Bank of Lithuania
Commemorative coin

Dedicated to Suvalkija (from the series "Lithuanian Ethnographic Regions")


Proginė moneta



Ethnographic Suvalkija is the land in Lithuania’s southwest, covering the northern part of historical Sūduva (Sudovia), also known as Užnemunė [beyond the Nemunas river].

Suvalkija was named after the Suwałki town, because when Tsarist Russia established the Suwałki Governorate in Congress Poland, the Suwałki town became the centre of the region. Beforehand, following the division of the Commonwealth of the Two Nations (or the Kingdom of Poland) and incorporation in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prussia and Russia, in 1795 the užnemunis of the Duchy of Samogitia and of the Trakai Voivodeship was transferred to Prussia and formed part of New East Prussia. These lands went to the Duchy of Warsaw in 1807, and all of Užnemunė (Занемонье-Zaniemonjė) devolved to the Russian Empire in 1815.


In 1915, Bronius Kazys Balutis drew up the first map of Suvalkija, in which the geographical scope of the land was in line with the territory of the Suwałki Governorate. Juozapas Radziukynas (1908) had a similar view of the territory of the Suwałki Governorate. Over time, the geographical scope and cultural content of the land of Suwałki, Suvalkija, the land of the Suvalkiečiai people, became narrower and acquired an ethnocultural and linguistic meaning, because to the south of the region were the Dzūkai people and Užnemunės Dzūkija.

In ancient times, Sūdinai (Soudinos) lived in these lands. They were first mentioned in Geography by the Greek geographer Claudius Ptolemy around 150−160 CE. The land-name Sūduva (Zudua) was first used in 1240 in the Danish Census Book. The origin of the name Sūduva can be traced to the Sūduonia stream (left tributary of the Šešupė, flowing in Marijampolė and Kalvarija districts), which means a quagmire in a marshland, an eye, and a throat.

Proginė moneta

Proginė moneta

Proginė moneta


In 1326, Peter of Dusburg categorised the Sudovians (Sudomite) together with the Galindai as part of the Prussian tribes in his chronicle. In the Middle Ages, the land of Sūduva was associated with Jotva, the land of the Yotvingians. The Lithuanian rulers Vytautas the Great and Jogaila, in a letter to the Teutonic Knights, described the “land of the Sudovians and the Getvai (Jotviai)” as stretching between the lands of Lithuanians and Prussians. The historians Ksawery Bohusz and Joachim Lelewel linked (or equated) the Sudovians with the Prussians and Yotvingians. According to Kazimieras Būga and Zigmas Zinkevičius, the language of the Sudovians and Yotvingians was similar to that of the Prussians.

In 1283, the Teutonic Knights completely conquered the western part of Sūduva, most of their leaders died, and those who surrendered to the Teutonic Order were deported to Semba. In the 14–15th century other lands of Sudovians, along with the entire north-west corner of Užnemunė were alternately owned by the Lithuanian Duchy of Samogitia and the Duchy of Trakai, and the Teutonic Order. As a result of the wars with the Teutonic Knights, the lands of Sūduva were slowly deserted and taken over by forests. It is also evidenced by the names of these lands traced from the 17th century: Užgiris, Užgirio trakas (traktas) (in Polish: Trakt Zapuszczański). After the conclusion of the Peace Treaty of Melno in 1422, the name of Sūduva was forgotten because, following the return to Lithuania, Užnemunė was redistributed into a long-term part of the Duchy of Samogitia and of the Trakai Voivodeship. The rulers of Lithuania and Poland encouraged new settlers to come to these lands, also gifting them to the Radziwiłł, Czartoryski, Sapieha, Pacowie, Tyszkiewicz, Wołłowiczowie and other noble families as well as to churches and monasteries (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland, 1890). Settlers from Samogitia and Prussia, as well as Aukštaičiai from Rumšiškės and Kaunas regions, moved to the forests of the northern part of the former Sūduva and the lands neighbouring Prussia (Jonas Totoraitis, 1938).

The ancient Sudovian language, close to that of the Prussians and Yotvingians, has not survived. The dialects of the current inhabitants of the region − kapsai, zanavykai, and liociai − are the result of the interaction of the old Sudovian, Yotvingian, Prussian, Samogitian, Aukštaitian, and Dzūkian dialects. The current language of the people of Suvalkija is considered part of the Lithuanian Kauniškiai sub-dialect of western Aukštaitian and it became the basis for the Lithuanian state [official] language.

