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Churches of EuropeEstonia (Eesti) (Aestii)

The first inhabitants arrived in the territory of the present Estonia about 9,000 BC, following the migrating reindeer after the continental glacier had retreated northwards. The ethnic origin of the first settlers has not yet been established but they were most likely of European origin.

At the beginning of the third millennium BC, tribes of Ugric-speaking people migrated from the east and soon became dominant. At the end of the fourth millennium BC, a new wave of migrant tribes arrived in Estonia. They were probably the ancestors of the Baltic tribes and they brought with them cattle breeding and tillage skills. The cultivation of fields, however, only started to flourish in the sixth or fifth century BC when iron was brought into use and it became easier to clear the land. During the first centuries BC and AD, the Estonian tribes, known as the Aestii to Roman writers, saw the migration southwards from Scandinavia of Germanic tribes. Some of these settled for a time on the southern Baltic coast, probably pushing the Baltic tribes further north and eastwards. In the first century AD, the Baltic tribes' south-western neighbours were the Gepids and Goths, with the Venedi to the immediate south.

The fifth to ninth centuries AD were witness to less settled times. Three important cultural regions had emerged - North Estonia, South Estonia and Western Estonia, together with the islands. Baltic tribes threatened from the south and Scandinavian seafarers threatened from the west. Estonian counties were formed, and these maintained their own security and looked after their own interests. The main county in the north was Rävala, and its main settlement was near a castle used mainly as a defensive refuge called Lindanise (Kolyvan in Russian sources). The settlement may have traded with Scandinavian and Russian states from around AD 1000 onwards.

(Overview and main dates from Life in Estonia. Other major sources listed in the 'Northern Europe' section of the Sources page. Additional information by Gediminas Kiveris and Merit Pai, and from The History of the Baltic Countries, various authors.)

9000s BC

FeatureBy this date, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Prussia are settled by proto-Baltic hunter-gather tribes which all share the same cultural traces. They belong to two groups, one being the regionally-dominant Baltic Kunda culture, which is a development of the earlier Swiderian culture located to the south. The other is the Magdalen-Ahrensburg culture located in north-western Germany and Denmark, which probably enriches the Kunda culture.

Traditional scholarly belief has these hunter-gatherers migrating from the southern Baltics and further east, but a more recent idea suggests that while this is correct for the Baltics, Finland and northern Scandinavia are also first inhabited via the sweeping grass plains of Doggerland (now under the North Sea). Settlements in Estonia for this period remain unlocated, but these nomad settlements are extremely temporary in nature and leave a very thin archaeological layer in the soil, making them very hard to find. The earliest Estonian settlement found to date can be placed in the middle of the eighth millennium.

Retreating ice sheet
The retreat of the glacial ice sheet allowed first plants and then animals to migrate into the region, closely followed by the first hunter-gatherers

c.8200 BC

The waters of the ice-damned Baltic Ice Lake penetrate the region of the Billingen Mountains to form a link with the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the Yoldia Sea drops rapidly, by about thirty metres. This retreat is so sudden, and probably has such a profound effect on the early inhabitants of the Baltic area, that it is known as the Billingen Catastrophe.

8000 - 7100 BC

The Preboreal period sees the climate become significantly warmer in the Baltics. Birch and pine forests start to spread, and elk, bears, beavers, and various species of water birds migrate into the region from the south.

7100 - 5800 BC

The Boreal period sees the climate continue to warm and become drier. Pine forests decrease, allowing deciduous trees to gain a firmer foothold and become prevalent. The animal population thrives, with red deer, roe deer, and hares increasing considerably.

5800 - 2800 BC

The Atlantic period is characterised by a climate that is warmer than that of the present day. New species migrate into the Baltic region, including Baltic aurochs and wild boar, which inhabit forests of broad-leaved trees. Water chestnuts grow in the many lakes, and the bountiful life draws hunter-gatherers into the area. The warmness fails towards the end of this period, causing the disappearance of aurochs, wild horses, and water chestnuts.

c.3000 BC

The Comb Ceramic culture reaches Prussia, Estonia and Finland as new peoples arrive from the east, almost certainly the Finno-Ugric tribes who form the later core of Finland and Estonia (Estonians, Finns, Livonians, Karelians, Wots, Weps, and Ingrians). This Neolithic culture seems to form on the basis of the previous Mesolithic cultures, but uses a greater variety of bone, antler and stone implements, and employs boring, drilling, and abrading skills. There is circumstantial evidence that the territory of the earlier Kunda culture and the replacement Neolithic Narva culture are pretty much identical.

