Documentary about Curonian tribe

A Latvian documentary about the Curonian(Kursi) tribe to be premiered in Riga’s oldest cinema – the Splendid Palace


Directed by brothers Lauris and Raitis Ābele this movie tells the story of one of the most fierce warriors that lived in modern Latvia’s territory – the Curonian tribe, one of 4 major tribes that lived and ruled here before the Northern Crusades. Almost 30 minutes long, the film shows ancient Curonian pagan traditions that were kept alive long after the introduction of Christianity, their fight against the crusader knights in Western Latvia and with the Swedish and Danes in Scandinavia (the Danish records show Curonians as merciless fighters) and how their history shaped that of Latvia.

One of the main reminders of Curonians today is the name of Western Latvia – Courland(Kurzeme), that was their lands before 13th century Christian invasion that the Curonians themselves fiercely resisted for over 6 decades. In 1210 they attacked Livonian order’s main stronghold – newly founded city of Riga, besieging it for several days, but never managed to take it. One of their biggest victories over Livonian Order was in 1260, when during the battle of Durbe, together with Lithuanian Samogitian tribe they defeated the order, that triggered numerous rebellions in the region against the weakened Teutonic knights, like the Great Prussian Uprising. Nevertheless, Curonians were conquered in 1266 and slowly merged with other Latvian tribes.

After being turned to Christianity their pagan religion and especially traditions didn’t disappear right away, some sources suggest they were kept alive until 19th century. Their language, on the other hand, went extinct during 16th century when peasants were prohibited from speaking it and forced to speak Latvian. There are no written records of Curonian language, but linguists argue Latvian and Lithuanian dialects retain some words and influences.

Curonian kings is also an interesting chapter in their history. They were the descendants of the old rulers of Curonian lands, that in exchange for their support for Christians got to keep their privileges and land. During the Duchy of Courland times they lost them, but when the Duchy became part of Russian empire, the elite status was restored. In different censuses they would not be counted together with Latvian serfs or free peasants, but as a separate ethnic group, and apparently didn’t intermarry with other Latvians that often. During the 1929 agrarian reform of Latvia the Curonian king families got their lands partitioned just like the German barons and today the only reminder of their ancestry would be their last names.