Latvians (Latvian: latvieši; Livonian: lețlizt) are a Baltic ethnic group, native to what is modern-day Latvia and the immediate geographical region. They are occasionally also referred to as Letts, although this term is obsolescent. Latvians share a common Latvian language, culture and history.
A Finnic-speaking tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis", meaning "forest-clearers", which is how medieval German, Teutonic settlers also referred to these peoples. The Germanic settlers referred to the natives as "Letts" and the nation to "Lettland", naming their colony Livonia or Livland.
The Latin form, Livonia, gradually referred to the whole territory of the modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under a minimal Germanic influence. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only surviving members of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family.
Paternal haplogroups N1c-Tat and R1a are the two most frequent, reaching 39.9% each among ethnic Latvians. N1c-Tat mutation probably originated in South Siberia eight to nine thousand years ago and had spread through the Urals into the Europe where it is currently most common among Finno-Ugric and Baltic people. Balts, however, differ from Finno-Ugrics by the predominance of the N1c-L550 branch of N1c-Tat. Haplogroup R1a is associated with the spread of Indo-European languages.
Latvians share a common language and have a unique culture with traditions, holidays, customs and arts. The culture and religious traditions have been somewhat influenced by Germanic, Scandinavian, and Russian traditions. Latvians have an ancient culture that has been archaeologically dated back to 3000 BC. Latvians maintained a considerable connection and trade with their neighbors, and near ethnic cousins the Finno-Ugrians, otherwise known contemporarily as Estonians and eventually Finns as well. The first indications of human inhabitants on the lands of modern Latvia date archaeologically to c. 9000 BC, suggesting that the first settlers were hunters that stayed almost immediately following the end of the last Ice Age. Colonizers from the south arrived quickly, driving many of the hunters northward as polar ice caps melted further, or east, into modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The Roman author Tacitus remarked upon the "Aestii" peoples, thought to be inhabitants of the modern Baltic lands, suggesting that they were abound with formidable, yet peaceful and hospitable people. The Latvian peoples remained relatively undisturbed until Papal intervention via the Germanic, Teutonic Order colonized Kurzeme (Courland in English, Kurland in German), beginning in the first half of the 13th century. Papal decrees ordered the Teutonic Order to spread the "Word of the Lord" and the Gospel of Christianity throughout "uncivilized", "Pagan lands". Though these attempts to Christianize the population failed, and the Teutonic Order eventually redeployed southward, to the region of what was once known as East Prussia.
South-Eastern Latvia (Latgale), due to having a relatively large ethnic Russian population, has maintained a large Russian influence.
Most of the religious Latvians belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but in Eastern Latvia (Latgale) the Roman Catholic Church is predominant, a small minority of Latvians belong to the Latvian Orthodox Church and other religious congregations. In the late 18th century, a small but vibrant Herrnhutist movement played a significant part in the development of Latvian literary culture before it was absorbed into the mainstream Lutheran denomination.