History of Estonia

From Academic Kids

This is the history of Estonia.



Estonians claim to be one of the longest settled European peoples, whose ancestors may have corresponded to the Comb Ceramic Culture people, who lived on the southeastern shores of the Baltic Sea over 5,000 years ago. Like other early agricultural societies, Estonians were organized into economically self-sufficient, male-dominated clans with few differences in wealth or social power. By the early Middle Ages most Estonians were small landholders, with farmsteads primarily organised by village. Estonian government remained decentralized, with local political and administrative subdivisions emerging only during the first century A.D. By then, Estonia had a population of over 150,000 people and remained one of the last corners of medieval Europe to be Christianized.

The Conquest

In 1193 Pope Celestine III called for crusade against pagans in Northern Europe. The German crusaders established the stronghold of Riga in modern Latvia and started to raid Estonia with the help of Latvian tribes, traditional Estonian adversaries. Estonian tribes fiercely resisted the attacks from Riga and occasionally themselves sacked crusader territories. In 1217 Germans and newly converted Latvians won a major battle in which Estonian commander Lembitu was killed. North Estonia was conquered by Danish crusaders led by king Waldemar II who arrived in 1219 on the site of Tallinn. In 1227 the German crusading order of the Sword Brethren defeated the last Estonian stronghold.

The Middle Ages

After the conquest, the people were Christianized, colonized, and reduced to serfdom. The attempts to restore the independence were quelled and Estonia was divided between Livonian Order, Bishopric of Dorpat and Bishopric of sel-Wiek. Northern Estonia was possession of Denmark until 1346. Tallinn/Reval joined the Hanseatic League in 1248. In 1343 Estonians of Northern Estonia and Saaremaa Island started a rebellion (St.George's night uprising) against the rule of local Germans. Uprising was put down and the rebel 'king' of Saaremaa, Vesse, was hanged in 1344. Despite local rebellions and successful Russian raids and invasions in 1481 and 1558, the local German barons continued to rule Estonia and from 1524 preserved Estonian commitment to the Protestant Reformation.

Swedish Period

Northern Estonia submitted to Swedish control in 1561 during the Livonian War, and during 1582-83 southern Estonia (Livonia) became part of Poland's Dorpat Voivodship and Parnawa Voivodship. In 1625, mainland Estonia came entirely under Swedish rule. In 1631, the Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus allowed the nobility to grant the peasantry greater autonomy, and in 1632 established a printing press and University in the city of Tartu. Sweden's defeat by Russia in the Great Northern War in 1721 resulted in the Treaty of Nystad, and Russian rule was then imposed in what became modern Estonia. Nonetheless, the legal system, Lutheran church, local and town governments, and education remained mostly German until the late 19th century and partially until 1918.

Russian Period

By 1819, the Baltic provinces were the first in the Russian empire in which serfdom was abolished, the largely autonomous nobility allowing the peasants to own their own land or move to the cities. These moves created the economic foundation for the awakening of Estonian national culture that had lain dormant for some 600 years of foreign rule. Estonia was caught in a current of national awakening that began sweeping through Europe in the mid-1800s.

A cultural movement sprang forth to adopt the use of Estonian as the language of instruction in schools, all-Estonian song festivals were held regularly after 1869, and a national literature in Estonian developed. Kalevipoeg, Estonia's epic national poem, was published in 1861 in both Estonian and German.

As the 1905 Revolution in Russia swept through Estonia, the Estonians called for freedom of the press and assembly, for universal franchise, and for national autonomy. Estonian gains were minimal, but the tense stability that prevailed between 1905 and 1917 allowed Estonians to advance the aspiration of national statehood.

With the collapse of the Russian empire in World War I, Russia's Provisional Government granted national autonomy to Estonia. A popularly elected assembly (Maapäev) was formed but was quickly forced underground by opposing extremist political forces. The Committee of Elders of the underground Maapäev proclaimed the Republic of Estonia on February 24, 1918, one day before German troops invaded. After the withdrawal of German troops in November 1918, fighting broke out between Bolshevik and Estonian troops. On February 2, 1920, the Treaty of Tartu was signed by the Republic of Estonia and Bolshevist Russia. The terms of the treaty stated that Russia renounced in perpetuity all rights to the territory of Estonia.