The name Užnemunė was first mentioned in the 1522 Metrica of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but in a much narrower sense – as the lands of the Lithuanian nobleman Jan Janowicz Zabrzeziński, covering approximately what is now Užnemunės Dzūkija.

In the mid-19th century, according to the data of Aleksander Połujański (1859), throughout Užnemunė people used the names of smaller sub‑nations: Zanavykai, Gogiai, Stakiai, Užvingiai, Šakiai, and Dzūkai. Jonas Basanavičius (1893), based on a source from 1862, identified the Zanavykai and Kapsai people as living here, and the Dzakai as living in the south.

The Zanavykai (Užnoviškiai) were so named by the Kapsai because they lived across the Nova River. The spread of the Zanavykai nation-name is evidenced by the short story by Vincas Pietaris from the end of the 19th century, “Vincas Zanavykas” (1895). The history of the Zanavykai was studied by Jonas Totoraitis (1929).

 It is believed that the name Kapsai comes from the colloquial feature of saying “kap” instead of “kaip” [how/like]. The popularity of the Kapsai name is evidenced by Vincas Kudirka’s pen name Kapsas and Vincas Mickevičius’ pen name Kapsukas. At the end of the 19th–early 20th century, publicists signed their names with other similar pseudonyms: Kapsas K. P., J. Kapsas, Kariškis Kapsas.

 The Liocai Suvalkiečiai live in the vicinity of Kiduliai, in Šakiai district. It is believed that the people of Jurbarkas called them by this name because of their finer clothing: they wore hats with a bill. Liocai prolong vowels and diphthongs when they speak, making it seem like they are singing. The ancient grammatical number dual is common in the Liocai dialect; they say mudvi einava, judu šnekata, bėkiva namo [we two are going, you two are talking, let us two run home]. They also say mergatė (instead of mergaitė) and use ancient pronouns such as jijė, jąją, josios.

 The ethnonym Suvalkiečiai can be traced back to the end of the 19th century. This is evidenced by the pen-name of the author of writings in “Nauja gadynė “ (1894/14), “Kardas” (1897/17), “Wienibe lietuwninku” (1895/22), “Lietuva” (1914/20), “Aušra” (1914/42) – Suvalkietis, as well as the pseudonym of the musician Jonas Garalevičius (1871−1943), who wrote about kanklės and organs – Vargonininkas [Organ player] Suvalkietis. In 1914, Antanas Smetona geopolitically defined the Suvalkiečiai geographic area. Marijampolė in 1930–1937 had the weekly newspaper “Suvalkietis: nepartinis suvalkiečių savaitraštis”. Kybartai in 1930–1931 – “Mūsų Naujienos: Paprūsės suvalkiečių savaitraštis”. In 1935–1936, Užnemunė saw a strike of Suvalkija farmers. The Lithuanian Suvalkiečiai Community of Chicago was established in the United States in 1938.

 Alongside the widespread concept of Suvalkians’ [Suvalkiečiai] Suvalkija, at the end of the 19th century the historical name of Sūduva was also being used. It was rescued from oblivion by Jonas Basanavičius (1885), who wrote, based on the stories of the old residents, that “Sūdavija was what the lands of the ancient Prussians were called”, which in folklore were called Sūdaunykai. Polish researchers were also interested in the history of Sudovians, they looked into the old Sudawia as the land of the most warlike Prussian tribe, the Suduvians, stretching between the Elk and the Nemunas (Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Poland, 1890). Sūdavija was also remembered by writer Vincas Pietaris, connecting the Sūdaviškiai people to the ancestors of the Dzūkai (1905). Eduards Volters (1897) also mentioned the ancient lands of Sūduva: collecting songs from the districts of Kalvarija and Trakai (Alovė region), he considered them as hailing from the “Dzūkai area and Old Sūduva region”.

Proginė moneta

Later, the name of Sūduva was used by Juozas Tysliava (1924) for his poetry almanac. Sūduva was also promoted by Vanda Daugirdaitė-Sruogienė in her History of Lithuania (1935) and popularised in historical research by Jonas Totoraitis (History of Suvalkija of Sūduva, 1938).

In the general physical geography of Lithuania and Poland, in the second half of the 20th century, the Suwałki Highland was replaced by the terms Sūduva Highland and Eastern Sūduva Highland.

Nowadays, the name Sūduva is more often used in a narrower sense, as a synonym of the ethnographic Suvalkija of the Suvalkian people.

