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Self-designation. Their self-designations are vadjalain ~ vaddalain, vadjakko -- 'a Vote', maavätchi -- 'Votic people', and they call their language vadyaa cheeli -- maacheeli.

The name 'vadja' is believed to come from the early Baltic-Finnic word vakja -- 'peg, wedge', which is a Baltic loan-word (see, Latvian vadzis, Lithuanian vagis). It has also been associated with the easternmost county of Estonia -- Vaiga (Waiga, Wagia, Vaia).

In written records, the Votes were first mentioned in the 11th century. In an order of Prince Yaroslav of Novgorod (978-1054), concerning roads and bridges, the names Водь and Вочкая область can be found, which apply to the northeastern Votes and their habitat. The southern and north-western tribes of the Votes, like all the Baltic-Finnic peoples earlier, were called chud by the Russians. In the middle ages in Old Livonia, the whole northwestern part of the Novgorod principality was called Watland, and all the related peoples there were called Votes. The name Watland ~ Watlandia has spread to the west via Old Livonia. The expression pagani Watlandiae appeared in Roman-Catholic writings of the 12th--13th centuries. They were also mentioned by Pope Alexander III in his papal bull to the bishop of Uppsala (from 1181 to 1195) and by Gregory IX to the Archbishop of Uppsala and the bishop of Linköping (1230). The appearance of the Votes in written records is directly linked to the interests of foreign powers in the Votic lands.

Habitat. Ancient Watland was mainly the western and northern Ingermanland. By approximately the year 1200, the Votes had spread from the River Narva in the west to the River Inger (Ижора) in the east, and from the Gulf of Finland in the north to the present town of Oudova (Гдов) in the south. In 1848, 37 Votic villages were recorded; in 1942 there were 23. Presently Votes still live in five villages of the Kingissepp district of the St. Petersburg region: Kukkusi (Куровицы), Rajo (Межняки), Jõgõperä (Краколье), Liivchülä (Пески), and Luuditsa (Лужицы). The last four form the Vaipool group of villages. Some Votes only live in the native village in summer, spending the winters in towns (Kingissepp, St. Petersburg, Narva).

Population. The rapid and irreversible diminishing of the Votic people can be traced from the middle of the 19th century from when the first data about them is available.

18485,148 (P. von Koeppen)
1917ca 1,000 (all-Russian agricultural census)
1926705 (census)
1942ca 400 (P. Ariste 300--400, G. Ränk 400--500)
1959ca 50 (P. Ariste: native speakers ca 70 %)
198266 (H. Heinsoo, J. Viikberg)
198962 (H. Heinsoo: native speakers ca 50 %).

The Votes have never been a very numerous people, nevertheless, they have survived wars, famine and pestilence, as well as losses to assimilation (estonianization, but to a far greater extent, russification). The major turning point seems to have been in the middle of the 19th century. Remarkable is the fact that while the number of Karelians, Izhorians and Veps increased considerably, the number of Votic people diminished by a factor of more than five. From 1939 on, the Votes were not recorded in the censuses, and any data about them has been obtained from individual scholars.

Anthropologically the Votic people belong to the East-Baltic race. Generally they have fair hair and blue eyes. In appearance they do not differ from Izhorians or Finns. For their more candid disposition and livelier speech, they resemble Estonians.

The Votic language belongs to the southern group of the Baltic-Finnic languages and is the closest relative of the Estonian language. Western, eastern (main dialects), Kukkusi and Kreevin dialects can be distinguished. The western dialect is also spoken in the villages of Vaipool and the Kukkusi dialect -- Izhorian -- influenced Votic language -- in the village of Kukkusi. The Kreevin dialect, a Votic linguistic enclave in Latvia, had already become extinct in Courland by the middle of the 19th century, and the last speakers of the eastern dialect passed away in Itchäpäivä (Itsepino) in the 1960s.

