Myths of Latvian History

The following are a couple of myths that some Latvians believe about their history. They are NOT TRUE:

Latvians came from the Himalayas

Myth: The original Latvian homeland was in the foothills of the Himalayas. This is shown by the strong similiarity between the Baltic languages (Latvian and Lithuanian) and Sanskrit (the ancestor language of Hindi, Urdu, etc.).

Fact: There is a strong similarity between many words in Sanskrit and in Latvian or Lithuanian. Take a look at the following examples:

Sanskrit Latvian Lithuanian meaning
vīra vīrs vyras man
pāda pēda pėda foot
akṣi acs akis eye
aṣṭa astoņi aštuoni eight
catur četri keturi four
śatam simts šimtas hundred
udaka ūdens vanduo, vandenys water
śunī, śvan suns šuo dog

However, there is an equally strong similarity between Sanskrit and many (existing or extinct) languages of Europe (and elsewhere). Take a look at the following examples, which compare Sanskrit to Latin, Ancient Greek, and Russian:

Sanskrit Latin meaning Sanskrit Greek meaning Sanskrit Russian meaning
sarpa serpens snake pitā patēr father dva, dve, dvau dva, dve two
hima hiems snow, winter bhrātṛ phratēr brother tri tri three
mātṛ māter mother sapta hepta seven bhūrja berjoza birch
yakṛt iecur [yekur] liver pañca pente five daśa desat' ten
haṃsa anser goose tri, triha trias three vṛka volk wolf

In fact, one can even find similarities between Sanskrit and Old English: compare Sansk. duhitṛ and Old Eng. dohtor 'daughter', or Sansk. hṛdaya and Old Eng. heorte 'heart'.

All of these languages have similarities because they are descended from the same ancestor language, which linguists call Proto-Indo-European. The great majority of languages currently spoken in Europe, India, Afghanistan, and Iran belong to this Indo-European family of languages.

There are no written records of Proto-Indo-European, but linguists estimate that it was spoken approximately 8,000 - 4,000 B.C.E. The exact location where Proto-Indo-European was first spoken is difficult to determine. However, the most commonly-accepted theories place it somewhere in Europe. Here are a few maps that illustrate the probable origin and later spread of the Indo-European-speaking peoples:

The Indo-European homeland, according to Lothar Kilian
(from: Utah State University course: USU 1320: History and Civilization )

Die Mutmaßliche Urheimat der Indogermanen
(from: University of Colorado at Denver course; Prof. T. J. Phillips)

Map of Indo European migrations from ca. 4000 to 1000 BC according to the Kurgan model
(from: Wikipedia: Kurgan migrations)

As you can see from these maps, the original homeland of the Indo-Europeans was probably north of the Black Sea, or between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It was NOT at the foothills of the Himalayas.

Instead, an off-shoot of the Indo-Europeans, who we refer to as the Indo-Iranians, moved south into what is present-day Iran, then eastward into Afghanistan, and finally into northern India. This is how the speakers of Sanskrit arrived in northern India. Modern Indo-Iranian languages include: Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Punjabi, Farsi (Persian), Kurdish, and Pashto.

Some Indo-European links:

There are many possible printed sources. One of my major sources is:

O'Grady, William and John Archibald. 2000. Contemporary Linguistic Analysis. Toronto: Addison, Wesley, Longman. ISBN 0-201-47812-9. Particularly useful is Chapter 8: The Classification of Languages.

Whatever you read, please ignore the theories of Gamkrelidze and Ivanov; they are IDIOTS.

Empress Catherine was Latvian

Myth: The Russian Empress Catherine I (wife of Tsar Peter the Great) was Latvian.

Catherine I, Empress of Russia Fact: Her name (before she converted to the Russian Orthodox faith and took the name Catherine) was Martha Skavronskaya. Much of her early life is unclear, but the following is from an extremely reliable source:

(The quoted material below is from pp. 371-2 of "Peter the Great; his Life and World" by Robert K. Massie. Massie researched this material for over a decade, and the book won him the the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1981.)

" . . . [Martha] was one of four children of a Lithuanian peasant . . . named Samuel Skavronsky. Skavronsky had moved from Lithuania, and settled in the Swedish province of Livonia, where, in 1684, in the village of Ringen near Dorpat, Martha was born. [ Ringen = Röngu; Dorpat = Tartu; both are in Estonia; see these maps] When she was still an infant, her father died of plague, followed soon after by her mother. The destitute children were scattered, and Martha was taken into the family of Pastor Ernst Gluck, a Lutheran minister of Marienburg. [ Marienburg = Alūksne, Latvia ] . . . That she was not considered a full member of the family seems likely since, in this relatively well-educated household, no effort was made to educate her and she left the Gluck family unable to read or write."

As you can see, her parents were NOT Latvian, and she was NOT born in Latvia. The only connection she has to Latvia is that she lived for several years in Marienburg (now Alūksne), in the household of a German minister.

As for how she became the Empress of Russia, there are lots of sources to look at. Try these two for starters:

My major source: Massie, Robert K. 1980. Peter the Great; his Life and World. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-50032-6. Historian Robert K. Massie studied American history at Yale and modern European history at Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar.

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A. Steinbergs

Last revised September 18, 2008