Independence lasted 22 years. Estonia underwent a number of economic, social, and political reforms necessary to come to terms with its new status as a sovereign state. Economically and socially, land reform in 1919 was the most important step. Large estate holdings belonging to the Baltic nobility were redistributed among the peasants and especially among volunteers in the Estonian War of Independence. Estonia's principal markets became Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and western Europe, with some exports to the United States and to the Soviet Union.

The first constitution of the Republic of Estonia, adopted in 1920, established a parliamentary form of government. The Parliament (Riigikogu) consisted of 100 members elected for 3-year terms. Between 1921 and 1931, Estonia had 11 governments. Konstantin Päts was installed as the first President of the Republic in 1938.

The independence period was one of great cultural advancement. Estonian language schools were established, and artistic life of all kinds flourished. One of the more notable cultural acts of the independence period, unique in western Europe at the time of its passage in 1925, was a guarantee of cultural autonomy to minority groups comprising at least 3,000 persons, and to Jews. Historians see the lack of major bloodshed after a German rule of almost 800 years as indication that it must have been mild by comparison.

Estonia had pursued a policy of neutrality, but the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact on August 23, 1939, signalled the end of independence. The agreement provided for the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, part of Finland, and later, Lithuania, in return for Nazi Germany's assuming control over most of Poland. The Soviets requested to station troops in Estonia one month later, and the Estonian leaders, with a standing army of 15,000, complied. The government was eventually driven from power in June 1940, and an election was held where all parties were outlawed except the Communist party. The new government assumed command and the Estonian Socialist Republic (ESR) was proclaimed on July 21, 1940. The ESR was formally accepted into the Soviet Union on August 6 and the official name of the country became the "Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic".

Soviet Period

Soviet period started from massive nationalisation of property as well as Sovietization of cultural life, communist ideology permeating political life. On June 14, 1941, mass deportations took place simultaneously in all three Baltic States. Officially nothing was said about the arrests, and no one was prosecuted or sentenced.

When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, most Estonians greeted the Germans with relatively open arms and hoped to restore independence. But it soon became clear that sovereignty was out of the question. Estonia became a part of "Ostland." Lacking understanding of Estonian history, German troops interned about 5,500 Estonians. Despite this, many Estonians heeded the call to fight the Soviets, and the initial formation of a volunteer SS Estonian legion was to eventually become a full-sized Waffen SS volunteer division, the 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian). the 20th saw action defending the Narva line throughout 1944, before retreating to Germany and surrendering the the Western Allies. The majority of the survivors were immediately handed over the the Soviets.

As the Germans retreated in September 1944, Jri Uluots, the last prime minister of the Estonian Republic, assumed the responsibilities of president (as dictated in the Constitution) and appointed a new government while seeking recognition from the Allies. The new government fled to Stockholm, Sweden and operated in exile until 1992, when Heinrich Mark, the prime minister of the Estonian government in exile acting as president, presented his credentials to incoming president Lennart Meri.

In World War II Estonia suffered huge losses. Ports were destroyed, and 45% of industry and 40% of the railways were damaged. Estonia's population decreased by one-fifth (about 200,000 people). Some 10% of the population (over 80,000 people) fled to the West between 1940 and 1944. More than 30,000 soldiers were killed in action. In 1944 Russian air raids destroyed Narva and one-third of the residential area in Tallinn was destroyed. By late September 1944, Soviet forces expelled the last German troops from Estonia, ushering in a second phase of Soviet rule. That year, Moscow also transferred the Estonian Narva and Petseri border districts, which held a large percentage of ethnic Russians, to Russian control. In 1944, there were massive arrests of people who had actively supported the German occupation or been disloyal to Soviet order.

An anti-Soviet guerrilla movement known as the "Metsavennad" ("Forest Brothers") developed in the countryside, reaching its zenith in 1946-48. It is hard to tell, how many people were in the ranks of the Metsavennad, however it is estimated on different times there could be about 30,000-35,000 people. Probably the last Forest Brother was caught in the October of 1947 (killed himself during his apprehension).

In March 1949, 20,722 people (2.5% of the population) were deported to Siberia. By the beginning of the 1950s, the occupying regime had suppressed the resistance movement.