Comb Ceramic pottery
The pottery of the Comb Ceramic culture (also known as Pit-Comb Ware) - a widespread cultural expression of far north-eastern Europe's foragers between the Baltic Sea and the Ural Mountains - shows the typical comb imprints that gave the its name

Proto-Lapponoid skeletons from this period have been found by archaeologists, showing that these blended Mongoloid/Europeans live alongside the new arrivals and bear a certain similarity to Siberian Finno-Ugric peoples. It has been suggested that they originate around the region of Lake Ladoga and disperse over a wide area. In Estonia they eventually merge into the Narva culture.

c.2500 BC

The Corded Ware culture (or Boat Axe culture) arrives in southern Finland, along the coastal regions, as well as in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, western Russia, Poland, northern Germany, Denmark, and southern Sweden. These new, probably early Indo-European, arrivals also have some domesticated animals and bring agriculture with them, although it continues to exist alongside universally-practised hunter-gather activities for some time. Both these people form the proto-Baltic ancestors of the later Latvians and Lithuanians.

c.650 BC

By the middle of the first millennium BC, Estonians have strong connections with Scandinavia. Modern excavations yield remarkable gilded objects ornamented with animal figures which mirror Scandinavian finds from the graves of the wealthy.

Kaali meteorite crater, Saaremaa
The Kaali meteorite craters were created in around 650 BC on the island of Saaremaa

1st century AD

MapThe Roman historian Tacitus mentions the Aesti. He says, '...they worship the Mother of the gods. They wear, as emblem of this cult, the masks of boars, which stand them in stead of armour or human protection and ensure the safety of the worshipper even among his enemies. They seldom use weapons of iron, but cudgels often. They cultivate grain and other crops with a patience quite unusual among lazy Germans. Nor do they omit to ransack the sea; they are the only people to collect the amber - glaesum is their own word for it - in the shallows or even on the beach. Like true barbarians, they have never asked or discovered what it is or how it is produced. For a long time, indeed, it lay unheeded like any other jetsam, until Roman luxury made its reputation. They have no use for it themselves. They gather it crude, pass it on unworked and are astounded at the price it fetches...'

The Roman Iron Age is a relatively peaceful period in Estonia and Latvia. Only a few hill forts of later periods have yielded some finds which date to this period, suggesting the few strongholds were used rarely and only in times of need. At this time, Germanic tribes are settled along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, with the Gepids lying closest, to the east of the Vistula, and the Goths below them, while the Venedi lie to the south. These Germanics eventually migrate towards the Roman empire, leaving tracts of land either depopulated for a time or entirely empty.

254

By this time, the Suevi have formed a wide-ranging confederation of tribes that are all known individually but which are counted as being Suevi. The vast number of tribes included in the confederation include the Aestii, Angles, Aviones, Buri, Cotini, Eudoses, Gutones, Hermunduri (who have virtually ceased to exist as a recognisable independent people), Langobards, Lugii (a name applied to several tribes: the Harii, Helisii, Helveconae, Manimi, and Naharvali), Marcomanni, Marsigni, Quadi, Naristi, Nuitones, Osi, Reudigni, Semnones, Sitones, Suardones, Suiones (Swedes), and the Warini.

c.500

Describing a Europe of about AD 500, the Old English poem Widsith mentions several Germanic peoples, not all of whom can be properly identified, alongside more obvious peoples such as the Angles, Burgundians, Danes, Finns, Geats, Jutes, and Ostrogoths. A King Caelic is mentioned for the Finns, a presumed reference to Kaleva or Kalev, a national figure for both Finland and Estonia. The latter's national epic, Kalevipoeg (Son of Kalev), tells of a time in which Christianity is pushing Kalev and his pagan sons to the edges of society where they stubbornly resist conversion and are eventually ostracised completely.

