The forgotten tribe of Selonians

The colored part of map is Selonia

There is much to say about Curonians, Semigallians and Latgalians. But what about Selonians? Indeed history of Selonian tribe sheds in mystery, because there no popular stories to tell about them. They are discussions whether  the Selonians could be called an independent tribe or just assimilated subjects of Latgalians.  The knowledge about Selonians today is so weak that even region of Selonia is recognized as a Latvian region in rare cases.  Historically the region inhabited by Selonians is mostly aligned to Semigallia, because it was a long time part of the Duchy of Courland and Semigallia. Even some present day Selonians denies the fact that they are living in Selonia rather than Semigallia. The other name for Selonian land is Augšzeme (The Upper Land) is sometimes used. Most recently thanks to the new regional reform two Selonian counties were now considered as a part of Latgalia.  Such action was against any historical-cultural basis because those two districts never were in any way connected with Latgalia. This was met with disappointment and protest by locals who insisted they were Selonians not Latgalians.

Despite the calls for Selonian national efforts there is much truth in arguments arguing that Selonians are very close to Latgalians.  The early Selonians were much lesser developed than other Latvian tribes and were anthropologically close to Latgalians. Their burying practices were in many ways same as Latgalian and there were little differences in the way of dress from Latgalians. Despite that the main written    historical source about early Latvians- the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia tells that despite the large Latgalian influence, Selonians still preserved their identity as the Selonians. The national identification is one the most important arguments to call some group of people and sovereign tribe or even nation.  We can say that Selonians while heavily influenced by Latgalians were different tribe and the region of Selonia can be named so.

The main centers of the Selonians were Koknese and Aizkraukle were wooden fortresses have been built with towns around them.  Another Selonian center was Sēļpils (The Selonian Castle) which is considered as capitol of Selonian statehood.

The Crusaders crushed the Selonian resistance with ease. Selonia was property of Livonian order. The main center was crusader built fortress of Koknese. After the fall of Livonia the Courland Dukes established new centers in Selonia. The Jekabpils or Jakobstatdwas named after Duke Jakob Kettler. The city grew rapidly during the centuries. At Soviet Era it was merged with much older city Krustpils (Kreutzburg) , (The cross city) which stood right across the river of the Daugava.  The other city established at that time was Jaunjelgava (The New Jelgava), Friedrichstadt, as it was named at that time derived from other Courlandian Duke Friedrich. Jaunjelgava did not manage to become a big center but rather a small town. In the Soviet Era when the new hydroelectric power station was built the new city named Stučka was founded. It was named after the famous Latvian communist leader Pēteris Štučka. After the fall of the Soviet Union the city was renamed to Aizkraukle (The Aftercrows) because it was an historical site of mentioned above Selonian center.  Aizkraukle is a large modern center located next to the Pļaviņu Hydroelectric power station which was named after an another smaller town Pļaviņas (The Grasslands).

Selonia is land of low plains and forests its main river is Daugava which stands as natural river. The Soviet practice of building hydroelectric plants has changed the width of the Daugava. Such natural wonder as a cliff of Staburags now lies under the sea level. There is also a large portion of Koknese flooded and other places near Daugava. It was luck that building of another hydroelectric plant near Daugavpils was cancelled, for it could destroy Daugava’s natural course completely (there are also two more hydroelectric plants before the Pļaviņu plant).

Today the most Latvian archaeologist’s recognise Selonians as integral tribe, there is still need to recognise Selonia as an sovereign region of Latvia, not as the part of Semigallia or Latgalia. If you drive thought Selonia and meet the locals you probably see that they differ from people of Senmigallia and Latgalia and the land of Selonia is not as Semigallia and Latgalia.


Selected Sources:

Vasks,Andrejs. Vaska,Baiba and Grāvere, Rita. (1997) Latvijas Aizvēsture 8500 g. pr. Kr.-1200. g pēc. Kr. Riga:  Zvaigzne ABC

Strods, Heinrihs. (2011) Sēlija senāk un tagad. Riga: Jumava.

Demberga, Aija. (2008) Selonia. Riga:  Nacionālais Apgāds.



Comments Off on The forgotten tribe of Selonians

Filed under Historical Articles

Comments are closed.