After the war the Communist Party of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ECP) became the pre-eminent organization in the republic. The ethnic Estonian share in the total ECP membership decreased from 90% in 1941 to 48% in 1952.

After Stalin's death, Party membership vastly expanded its social base to include more ethnic Estonians. By the mid-1960s, the percentage of ethnic Estonian membership stabilized near 50%. On the eve of perestroika the ECP claimed about 100,000 members; less than half were ethnic Estonians and they totalled less than 2% of the country's population.

A positive aspect of the post-Stalin era in Estonia was a re-opening in the late 1950s of citizens' contacts with foreign countries. Ties were reactivated with Finland, and in the 1960s, Estonians began watching Finnish television. This electronic "window on the West" afforded Estonians more information on current affairs and more access to Western culture and thought than any other group in the Soviet Union. This heightened media environment was important in preparing Estonians for their vanguard role in extending perestroika during the Gorbachev era.

In the late 1970s, Estonian society grew increasingly concerned about the threat of cultural Russification to the Estonian language and national identity. By 1981, Russian was taught in the first grade of Estonian language schools and was also introduced into the Estonian pre-school teaching.

By the beginning of the Gorbachev era, concern over the cultural survival of the Estonian people had reached a critical point. The ECP remained stable in the early perestroika years but waned in the late 1980s. Other political movements, groupings, and parties moved to fill the power vacuum. The first and most important was the Estonian Popular Front, established in April 1988 with its own platform, leadership, and broad constituency. The Greens and the dissident-led Estonian National Independence Party soon followed. By 1989, the political spectrum widened, and new parties were formed and re-formed almost daily.

The republic's Supreme Soviet transformed into an authentic regional law-making body. This relatively conservative legislature passed an early declaration of sovereignty (November 16, 1988); a law on economic independence (May 1989) confirmed by the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet that November; a language law making Estonian the official language (January 1989); and local and republic election laws stipulating residency requirements for voting and candidacy (August, November 1989).

Regaining Independence

Although not all non-Estonians supported full independence, they were divided in their goals for the republic. In March 1990 some 18% of Russian speakers supported the idea of a fully independent Estonia, up from 7% the previous autumn, and only a small group of Estonians were opposed to full independence in early 1990. Estonia held free elections for the 105-member Supreme Soviet on March 18, 1990. All residents of Estonia were eligible to participate in the elections, including the approximately 50,000 Soviet troops stationed there. The Popular Front coalition, composed of left and centrist parties and led by former Central Planning Committee official Edgar Savisaar, gained a parliamentary majority. In May 1990, the name of the Republic of Estonia was restored, public use of the symbols of the ESSR (anthem, flag, and coat of arms) were forbidden, and only laws adopted in Estonia were proclaimed valid.

Despite the emergence of the new lawmaking body, an alternative legislature developed in Estonia. In February 1990, a body known as the "Congress of Estonia" was elected in unofficial and unsanctioned elections. Supporters of the Congress argued that the inter-war republic continued to exist de jure. Since Estonia was forcibly annexed by the U.S.S.R., only citizens of that republic and their descendants could decide Estonia's future.

Through a strict, nonconfrontational policy in pursuing independence, Estonia managed to avoid the violence which Latvia and Lithuania incurred in the bloody January 1991 crackdowns and in the border customs-post guard murders that summer. During the August coup in the U.S.S.R., Estonia was able to maintain constant operation and control of its telecommunications facilities, thereby offering the West a clear view into the latest coup developments and serving as a conduit for swift Western support and recognition of Estonia's redeclaration of independence on August 20, 1991. August 20 remains a national holiday in Estonia because of this. Following Europe's lead, the United States formally reestablished diplomatic relations with Estonia on September 2, and the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet offered recognition on September 6.

After more than 3 years of negotiations, on August 31, 1994, the armed forces of the Russian Federation withdrew from Estonia. Since fully regaining independence Estonia has had 11 governments with 7 prime ministers: Mart Laar, Andres Tarand, Tiit Vhi, Mart Siimann, Siim Kallas, and Juhan Parts. The PMs of the interim government (1990-1992) were Edgar Savisaar and Tiit Vhi.