Linguistic contacts with several neighbouring peoples have probably been stabilizing factors in helping the Votic language to survive. Being absorbed into the Russian sphere of authority could have meant total bilingualism and, consequently, total assimilation, however, Votic-Russian bilingualism must never have been universal, otherwise the Votes would not have been able to hold out to the present day. There is, for instance, record from 1544, that the Russians of Jaanilinn (Ivangorod) spoke non-German better than Russian, and were actually Russian Votes. According to D. Tsvetkov, in 1850, about 50 % of the Votes spoke Russian, and the Church Slavonic (i.e. divine service) could be understood by some 10 %. Multilingualism rather than bilingualism has been the characteristic of the Votes. There is no insurmountable barrier preventing comprehension between the kindred languages (Votic, Izhorian, Finnish, Estonian); in addition, they also understood Russian.

History. The Votes are the oldest people in Ingermanland as mentioned in literary records. They emerged during the first millennium from the northern Estonians who had remained on the east side of the River Narva and Lake Peipus (Peipsi). They maintained their contacts with eastern and north-eastern Estonia, which is attested, at least, by the Kodavere and Lüganuse-Jõhvi dialects in Estonian. The comparatively small Votic tribes never formed either an integral nation or a separate administrative unit. Their land was located near major commercial routes from the East to the West. The earliest archaeological findings come from the Izhorian plateau, between Kingissepp and Gachina (4th--7th centuries).

In the second half of the first millennium, the East-Slavonic tribes reached the land of the Votes. The founding of Novgorod (earliest data from 859) meant a foothold for the foreign power and tributes from the Votes. From 1069 there is information concerning an attempt to free themselves from paying tributes when together with the army of the Polotsk prince, Vseslav, the Votes attacked Novgorod. They were defeated. Later, as the rule of the Novgorod feudal republic expanded (1136--1478), so their dependence upon it increased. Despite the fact that at first the language at the Novgorod veche (public assembly) was "chud", military and political supremacy tended to propagate, more and more, Russian. In 1149 the Votes took part in a campaign from Novgorod against the Häme people in Finland. They probably participated in other military campaigns from Novgorod, such as the battles against the Swedes in 1240 and 1248, and against the Teutonic knights in 1241, 1242 and 1269. From 1270 on, the Votes and Izhorians appeared in records of the composition of the Novgorod forces.

There were, though, other foreigners who coveted Ingermanland. For a long time the Russians were in armed conflict with Sweden. Peace came only with the treaty of Pähkinäsaari (Oreshek) in 1323 which defined the domains of both countries. In 1240, the Germans founded the fortress of Kaprio (Koporye) and led several campaigns between 1444 and 1447. They gained no strong foothold. The ones who suffered, who were swept over by the ambitions of the foreign authorities, were the local populace. When, in 1241, Novgorod captured Kaprio, Votes and Chudes (northwest Votes) were hung for collaborating with the Germans. In the 1440s the knight Heidenreich Vinke von Overberg deported Votic war prisoners to Courland. In Latvia they were called Kreeviš (Krievinsh 'a Russian'). The Kreevin dialect was still alive in 1846, noted by the academician A. Sjögren.

The role of the Votes in the principality of Novgorod seems to have been significant. There was a Chude Street in the town and a Votic Road led to the north. The town was divided into five "ends", and one of these would appear to have been Votic en route to the Votes' Land. There was a Hanseatic trading office in Novgorod, and lively commercial relationships with Eastern, as well as Western merchants were maintained. It seems that the administration did not much interfere with the lives of its subjects, and gradually the Votes contented themselves with Novgorod supremacy of their land. The status of the Slavic power made its language alluring first to Votic noblemen and then later to all prominent persons. The spread of the Russian language had begun.