Kalevipoeg
The Estonian artist, Oskar Kallis, depicted Kalevipoeg in his traditional form of a giant, perhaps mixed with a little Viking, in this pastel from 1915, but the giants of legend are usually accepted as being descriptive forms of earlier, pre-Christian peoples

early 6th century

An Aesti mission visits the court of the Ostrogothic king of Italy, Theodoric the Great, bringing with it gifts of amber. This occurs in the middle of a kind of golden age for the Finno-Ugric and Baltic peoples, as they experience a period of relative wealth and prosperity earned through strong trading contacts.

c.600

The Finnic-speaking tribes of the Baltic coast are beginning to change. They share the strong trading connections of their Balt neighbours (such as Lats and Lithuanians), but possibly experience some conflict as a result. Around this time, the Ungenois people of southern Estonia erect a fortress by the name of Tarbatu on the east side of the Dome Hill (Toomemägi - approximately where the Astronomical Observatory now stands). Presumably this is in response to an external threat, probably to their newly-acquired wealth.

early 7th century

King Ingvar ventures into Estonia to pillage from the Eastern pirates in retribution for attacks on Sweden. When he arrives at an unidentified place named Stein, he is attacked by a great Estonian army which had been assembled much further inland. The Estonians overwhelm the Swedish force and Ingvar falls. The surviving Swedes withdraw and Ingvar is buried in a mound on the Estonian shore.

900s

The ancient Iru stronghold which lays not far from the later city of Tallinn is abandoned by Estonians in favour of a new fortress on the mound of Toompea (the high hill about the later Old Town (Vanalinn) area of Tallinn). The new fortress is not a permanent residence, but is a place in which to take refuge in times of trouble.

1154

The world atlas by the Arabic geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, which is commissioned by the Norman count of Sicily, Roger II, contains an entry for a place identified as Tallinn which names it as a small town with a large stronghold.

Tallinn (Reval)
Unlike this much later representation of pre-industrialisation Tallinn, the early city was little more than a defensive structure on the dome hilltop and a small settlement at its base

1167

FeatureIn the course of forming the bishopric of Lund in Sweden, the monk Falco of France is appointed bishop of Estonia. It appears that an Estonian-born monk named Nicolaus is appointed to be his assistant, although their attempts to establish Christianity in Estonia can hardly be considered successful. However, it does seem that they establish at least one chapel, that of Saha.

1167 - ?

Falco / Fulco

Bishop of Estonia.

1170

Denmark is fast rising as a great military and merchant power, and it is in its interest to end the Estonian and Couronian pirate attacks that threatened its Baltic trade. These come from the island of Ösel (Saaremaa, the richest area of Estonia) and the later province of Courland, and the people of both of them are known as the notorious Eastern Vikings. To that end, a Danish fleets now makes an attack against Estonia. In this year an intense two-day battle at sea ensues off the coast of the island of Gotland.

By now, some of the Finnic tribes which later make up the state of Estonia can be identified, such as the Alempois (central Estonia), Harria (in the north), Ugaunians (Chudes in Russian), and Vironians (modern Viru) in the south. Each tribe, or parish, in Estonia is headed by a Council of Elders.

1187

The 'pagans of the Eastern Sea' (Estonians of Saaremaa, Couronians, and Zembs of Prussia) conquer Sigtuna, the most important town of the Swedes, which they then burn down. The Swedish Eric's Chronicle of 1335 blames the Finnish Karelians for the attack. More recently, Professor Kustaa Vilkuna has suggested that the raid is in revenge for Sigtuna's merchants having intruded upon Kven fisheries on the River Kemijoki and the hunting grounds of the Karelians. The medieval naming of a settlement in the village of Liedakkala by the River Kemijoki as 'Sihtuuna' may be additional confirmation of this.

1194

A Danish fleet makes a second attack on Estonia.

1197

A third attack by a Danish fleet on Estonia probably fails to end the problem, leading to more direct action in 1206.

c.1200

The Chronicle of Henry of Livonia describes a clearly non-Slavic tribe called the Vindi (German Winden, English Wends). They live in Courland and Livonia, clearly the northernmost remnants of the Venedi. The tribe's name is preserved in the River Windau (in Latvian this is the Venta), which has the town of Windau (the Latvian Ventspils) at its mouth. It is also preserved in Wenden, the old name for the town of Cēsis in Livonia.