The lifestyle of the Suvalkiečiai was influenced by their economically superior Prussian neighbours – who were also, parenthetically, residents of the region from where book smuggling spread. There were few manors in the region, and the peasants were freed from serfdom under better conditions and earlier than elsewhere, in the early 19th century. Large farms predominated because they were not divided among the families’ children. This is why, at the beginning of the Soviet era, a particularly large number of wealthier farmers in from Suvalkija were exiled to Siberia.

The people of this region are particularly characterised by their industriousness, frugality, and generosity. They are dignified but blunt in manner. People are also notably friendly, relaxed, social, open, and gentle. They do not swear, speak slowly and simply, their speech is clear and sounds striking. They always keep their word, respect the elderly and help each other in times of need. Women show independence in the family and in society: when greeting guests, they stand with their husbands; they are uninhibited, brave, and speak their minds. Suvalkiečiai respect everyone and anyone, regardless of their social status. A guest must thank and refuse as much as they can. It is considered rude to take the last bite. The self-respect of a Zanavykas does not allow them to show how hungry they are even when they are completely famished. The Liocai are said to be gifted and proud in their own way. As a strong people, they do not accept the pity or sympathy of others – it is disrespectful. One should not advise them, because they have an opinion about everything and are guided by their own attitudes.

Suvalkiečiai homesteads are surrounded by deciduous trees and orchards. Suvalkija was the land of windmills. Suvalkiečiai used to bathe in hot tubs, as saunas were forbidden by the Prussian authorities because of the fire risk they posed. Their premises (house, granary, barn, shed) were built around a square backyard. The roofs of larger farm buildings were covered with tiles.

Suvalkiečiai are famous for their curd cheese (they were the first to press sweet milk cheese) and smoked meat products (skilandis, sausages, smoked hams, cured pork fat). Bread dough balls with fresh or dried fruits are boiled to make duonzupė, or sweet fruit soup, or milky doughball soup. Bread patties baked on cabbage leaves is another delicious regional meal.

The features of the Kapsai and Zanavykai national costumes were studied in greater detail by Antanas Tamošaitis (1939). The folk costume of Suvalkiečiai was studied by Teresė Jurkuvienė (2017). Suvalkiečiai clothing, which tends toward the ornate, is characterised by vivid colours and intricate patterns. The most colourful and ornate part of the costume is the apron, richly decorated with lily blooms in the colours of the rainbow and stars, arranged either vertically (among the Zanavykai) or horizontally (the Kapsai). Elaborate patterns are visible on Suvalkiečiai sashes. Their bleached linen shirts have wide sleeves with numerous ruffles and cutwork embroidery.

Suvalkiečiai (užnemuniečiai) songs were first defined and typologised by Jadvyga Čiurlionytė (1938). Suvalkiečiai songs were also explored by Genovaitė Četkauskaitė (2002). One of the earliest elements of folklore in Suvalkija is the songs to mark the end of the rye harvest, the hay harvest, and especially the shepherd songs (oliavimai) during Pentecost. There is also a unique tradition of playing the multi-stringed kanklės and “Šyvis” dance during the festive period between Christmas and Epiphany.

Marijampolė is considered the capital of Suvalkija and the Kapsai people, while Šakiai − of the Zanavykai, and Gelgaudiškis − of the Liocai.

Preserving both the ethnographic name of Suvalkija and the oldest historical name of Užnemunė, Sūduva, is one of the aims of today. The State Commission of the Lithuanian Language suggests calling this region selectively either Suvalkija, Sūduva or Užnemunė. When emphasising the ethnographic specificity of the region, it is more appropriate to use the name Suvalkija, and in the historical context, the name Sūduva is more suitable.

Dr Vytautas Tumėnas

Commemorative coin

Coin Dedicated to Suvalkija (from the series "Lithuanian Ethnographic Regions")

outer part: CuNi, inner part: CuZnNi/Ni/CuZnNi
25.75 mm
8.50 g
Designed by
Rolandas Rimkūnas (national side), Luc Luycx (common side)
On the edge of the coin
Proginė moneta
Release date
20 December 2022
500,000 pcs, including 5,000 BU-quality coins in a numismatic package
Lithuanian Ethnographic Regions
Coin price
BU quality – EUR 9.00 (inclusive of VAT), UNC quality – exchanged according to denomination
Minted at
the Lithuanian Mint

The reuse of Bank of Lithuania brochures for other than personal purposes as well as their reproduction and distribution for commercial and other purposes is prohibited. Such activities without the prior consent of the Bank of Lithuania violate its legitimate interests.