Adam Mickiewicz is generally known as a Polish poet, and all his major works are written in Polish. Although his nationality is generally not disputed among serious scholars, it is otherwise an object of endless popular controversy. He is regarded by Lithuanians to be of Lithuanian origin, who render his name in Lithuanian as Adomas Mickevičius. Similarly, many Belarusians claim his descent from a Polonized Belarusian family and call him Ада́м Міцке́віч. The controversy largely stems from the fact that in the nineteenth century, the concept of nationality had not yet been fully developed and the term "Lithuania," as used by Mickiewicz himself, had a much broader geographic extent than it does now. Mickiewicz was raised in the culture of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, a multicultural state that had encompassed most of what today are the separate countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. His most famous poem, Pan Tadeusz, begins with the invocation, "O Lithuania, my country, thou art like good health," yet he was referring to the territory of present-day Belarus. It is generally accepted that in Mickiewicz's time the term "Lithuania" still carried a strong association with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and that Mickiewicz used it in a geographical rather than a national or cultural sense. The resultant confusion is illustrated by a waggish report about a Russian encyclopedia that describes Mickiewicz as a Belarusian poet who wrote about Lithuania in Polish.
Adam Mickiewicz was born on December, 24 1798 in Zaosie village near Navahrudak (now Zavosse), Lithuania Governorate of the Russian Empire, formerly in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and now part of Belarus. His father, Mikolaj Mickiewicz, belonged to the szlachta, the Polish-Lithuanian nobility, and was a lawyer. Mickiewicz's mother was Barbara Mickiewicz, née Majewska. Adam was their second-born son. The family was never rich and fell into difficult financial straits after the father's death. Mickiewicz's childhood in Navahrudak was quiet, but his life began to intersect with world events when Napoleon Bonaparte's troops marched east toward Moscow in 1812, passing through Lithuania. He saw the defeated French army marching back westward after their brutal winter in a hostile country stripped of supplies, and his school was turned into a field hospital.