At the start of the second millennium, there are two countries or people occupying this region, called Ventava (the Ventspils area) and Vanema to its east. It is unclear whether these are names that relate to the Venedi or not, although given the location it seems likely. In possibly opposition to this is the fact that 'vene' words are in common use across the north both today and two thousand years ago, and even further south (witness the Vindilici of Raetia and the Veneti of Italy). Even the modern Estonian word for Russians is 'Vene', suggesting that the word existed before the Russians, perhaps being used to denote previous neighbours in the same territory.

1201 - 1202

Bishop Albert from Bremen in Germany lands in the Baltics with his followers at the mouth of the River Väina and founds the Livonian town of Riga (in modern Latvia). Europeans are becoming hungry for land at this point, and others follow the lead set by the German bishops in invading the pagan Baltic territories. In 1202 Bishop Albert founds the Livonian Order of Knights for the purposes of conquest and Christianisation in the Baltics. This marks the beginning of the Northern Crusade.

1206

The Danish king, Valdemar II, and Archbishop Andreas Sunonis, launch a raid on Ösel (Saaremaa). The islanders are forced to submit and the Danes build a fortress there, but they can find no volunteers to man it. Relinquishing their brief occupation of the island, they burn the fortress and leave the island. However, they lay claim to Estonia as their possession, which claim the Pope recognises.

1206

Andreas Sunonis (Sunesen)

Archbishop of Lund. First governor of Estonia (from Ösel).

1208 - 1210

The Estonian counties fight various battles to regain lost land from invading forces, ending in their biggest victory at the River Ümera. It is around this time that a particular Estonian chief (or 'elder', a more accurate term for the role played by the leaders of each parish) emerges from Lehola (modern Sakala in the central south). One of the very few elders to be named at any period, Lembitu makes an attempt to unite the various Finnic tribes in Estonia to fight against the Livonian Order and German crusaders. He raises an army which numbers several thousands and raids south and east, reaching Pskov in the territory of Novgorod, below Lake Peipsi.

c.1210 - 1217

Lembitu

Estonian chief from Lehola.

fl 1212

Meeme / Meme

Estonian chief from Sakala (south-west Estonia).

1215 - 1217

Lembitu's stronghold at Suure-Jaani is taken by Germans and Lembitu himself is imprisoned. By 1217 he is released, only to raise a new Estonian army of around 6000. That army is defeated and Lembitu is killed at the Battle of St Matthew's Day on 21 September 1217, along with Wottele and Maniwalde.

? - 1217

Wottele

Estonian chief from Sakala.

? - 1217

Maniwalde

Estonian chief from Sakala.

1217 - ?

Unnepeve

Estonian chief from Sakala.

1219

A Danish fleet arrives, led by Valdemar II. On 15 June, he attacks the trading town (which will later become Tallinn, or 'Danish City') and the fortress which sits on the hill above it called Lindanäs. The battle is a hard-fought one and the Danes are close to retreating and admitting defeat when, according to tradition, a red cloth with a white cross falls from the sky, inspiring them to fight on and conquer the town. The Danes adopt the flag as their own, and it remains the world's oldest national flag. They also establish a stone castle on Toompea, the dome of rock overlooking Tallinn, and Valdemar appoints Bishop Andreas Sunonis as the first regent of Tallinn.

The Danish capture of Tallinn in 1219
A romantic depiction of the Battle of Lyndanisse and the Danish flag falling from the sky

? - 1224

Kyriavanus / Kyriavan

Estonian chief from Virumaa (north-east Estonia).

? - 1224

Tabelinus / Thabelin of Pudiviru

Estonian chief from Virumaa.

1224

The role of the elders is effectively terminated, as Danish and Livonian authority is confirmed in north and southern-central Estonia respectively.

