Total population
c. 5.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Lithuania 2,563,325
Latvia 1,253,493
Baltic languages
Related ethnic groups
Slavs (mostly Belarusians, Kashubians and Pomeranians)
Map of the ancient Baltic homelands at the time of the Hunnish invasions (3rd-4th c. AD). Archaeology identifies Baltic cultural areas (in purple). The Baltic sphere originally covered Eastern Europe from the Baltic Sea to modern Moscow.
During the Migration Period (5th-6th c. AD), new cultures appear with new trade networks.
By the 7th-8th century CE, only Eastern Galindians can be culturally identified amidst the new Balto-Rus sphere of trade that swept over Eastern Europe.

The Balts or Baltic people (Lithuanian: baltai, Latvian: balti) are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group who speak the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family, originally spoken by tribes of central Eastern Europe in the west to the Moscow, Oka and Volga river basins in the east. The Baltic languages form a part of the wider group of Balto-Slavic languages.

One of the features of Baltic languages is the number of conservative or archaic features retained.[1] Among the Baltic peoples are modern Lithuanians, Latvians (including Latgalians) — all Eastern Balts — as well as the Old Prussians, Yotvingians and Galindians — the Western Balts — whose languages and cultures are now extinct.


Medieval German chronicler Adam of Bremen in the latter part of the 11th century AD was the first writer to use the term Baltic in its modern sense to mean the sea of that name.[2][3] Before him were various ancient places names, such as Balcia,[4] meaning a supposed island in the Baltic Sea.[2]

It should not be surprising that Adam, a speaker of German, might connect Balt- with "Belt", a word he was familiar with. However, lLinguistics has since established that Balt means white, cognate with Polish Biały. Common are Baltic words containing the stem balt-, "white",[5] which may also refer to shallow bodies of water including marshes.[citation needed]

In Germanic languages was some form of "East Sea" until after about 1600, when maps in English labeled it the “Baltic Sea.” By 1840, the German nobles of the Governorate of Livonia adopted the term "Balts" to distinguish themselves from Germans of Germany. They spoke an exclusive dialect, Baltic German. For many, that was the “Baltic language” until 1919.[6][7]

In 1845, Georg Heinrich Ferdinand Nesselmann proposed a distinct language group for Latvian, Lithuanian and Old Prussian—Baltic.[8] The term became prevalent after Latvia and Lithuania gained independence in 1918. Up until the early 20th century, either “Latvian” or “Lithuanian” could be used to mean the entire language family.[9]