 1345 and 1382, the Knights of the Cross attacked from Prussia some 70 times, while the Livonian Knights of the Sword made 30 military forays. Year after year fortresses were attacked, farms and crops were put to the torch, women and children enslaved and men killed. Despite all their effort, Samogitians managed to defend their lands until 1410 decisive battle of Grunwaldmarker, where united Polish-Lithuanian forces defeated Teutonic order and ended their crusading era.

In the 15th century, Samogitia was the last region in Europe to be converted to Christianity. During the 15-18th centuries, it was known as the Duchy or Eldership of Samogitia, which included some territories of what is now considered Aukštaitija and Suvalkija as well. The Duchy, or the Eldership of Samogitia was an administrative unit similar to a voivodeship in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

After the partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Samogitia was incorporated into the Russian Empiremarker along with the rest of Lithuania.

Samogitia was the main source of the Lithuanian cultural revival in the 19th century, and was a focal point for the smuggling of books printed in the banned Lithuanian language.

After World War I, the region became a part of the newly re-established Lithuanian State. The Samogitians resisted the Bolsheviks, the Bermontians, and the Poles in 1919–1920, only to be occupied by the Soviet Unionmarker in 1940, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

In 1945, the Soviets denied the existence of the Lithuania Minor ethnographic region due to political concerns, declaring the Klaipėda region a part of Samogitia.

Tourism

Samogitia has a huge potential for tourism development, due to its natural beauty, cultural and historical heritage. Samogitia is attractive for many local and international tourists. Most popular tourist destinations are Palangamarker, Kretingamarker and Žemaičių Kalvarijamarker. Majority of the tourists come from Latviamarker, Polandmarker, Germanymarker, Spainmarker, Finlandmarker and Swedenmarker.

Palangamarker is popular tourist destination among tourists from the United Kingdommarker, Germanymarker and Russiamarker.

Žemaičių Kalvarijamarker (or New Jerusalemmarker as it used to be called) is very popular among pilgrims from all around the World, due to its annual The Great Žemaičių Kalvarija Church Festival (usually in June or July).

Politics

Samogitia historically was an autonomous region in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, although it lost this status once Lithuania was annexed by the Russian Empiremarker following the Third Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1795 as a part of the Vilna Governorate. In 1843, the region was incorporated into the Kovno Governorate, with a minor part of it being attached to the Courland Governorate. Since then the region has not had a separate political status, although there have been some plans to administratively reform Lithuania into the traditional ethnocentric regions.

Currently Samogitia is represented by the Samogitian cultural society, a group interested in preserving Samogitian culture and language, and the Žemaitijos parlamentas (literally Parliament of Samogitia), which concerns itself with regional autonomy based on historical claims. These claims often include the Klaipėda region in the interwar and would claim Klaipėdamarker rather than Telšiaimarker as the capital. The same group, led by Justinas Burba and having a small membership, has also published the controversial newspaper Žemaitijos parlamentas, which raised the idea that the European Union should repay Samogitia for its defense of Europe against the Mongols.

Historic coat of arms of Samogitia
Historic flag of Samogitia
Current Grand Coat of Arms of Samogitia region.

Symbols

The coat of arms depicts a black bear with silver claws and collar on a red shield topped with a crown.

The flag of Samogitia depicts the coat of arms on a white background. It is a non-rectangular flag ending in two triangles, rather than the rectangular flag typically used. The only official non-rectangular flags are those of Nepal and of Ohio, USA.

Both symbols are assumed to have been in use for centuries, especially the coat of arms (differing claims assert it was first used in the 14th or 16th centuries). The symbols were used by the Eldership of Samogitia. These are the oldest symbols of the Lithuanian ethnographic regions.

Because Samogitia does not correspond to any current administrative division of Lithuania, these symbols are not officially used. However, they might come back into use if Lithuania undergoes administrative reform in the future.

On 21 July 1994 these symbols were recognized by the government of the Lithuanian Republic.

Notes and references

  1. [1] "Samogitia (history)", Simas Suziedielis


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