SAMOGITIAN HISTORY, CULTURE

THE WORLD OF THE DEAD IN THE BALTS’ OUTLOOK (ON THE BASIS OF ARCHEOLOGICAL DATA)

V. Zulkus

  • In the present paper the location of the dead as imagined by the ancient Balts is determined on the basis of archaeological data referring ot the late Iron Age.

  • It has been started that a great resemblance is observed betveen the topographic situacion while the comparing the Lithuanion settlements and burialgrounds in the early Middle Ages. The main features of this fenomenon could be explained by the likness between the world model of the alive and the world model of the dead as they had existed in the Balts’ outlook. The exploratory data of four hundred Lithuanian burial- grouds indicate a close connection bettween the burial- grounds and the sphere of water which is exstremely distined in the western part of Lithuania, i. e., in the former lands of the Kursiai. The connection the water is reflected in the frequently mentioned fact that the older graves are located in the lower part of the burial- grounds, closer to water.

  • According to the prevalent opinion, the orientation of the dead as it had been habitual with ancient nations is liked with the dislocation idolized celestial bodies, this being one of the most important tribal sings, whereas the inconstancy of buryings can be partially explained by the influence of neighbouring tribes, nevertheless, it has bees stated that on the boundaries of the Kursiai, Zemaiciai, Zemgalian and Ladgalian lands, the burial- grounds are often orientated towards directions unpeculiar to neighbouring tribes (Fig. 1). The same phenomenon can be observed on the boundaries of other lands as well (Fig. 2). Different orientation of the dead in neighbouring burial- grounds belonging undoubtedly to the same tribe, makes, however have doubts as to the integrity of the world outlook within one tribe. Thus the following hypothesis has been formed: in the ,late Iron Age, the orienation of the Balt burials was mostly dependent on the direction towards the supposed land of the dead. The graves on the boundaries of tribes and different lands are very often orientated towards uninhabited inter- tribal spaces, where the world of the dead had been imagined to exist- beyond hills or lakes, beyond rivers or at their upper reaches, over the sea or in the woods - that corresponds completely to mythological data.

  • A great stability of tribal boundaries as well as peculiar hydronyms and toponyms met inter- tribal and inter- land spaces, where various accumulations of stones of religious worship are as usual as they are the boundaries of tribes and lands, and the stone statues referring to the time period between the middle of the 1st millenium and the 12th century on the outskirts of the ancient Prussian lands, testify sacralization of these spaces (Figs. 1-3).

  • In the course of the time, the orientation of the graves towards the imaginary world of the dead was changing gradually. The spread of cremation rites from the Prussian lands to territories settled by the Kursiai

  • and Zemaiciai brought a tendency of more western orientation. So, as well as in the earlier period the world of the dead in the Kursiai lands could be identified with the sea. In some Zemaiciai lands situated at a greater distance from the sea and not touched by the corpse cremation rites, the inter- tribal and inter- land spaces were supposed to be the imaginary world of the dead even in the latest periods of heathenism.

  • Finally, it should be started in conclusion that the early Middle Ages saw neither unified buyring rites, nor any unified imaginations of the world of the dead within the Balt tribes. The unified heathenic world outlook formation can be related to the development of the early State elements in some tribes. Then, already in the Lithuanian State, the unified world outlook and religion were formed only due to the Christianity.
Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 2000
Samogitian Museum ALKA, 2000

Last update 2012.12.05