In 1478 the Grand Principality of Muscovy destroyed Novgorod. The conquered principality was divided into five parts, of which the northern was called the Votic fifth (Вотская пятина). Its border ran in the west along the River Lauga (Луга) to the Bay of Narva, and in the east along the River Olkhava (Волхов) to Lake Ladoga. The Votes suffered from Moscow's need to be seen as supreme. In 1484 and 1488, a large number of Votes were deported to Central Russia and Russian colonists were brought back instead. At the same time, great attention was paid to propagating the Orthodox faith, since it provided firm support for the authorities, as well as to the whole process of russification. For the Votes, the influence of Novgorod had meant, besides taxes and obligations as vassals, also an acceptance of the Greek-Orthodox religion. For the missionary work of the Orthodox church, the Jaama (Jamburg) church and monastery were founded in 1348. Nevertheless, as late as the 16th century (1534 and 1548) the Archbishops of Novgorod, Makarius and Theodosius, complained that the Votes were obdurate pagans. The Grand Principality of Muscovy took the Christianization (i.e. securing the land) very seriously. Ilya the Monk and a later missionary, Nikifor, worked hard (mass baptisms, destroying of sacred groves and sacrificial places of the pagans), to make the Votes good Christians. About this time, Votic ethnic first names were dropped from usage. Russian Christian names, given by the Orthodox church and used in an adapted form, became the norm. Under the terms of the 1617 Stolbovo Peace Treaty, Ingermanland was adjudicated as a territory of the state of Sweden. The Swedes also sought to use religion, propagating Lutheranism, to attach the new areas more firmly to Sweden. However, a part of the Votes escaped across the border to the Russian side. Vacant areas were filled with peasants brought from southeastern Finland. The difference in religion remained -- Ingrians are Protestants, while the Votes and Izhorians stayed Orthodox. A lot of legends and folk-tales have come from the time of Swedish rule (tales of Swedish treasures, tombs, the return of the Swedes). Probably, this period meant more to the Votes than just a miserable life of religious oppression.

As a result of the Great Northern War, Ingermanland again became a part of Russia (de facto -- 1703, de jure -- 1721). Besides the damage and suffering caused by the war (this time people were deported to Kazan) it brought about an event of considerably greater significance -- the founding of the city of St. Petersburg, in the middle of the Baltic-Finnic area, on the site of the one-time Nyen (Neevanlinna). The more the new Russian capital developed, the more labourers, domestic servants, clerks, etc, it needed. This implied an influx of thousands of Russians into Ingermanland, and the merging of peoples of different nationalities within a Russian environment. The proximity of the capital also meant part of Ingermanland being distributed as estates to courtiers and favourites. Of the Votic territories, the court owned the western part of Jõgõperä (kuninkaa varta).

By the middle of the 19th century, the situation had developed so that Votes began to prefer Russian songs and style of clothing. Freedom of movement promoted the spread of the Russian language while schooling and cultural life (especially in connexion with St. Petersburg) increased the status of Russian. The most decisive factor in this process was the Russian Orthodox church which, despite the different nationalities, united people of one church and influenced their lifestyle and customs. Language remained the only division -- until the Votes overcame it. In the 1920s it was already difficult to discern a Votic from a Russian. In the 1930s a point had been reached where young people no longer could speak Votic.

The Soviet regime changed the whole life of the Votes. The most industrious farmers were deported to force others to give up their property and join the kolkhozes. Physical violence was combined with social injustice (urban workers and towns enjoyed privileges) as well as religious and nationalist persecution. Domestic handicrafts were forbidden, and so was owning a private boat. To repress the various forms of protest, many people were labelled as the so-called "enemies of the people". A Votic, for instance, could be deported from his homeland for not registering as a Russian.

During the Second World War Ingermanland was a theatre of war. When the Germans retreated, some Baltic-Finnic people were taken to Finland as refugees. So were most of the Votes. After the ceasefire with Finland, Russia claimed them all. The Soviet commissars coaxed them with talk of their native land and the graves of their ancestors, and then, threatened to bring them back by main force. Some Votes succeeded in escaping to Sweden, some to Estonia, those returning were dispersed throughout the Soviet provinces, as far as Central Asia.

