Punsk: History


In the historical sources the names: Galindai and Sūduviai are mentioned for the first time in Ptolemy`s Geography in the 2nd century. In Latopis Kijowski from the 10th century it has been written: „Volodymir sets off for the Yotvingians”. The Nestor`s chronicle gives the name Jatvagi. In Polish historical sources – the prince Konrad Mazowiecki`s documents the name Yaczwagi is written down.
J. Długosz gives the name: Jaczwingi and the Order of Teutonic Knights` chronicles tell us about Terra Jatwezenorum. The Prussians called this nation Jotvings or Sudovia. The Lithuanians could name the Yotvingian territory or its part only Dainava. J. Nalepa thinks that Sūduviai lived in the north-western part of the Yotvingians` land (around Vilkaviškis and Kalvarija), Dainaviai lived in the west of Nemunas river (between Alytus and Merkinė), the Yotvingians lived around Suwałki (in Lithuanian Suvalkai) and in the south – Poleksiečiai – in Ełk, Augustów, Grajewo region. It is likely that these four tribes formed one nation known as the Yotvingians or Sūduviai, in Latvian Jatvingi, in Lithuanian Jotvingiai, in English the Yotvingians or the Yatvingians.

In the first centuries AD the Yotvingians` land reached the Prypeć river`s marshes in the east, Narew river in the south, the Great Lakes of Mazuras region in the west. The large number of the Yotvingian material culture`s remains have been found in Szurpiły, Szwajcaria, Prudziszki, Jegliniec (Šiurpilis, Šveicarija, Prūdiškės, Eglinė) in Suvalkija. In the 3rd and 4th centuries there was one of the biggest Yotvingian settlement`s center. The Yotvingians lived in a small ancestral centers dispersed in the wilderness. They had independent districts, there was no one centralized power. They always communicated among themselves when they were under threat to defend their land.
In Sūduva over 50 castle hills (piliakalnis) are known, they have been examined very little so far. In Szwajcaria near Suwałki a lot of objects from the 2nd and 3rd century, for example: bone tools, clay casting forms for metal, Roman coins, ceramics have been found. On the burial mound the skeleton of 55 year old man with a big amount of ornaments such: a sword in a wooden sheath, a leather belt with the bronze, silver and gold ornaments, the animals` figurines, two javelins` blades and other objects have been found. On the castle hill in Jegliniec
(9 km from Puńsk) the remains of the Yotvingian settlement from 11th and 13th centuries have been found. The Polish archeologists examined the castle hill some time ago. They gathered a lot of material about the Yotvingians` life and fights, they found ceramics and bone objects and a rich collection of jewellery.
6 kilometers from Sejny (Seinai) there is piliakalnis in Klejwy (Klevai) surrounded by three lakes. Its northern hillside has been adapted to defensive targets. The hill – excellent for strategic targets – is situated in a good and inaccessible place. Now we do not know why the works on piliakalnis has not been finished by the Yotvingians.
The archeological excavations show how the Yotvingians lived, huntered and organized the expeditions on the Slavs` land. Their most typical weapon was: bows, shields, javelins. They were known as very brave people, they used very specific fight`s strategy, they chiefs were very wise and that all let them oppose to much more stronger people: the Poles, the Russians, the Order of Teutonic Knights and the Tartars.

The most important for the Yotvingians were 12th and 13th centuries. When the Order of Teutonic Knights had taken control of the Prussians` land, they started destructive invasions on the Yotvingians` land. They invaded each castle and settlement. The war between the Order of Teutonic Knights and the Yotvingians lasted 4 years (1279-1283). The Teutonic Knights, although they were not so numerous, did not manage to colonize grabbed Yotvingian territory. Even belonging to them the western part of the Yotvingians` land was settled by the Lithuanians.
It is difficult to estimate the Yotvingians` number left after 1283. The German chronicle from 1326 made a note: „And Sūduva has been desolated until now”. But preserved till now the Yotvingian water and lakes` names show something different.
The Yotvingians` land separated the Order of Teutonic Knights and Lithuania. The Teutonic Knights through the Yotvingian forests went on the military expeditions against the Lithuanians and the Lithuanian knights went to conquer the enemy`s castles. The Lithuanians fighting against the Teutonic Knights tried neither to strenghten on the Yotvingians` territory nor to colonize it. The Lithuanian king Mindaugas gave the Yotvingians` land and part of Žemaitija to the Teutonic Knights many times. The Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas did the same three times. The affiliation of the Yotvingians` land could had already been decided during the battle in Grunwald in 1410 but it was not mentioned in Toruń treaty. It had been definitively decided after the new war between Poland and Lithuania against the Order of Teutonic Knights ended by the peace treaty in Melno in 1422. In this treaty there was mentioned that Sūduva (Jotav) had been handed over to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
During the reign of Vytautas the Yotvingians` land was especially the territory where people had hunted. People were interested in the forest economy only in the reign of prince Kazimierz. The first settlers started arriving at the wilderness.