Danish Governors of Estonia & Vice-Regents of Tallinn
AD 1219 - 1346

Having already briefly occupied the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) in 1206, the Danes made a much more successful conquest in 1219 when they took Lindanäs or Lindanisse. The Scandinavian name, 'Lindanisse', seems to be one of the oldest used for the city of Tallinn, although the Russian names of Koluvan and Ledenets also pre-date the Danish conquest. The Danes quickly exchanged the name for Reval, from the name for the province in which the city lay, Revelia, or Rävala. That province was itself later merged into Harria province (modern Harju).

Then the Danes set about taking over and securing all of North Estonia (or Estland) by force, while the rest of the country was undergoing the same process from the south. What is now Estonia and Latvia quickly came to be governed by German prince-bishops in Courland, Dorpat, Ösel-Wiek, and Riga, while the Livonian Order of Knights conquered the rest of Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia.

The Danish king appointed a vice-regent in Tallinn to govern in his name (although the list has lots of gaps - Estonian history from this period is very sketchy in places). The position carried with it the governorship of (North, or Danish) Estonia, while a bishop was also appointed by the king in Reval. Danish forces in Estonia were never very strong, and the king himself rarely entered the province, except perhaps to pass through it on the way to a war elsewhere.

1219 - 1221

Andreas Sunonis

Archbishop of Lund. Former governor of Ösel (1206).

1219 - 1227

Canute / Knud Valdemarsen

Duke of Reval. Bastard son of King Valdemar II of Denmark.

1219 - 1227

Over the course of the following eight years, North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. In 1220, following quarrels between the Danes and the Livonian Knights over the exact borders between their conquests, Denmark agrees to submit the southern Estonian provinces of Sackala and Ugaunia which are already under the control of the knights. Bishop Albert in Livonia submits to Denmark the provinces of Harria (Harju), Vironia (Viru) and Jerwia (Järva).

Livonian Knights
A later, slightly romantic depiction of Livonian Knights

1227

The Danes are temporarily eclipsed in North Estonia when the Livonian Knights conquer all of their territory from the heartland of their powerbase in central Livonia. Duke Canute and Archbishop Andreas are kicked out of the country by the resurgent Estonians. Canute's descendant, Bengt Algotsson, is created duke of neighbouring Finland in 1353.

1233

FeatureThe area around the Dome Cathedral in Tallinn becomes the scene of a battle which takes place between the Livonian Knights and pro-Papal vassals who want to create an ecclesiastical state. The bodies of defeated pro-Papal knights are piled at the alter of the cathedral after the battle spreads inside the church.

1238

North Estonia (Harria and Vironia) is returned to the Danes under the terms of the Treaty of Stensby, which is mediated by the Pope. However, the Livonian Knights keep Jerwia.

1248 - 1249

Saxo Aginsun

Died 1249.

1249

Stigot Agison

1254 - 1257

Saxo

1259

Jakob Ramessun

1260

The Livonian Knights, along with the Teutonic Knights, are abandoned by their Estonian and Couronian vassals and defeated severely at the Battle of Durbe in Livonia by the Samogitians. As a result, numerous rebellions break out against the Teutonic Knights all across the Baltics, including military expeditions by the Lithuanians, and it takes around thirty years before complete control is regained.

1262

B-

Rest of name unknown.

1266

Woghen Palissun

1270

Siverith

1275 - 1279

Eilard von Oberch

Died 1279.

1279 - 1281

Odewart Lode

1285

Letgast

1287

Friedrich Moltike

1287

A-

Rest of name unknown.

1288

Johann Sialanzfar

1296

Nils Axelsson

1298

Nikolaus Ubbison

1304

Johann Saxesson

1310

Johannes Canne

1312 - 1313

Ago Saxisson

1313 - 1314

Heinrich Bernauer

1323

Johannes Kanna

1329

Heinrich Spliit

1332 - 1335

Marquard Breide

Died 1335.

1340 - 1343

Konrad Preen

Governed Jul-May.

1343

Bertram von Parembeke

Acting governor. Died 1343?

1343

The St George's Day Uprising sees a large-scale Estonian revolt beaten by the Livonian Knights, using a mixture of treachery and battle. The Danish response to the uprising seems to be muted, with the Knights taking command of the defence.

1343 - 1344

Goswin von Herike

1344 - 1346

Stigot Andersson

Last Danish vice-regent of North Estonia.