Since the last Russian troops left in 1994, Estonia has been free to promote economic and political ties with Western Europe. Estonia opened accession negotiations with the European Union in 1998 and joined in 2004, shortly after becoming a member of the NATO.

Estonia adopted the same national anthem as its northern neighbor Finland.

Time line


  • 98 Roman historian Tacitus writes in the book Germania about aesti tribes, but it is not clear if he is talking about ancestors of Estonians.
  • 600 King Ingvar of Sweden invaded Estonia and was killed at the place called Stein and was buried in region of Adalsysla. Although, his son Anund would have a reputation for being peaceful, the news of his father's death at the hands of the Estonians briefly changed his character. Snorri Sturluson wrote: King Onund went with his army to Estland to avenge his father, and landed and ravaged the country round far and wide...' [1] (http://www.sacred-texts.com/neu/heim/02ynglga.htm)
  • 862 Warring tribes of Chuds (Estonians) and Slavs invited vikings leaders Rurik, Sineus and Truvor to rule them, which was the foundation of county of Rus. Truvor chose his residence to be Izborsk near Estonian border.
  • 967 According a legend, Olav Tryggvason, the future king of Norway was captured by Estonian pirates, sold as a slave and later freed with the help of tax gatherers from Novgorod.
  • 972 A battle between Estonian and Icelandic vikings in Saaremaa described in Njall Saga.
  • 1030 Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev won a battle against Estonians (Chuds) and founded the town of Yuriev (now Tartu, Estonia), dedicated to his patron saint, St. George (Yuri).
  • 1061 Estonians of sosol tribe destroyed the castle of Yuriev and carried out raids in the Pskov region.
  • 1075 Chronicle Adam of Bremen mentions island of Aestland in northern Baltic Sea, which inhabitants worship dragons and birds and make human sacrifices.
  • 1116 Mstislav Vladimirovich together with troops from Pskov and Novgorod made a raid against Chuds and conquered castle named Medvezh'ya Golova (Otep) in Southern Estonia.
  • 1132 Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich of Novgorod was defeated by Estonians in district of Vaiga.
  • 1134 Prince Vsevolod fought against Chuds and won the fortification of Yuriev (Tartu).
  • 1154 Arab geographer Al Idrisi mentions country of Estonia Astlanda and places that might be Tallinn (Kaluvani), Prnu (Bernu), Hiiumaa (Dagweda) and unidentified locations anhw and flmwse.
  • 1165 A Benedictine Fulco from Moutier La Celle convent was named the Bishop of Estonians by the Archbishop of Lund.
  • 1171 Estonian "Bishop" Fulco and his deputy Nicolaus (ethnic Estonian convert from Stavanger convent, Norway), made missionary trip Estonia.
  • 1177 Estonians attacked Pskov during winter.
  • 1187 Pagan pirates, probably Estonians and Karelians, ravaged the Mlar area in Sweden, burned down city of Sigtuna, killed the archbishop.
  • 1191 A cistercian monk Theoderic, future bishop of Estonia made unsuccessful missionary journey to Estonia.
  • 1192 Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich of Novgorod made two raids against Estonians, burning down Tartu and Otep castles.
  • 1203 Oeselian pirates (Saaremaa islanders) ravage areas of Southern Sweden then belonging to Denmark. Later the returning pirates had skirmish with German settlers of Riga near the city of Visby in Sweden.

Livonian Period

  • 1217 German crusaders, Letts and Livs won a battle against Estonians and killed their leader Lembitu of Lehola, elder of province Sakala.
  • 1219 Denmark conquered the province of Revelia in Northern Estonia and built castle of Reval (Castrum Danorum)
  • 1220 Swedes led by king John I tried to establish themselves in province of Wiek but were decimated by Oeselians.
  • 1224 German crusaders conquered stronghold of Dorpat from Russians and Ugaunians.
  • 1227 The last pagan stronghold in Island of Oesel was conquered by crusaders
  • 1233 Orden occupied temporarily Russian city Pskov
  • 1419 the Livonian diet was formed in 1419.

Swedish period

Russian Period

Independent Estonia

See also

External links

es:Historia de Estonia fr:Histoire de l'Estonie lt:Estijos istorija ru:История Эстонии sv:Estlands historia


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