At the end of 18th century as a result of a partition of Poland the ancient Yotvingians` land had been ruled by the Prussians and later became a part of the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland. In those times Sūduva experienced the years of hunger, epidemics and World Wars.
In the time of reviving the independence of Lithuania and Poland the conflict of the southern Sūduva started. The withdrawing German administration supported the Lithuanian claims but could not help in their realization. The superpowers of Western Europe decided about Polish-Lithuanian border benefiting Poland, they did not take into consideration the Lithuanian ethnographic and economic businesses. After Polish-Lithuanian fights in 1920 Lithuania was forced to take the border without the southern Sūduva.
Before the Second World War the ancient Yotvingians` land became a center of conflict between Russia and Germany. Lithuania stayed on the sphere of Soviet influence and the southern Sūduva was given to the Hitlerian Germany. In 1939-1944 the Germans started the colonization and Germanization of this land. The Lithuanian organizations and schools were closed and most residents were displaced to Lithuania. After the Second World War the territory of the southern Yotvingians` land remained in Poland again.

The contemporary landscape of the Yotvingians` land formed after the glacier had withdrawn which had covered this territory during thousands years. In Sūduva there are more elevations till the height 60-70 m above sea level (there is the lowest places in the lower reaches of Szeszupa (Šešupė) river – 50 m above sea level, the highest one – Mount Rowelska (Ravelių kalnas) near Wiżajny (Vižainis) – 299,1 m above sea level). Among the rivers in Sūduva we should mention: Czarna Hańcza, Biała Hańcza, Marycha (Juodoji Ančia, Baltoji Ančia, Seina) and Szeszupa.
Szeszupa is the biggest (the first is Nemunas) river on the Yotvingians` land and it is its biggest tributory here. It takes its beginning not far from Czarna Hańcza near Szeszupka (Šešupėlė) village. There is not much water in Szeszupa. In the spring, from time to time, it floods nearby meadows but in the summer and in the winter the water`s level lowers so much that its smaller tributories completely dry or freeze over. The name Szeszupa can be related to the Indian word šišara which means „cold, cool”. So the name Szeszupa could mean cool river.
Czarna Hańcza – the second big river on this land – flows back Hańcza lake and across Wigry (Vygriai) lake heads to the south-eastern till Nemunas river.
The name of the biggest river in Sejny region – Seina, which is known only as Marycha in Polish, derives from the Yotvingian language. In Lithuanian it has a few names: in the upper reaches of the river flowing back near Szołtany  (Šaltėnai) is also called Marycha (Šalčia) and flows in Boksze (Bokšai) lake but flows back as Juodoji to reach Seinai lake. There it changes the name again and as Seina through Seinai and Degucie (Degučiai) village heads for Pomorze (Mara) lake where changing its name one more time it is called Marycha flows in Czarna Hańcza. In the lower reaches Marycha (Mara) becomes a big river.
In the southern part of the Yotvingians` land there are bigger lakes: Wiżajny, Hańcza (one of the deepest in Europe), Szelment, Szurpiły, Sejny, Sejwy, Szejpiszki, Płaskie, Zelwa, Gaładuś, Sztabinki, Punia (Vižainis, Ančia, Šelmentas, Šiurpilis, Seinas, Seivis, Klevas, Klevaitis, Želva, Galadusis, Stabingis, Punia).


Lithuanian's in Poland