1346

The Danish king sells North Estonia to the Livonian Knights for ten thousand marks. All of Estonia is now ruled by a German nobility class. The official transfer of power takes place on 1 November 1346.

1410

The Battle of Tannenberg witnesses Polish and Lithuanian forces under Polish leadership halt the eastward expansion of the Teutonic Knights. After this defeat, the Livonian Order begins to weaken and disintegrate.

1441

One of the merchants guilds in Tallinn erects Estonia's (and the world's) first Christmas tree (sixty-nine years before Riga does the same). Merchants and single women dance around the tree, after which it is set alight and all the evidence is disposed of. According to records, Riga's first Christmas tree isn't even a real tree, just a wooden pyramid decorated with flowers, fruits and toys.

1525

FeatureThe German Lutheran reformation reaches Tallinn, accompanied by a surprisingly violent stripping of the churches, although the stronghold church of St Nicholas successfully fends off its attackers. A similar mood of destructive reformation occurs in the capital city of the bishopric of Dorpat.

1558 - 1559

Following Russian provocation and the conquest of Dorpat, the Livonian Wars erupt in the Baltic States (1558-1583), ripping apart the old order in Livonia and North Estonia. The Livonian Knights and the archbishop of Riga seek help from Sigismund II of Poland-Lithuania, pawning five Order castles and two archbishopric castles together with their surrounding territory to help procure it.

Russian siege of Narva in 1558
The Russian siege of Narva in 1558 as envisaged by Boris Chorikov in 1836

1560 - 1562

The army of the Livonian Knights is completely destroyed by the Russians at the Battle of Ergeme in 1560, and a year later, on 29 November, their Order is dissolved. South Estonia remains within Livonia which, along with the duchy of Courland, becomes part of Lithuania. In North Estonia, Tallinn, together with the vassals of Harju-Viru and Järva, asks Sweden for military support, and in June 1561 they pledge allegiance to King Eric IV of Sweden to be incorporated into the kingdom as the duchy of Estonia, while the German prince-bishops sell off the last of their territory, including the bishopric Ösel Wiek.

Swedish Governors of Estonia / Duchy of Estonia
AD 1562 - 1710

Sweden's successes in the Livonian Wars created a Scandinavian empire which covered North Estonia and a large swathe of territory in what is now the north-western Russian coastal region (Ingermanland). The governors ruled from the capital, Reval (modern Tallinn on the north-western Estonian coast). The period in which they belonged to 'Swedish Estonia' came to be known as a golden age for Estonians.

1561 - 1562

Lars Ivarsson Fleming Friherre of Nynäs

1561

Klaus Christiern Horn of Åminne

Acting governor for Aug only.

1562

Henrik Klasson Horn of Kankas

1562 - 1564

Svante Stensson Sture

1564 - 1565

Hermann Pedersson Fleming of Lechtis

1565 - 1568

Henrik Klasson Horn of Kankas

Governor for the second time.

1568 - 1570

Gabriel Kristiernsson Oxenstierna

1570 - 1571

The fight for the Baltic States is not yet over. In this decade, the Russian army launches a new offensive, and reaches Riga and Tallinn under the command of Ivan the Terrible. He does not manage to capture either town, failing to take Tallinn both in 1570-1571, and again in 1577.

Tallinn in 1561
This print of Tallinn from 1561 shows the extensive development of the stronghold on the dome hill in Tallinn, but very little evidence of the growing town at its base

1570 - 1572

Hans Björnsson of Lepas

1572 - 1574

Claes Åkeson Tott

1574 - 1575

Pontus De la Gardie

A French nobleman in the service of Sweden.

1576 - 1578

Karl Henriksson Horn of Kankas

1576 - 1577

Nilsson Hans Eriksson Finn of Brinkala

1577 - 1580

Göran Boije af Gennäs

1580 - 1581

Svante Eriksson Stålarm of Kyala

1581 - 1583

As the Livonian Wars draw to an end, the county of Läänemaa (Wiek, formerly part of the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek) is conquered by Sweden in 1581, giving it control of a greater slice of Estonia, especially when it also takes Narva from the Russians. The following year an armistice agreement is concluded between the Russian czar and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom proclaiming Livonia a possession of the latter. In 1583, Russia concludes a similar agreement with Sweden, acknowledging its supreme power in North Estonia.

