The Semigallian land of Gruzdžiai

Ilona Vaškevičiūtė

Gruzdžiai is the area where the lands of three Baltic tribes joined together: Samogitians (Žemaičiai) in the west, Uplanders (Aukštaičiai) in the east, and Semigallians (Žiemgaliai) in the west. The town of Gruzdžiai is in the historical land of Semigallia. There is one mound and several burial sites, the items from which dated as far as the 3rd–16th centuries reached museums. 

Semigallians–a Baltic tribe–inhabited the area situated in the present-day North Lithuania and South Latvia from the Gulf of Riga in the north to the northern outskirts of Šiauliai and Panevėžys cities, and from the Venta River in the west to the Apaščia River in the east. Semigallians used to bury the dead unburned in flat cemeteries laying the men and women in opposite directions with rich burial items. Broad battle knife-swords laid across the pelvis, as well as 3–4 spears, a brooch and a bracelet on the left hand were typical for men burials. Women used to be buried with a headband, a pair of pins, two bracelets, a hoe, and a knife with curved top.

In 1290, when the Sidabrė Castle was burnt, the fights between the Semigallians and the Sword-bearers ended. The northern part of Semigallia was joined to the Livonia, while the southern part went to the Lithuanian Grand Principality; however, the population decreased severely, and the area was under-populated. Only after 200–300 years, people from the present-day Aukštaitija (Uplanders) and Žemaitija (Samogitia) moved here, the churches were being built, manors formed, and villages grown. 

Today it is not possible to relate directly the local people with the Semigallians, but the locals speak about their roots being in Semigallia. So, Gruzdžiai dwellers also can proudly call themselves the Semigallians.