After Stalin's death, numerous petitions were sent to Moscow and, as a result, from 1956 on, a number of Votes were allowed to return to their homes. Their homes, however, were already occupied by strangers. Most of the Russians now living in the ancient Votic villages do not even know who the Votes are or where they live.

Ethnic culture. Votes are ancient farmers and herders. The inhabitants of Vaipool were also fishermen and sailors. Trades and crafts were an essential part of Votic life. Every village had its blacksmith and shoemaker; wooden vessels were made in Valkovitsa, earthenware in Mati. Much has been written about Votic woodwork, birch-bark work, transport work, the making of birch tar, charcoal-, tar- and lime-burning, etc. Russian pedlars and itinerary craftsmen also passed through Votic villages (e.g. tanners, tailors, carpenters). Towns offered more opportunities to the Votes. People could learn a trade in Narva or St. Petersburg (e.g. in a marine school, a craftsman's workshop), and in the towns they did business, concluded bargains, looked for work (the women as domestic servants or nurses).

The ancient folk culture constitutes the mainstay of the Votic identity. It must be stressed that the fundamental part of the language about crafts and trades is Baltic-Finnic. Despite the aggressive alien influences (especially of Russian), a strong native vocabulary has held sway in all spheres of life. The universe of a peaceful farmer is reflected in the Votic folk calendar.

Writing. Votes have never had a written language, or a schooling or literature of their own. In the 1930s, the Votes were the only minority in northwestern Russia for whom no written language was created. The aspirations in the 1920s of the Votic intellectual, Dimitri Tsvetkov, in Estonia, were also unsuccessful.

Research. There has been a rich variety of material on the ethnology and folklore of the Votes collected. Votic folklore was discovered for academia by a minister from Narva, Fr. L. Trefurt, in 1783. The first written excerpts were published in a comparative dictionary by P. S. Pallas Linguarum totius orbis vocabularia comparativa (1787--1789). Votic grammars have been written by A. Ahlquist (Wotisk Grammatik, 1856) and P. Ariste (Vadja keele grammatika, 1948; A Grammar of the Votic Language, 1968). Collections of Votic texts have been published by L. Kettunen and L. Posti, J. Mägiste, O. A. Mustonen, E. Adler and especially P. Ariste. A dictionary of the Kukkusi dialect compiled by L. Posti and S. Suhonen was published in 1980, and a first volume of an academic Votic dictionary was published in Tallinn in 1990. The most exhaustive collection of the Votic language and folklore in manuscript has been collected by P. Ariste (5,269 pages).


  1. E. Adler, Vadjalaste endisajast I. Idavadja murdetekste. -- Eesti NSV TA Keele ja Kirjanduse Instituut. Tallinn 1968
  2. P. Ariste, Tänapäeva vadjalastest. -- Etnograafiamuuseumi aastaraamat XVII. Tartu 1960
  3. P. Ariste, Vadjalane kätkist kalmuni. -- Eesti NSV TA Emakeele Seltsi Toimetised 10. Tallinn 1974
  4. P. Ariste, Vadja rahvaluule võlus. -- Saaremaast Sajaanideni ja kaugemalegi. Tallinn 1970
  5. H. & A. Moora, Lisandeid vadjalaste ja isurite etnilisele ajaloole. -- Etnograafiamuuseumi aastaraamat XIX. Tallinn 1964
  6. G. Ränk, Vatjalaiset. -- Suomen Kirjallisuuden Seuran Toimituksia 267. Helsinki 1960
  7. I. Talve, Vatjalaista kansankulttuuria. -- Suomalais-ugrilaisen Seuran Toimituksia 179. Helsinki 1981
  8. V. Uibopuu, Meie ja meie hõimud. Peatükke soomeugrilaste minevikust ja olevikust. Lund 1984
  9. E. Öpik, Vadjalastest ja isuritest XVIII sajandi lõpul. Etnograafilisi ja lingvistilisi materjale Fjodor Tumanski Peterburi kubermangu kirjelduses. Tallinn 1970


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