1582 - 1583

Göran Boije af Gennäs

Governor for the second time.

1583 - 1585

Pontus De la Gardie

Governor for the second time.

1585 - 1588

Gustaf Gabrielsson Oxenstierna

1588

Hans Wachtmeister

Acting governor & admiral general of the Swedish navy.

1588 - 1590

Gustaf Axelsson Banér from Djurshom

1590 - 1592

Erik Gabrielsson Oxenstierna af Lindö

1592 - 1600

Göran Boije af Gennäs

Governor for the third time.

1600 - 1601

Karl Henriksson Horn of Kankas

Acting governor for the second time.

1601 - 1602

Count Moritz Stensson Leijonhufvud

1602 - 1605

?

Name unknown.

1605

Nils Turesson Bielke

Later governor-general of Finland (1623).

1605 - 1608

Axel Nilsson Ryning

1608 - 1611

?

Name unknown.

1611 - 1617

Gabriel Bengtsson Oxenstierna

Became governor of Finland (1635) & Livonia (1645).

1617 - 1619

Anders Eriksson Hästehufvud

1619 - 1622

Jacob De la Gardie

Son of Pontus. Became governor of Livonia (1622).

1622 - 1626

Per Gustafsson Banér af Tussa

1626 - 1628

Johan De la Gardie Friherre of Eckholm

1628 - 1642

Philipp Scheiding of Arnö

1629

The First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark, which sees the Swedes take all of Poland-Lithuania's remaining mainland Estonian and Livonian territory.

1642 - 1646

Gustaf Gabrielsson Oxenstierna Friherre

1645

FeatureThe Swedes gain all of modern Estonia when the Danes hand over the island of Ösel (Saaremaa) under the Treaty of Brömsebro. During this period, Russian settlers who have seceded from the Orthodox church following the Great Schism migrate to the south-western shores of Lake Peipsi (now the eastern border of Estonia), forming small fishing communities along the lake's shore.

Estonian rural house
A traditional sixteenth and seventeenth century house of rural Estonia

1646 - 1653

Count Erik Axelsson Oxenstierna

1653

Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor.

1653 - 1655

Count Heinrich von Thurn-Valsassina

1655

Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor for the second time.

1655 - 1656

Bengt Skytte

1655 - 1656

Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor for the third time.

1656 - 1674

Bengt Klasson Horn

1656 - 1659

Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor for the fourth time.

1674

Johan Christoph Scheiding

Acting governor.

1674

With the appointment of Andreas Lennartson Torstensson, the position of governor is elevated to governor-general.

1674 - 1681

Andreas / Anders Lennartson Torstensson

First governor-general.

1681 - 1687

Robert Johannson Lichton

1687

Nils Turesson Bielke

Baron Korpo. Later governor of Swedish Pomerania (1687).

1687 - 1704

Axel Julius De la Gardie

Son of Jacob De la Gardie & Swedish field marshal.

1695 - 1697

The country suffers a severe famine, known as the Great Famine, which leads to the death of almost a fifth of the entire Estonian population. The famine is theorised to be the result of climate change, and Estonia is not the only victim. Finland and Livonia also suffer large-scale death due to famine.

1700

Sweden finds itself attacked by Russia, Poland and Denmark in the Great Northern War which lasts until 1721.

1704 - 1706

Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach

1706 - 1709

Niels Jonsson Stromberg af Clastorp

Later governor of Livonia (1709).

1709 - 1710

Carl Gustaf von Nieroth

Last Swedish governor to 10 October 1710. Given Finland (1710).

1708

FeatureDuring the Great Northern War, Tartu is blasted and part of St John's Church in the heart of the city is destroyed by the bombardment. Fortunately, the church is largely rebuilt following the war's conclusion.

1710

Sweden loses control of Estonia to the Russians, except on Ösel, which they retain. The unfortunate final Swedish governor, Carl Gustaf von Nieroth, is subsequently transferred to Finland, which is also soon captured by the Russians.

Russian Governors of Estonia
AD 1710 - 1915

The captured territories were divided by the Russian empire into three Baltic Provinces: Courland, Estonia and Livonia. In 1801-1809 and from 1819 onwards supreme authority was vested in a governor-general who was based in Riga, but at other times the provinces were governed independently. To gain support from the German landowners, the Russian authorities greatly diminished the rights and freedoms of the Estonian peasants.

1710 - 1711

Rudolph Felix Bauer

First Russian governor-general.

1711 - 1719

Prince Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov

Also governor of Livonia.

1718

FeatureConstruction begins on Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn, built on the orders of Peter the Great to serve as a summer residence near his naval port in the city. The work is initially handled by the Italian architect, Niccolo Michetti.

Tallinn 1650
This print of Tallinn in 1650 shows the growing city much as it would have been found by its new masters, the Russians, in 1710

1719 - 1728

Count Fyodor Matveyevich Apraksin

1728 - 1736

Friedrich Baron von Löwen

Position reduced to governor of Estonia.

1736 - 1738

Sebastian Ernst von Manstein

1738 - 1740

Gustaf Otto Douglas

1740 - 1743

Woldemar von Löwendahl

1743 - 1753

Peter August Friedrich von Holstein-Beck

Died 1775.

1753 - 1758

Prince Vladimir Petrovich Dolgorukiy

1758 - 1775

Peter August Friedrich von Holstein-Beck

1762 - 1783

North Estonia is administered directly by the governor-general of the Baltic Provinces, Count George Browne. However, from 1783, Georg Friedrich von Grotenhielm begins to handle local matters.

1783 - 1786

Georg Friedrich von Grotenhielm

1786 - 1797

Heinrich Johann Baron von Wrangell

1797 - 1808

Andreas von Langell

1808 - 1809

Peter Friedrich Georg von Oldenburg

Died 1812.

1809 - 1811

The post of governor of Estonia is vacant for two years.

1811 - 1816

Grand Duke Paul F August von Oldenburg

1816 - 1819

Berend Baron Üxküll

1819 - 1832

Gotthard Wilhelm Baron v Bönninghausen

1832 - 1833

Otto Wilhelm von Essen

1833 - 1841

Paul Friedrich von Benckendorff

1842 - 1859

Johann Christoph E von Grünewaldt

1859 - 1868

Wilhelm Otto Cornelius Alexander Ulrich

1868 - 1870

Mikhail Nikolaiyevich Galkin-Vraskoy

1870 - 1875

Mikhail Shakhovskoiy-Glebow-Strezhnev

1875 - 1885

Viktor Petrovich Polivanov

1885 - 1894

Sergey Vladimirovich Shakhovskoiy

1894 - 1902

Yevstafiy Nikolaiyevich Skalon

1902 - 1905

Aleksey Valerianovich Bellegarde

1905

Estonia suffers bloody reprisals for its important role in a major revolt. In the same year the position of governor general of Courland and Livonia, but not Estonia, is revived in the Baltic Provinces.

1905

Aleksey Aleksandrovich Lopuchin

1905 - 1906

Nikolay Georgiyevich von Bünting

1906 - 1907

Pyotr Petrovich Bashilov

1907 - 1915

Ismail Vladimirovich Korostovets

1914

The position of special plenipotentiary for the civil administration of the Baltic Provinces of Livonia, Estonia and Courland is created. The first incumbent is given responsibility for Estonia and Livonia, but excluding the district of Riga in 1914, then Reval (Tallinn), Baltischport (Paldiski), and Dünamünde (Daugavgriva).

1915 - 1917

Pyotr Vladimirovich Veryovkin

1915 - 1918

Thanks to Russian First World War defeats of 1916 and 1917, the Baltic Provinces are conquered by Germany between 1915 (Courland) and 1918 (Estonia), much to the relief of the German-descended land-owning aristocracy. In 1917, following the Russian Revolution, a new puppet Communist regime is appointed in Tallinn, but its authority fails to extend beyond the city. Instead, a semi-independent pro-German regime is established in the country. The Baltic provinces are formally transferred to German authority by Russia in 1918 following the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and of Berlin. However, Germany is in no position to enforce its power and Estonians quickly push for independence.

Modern Estonia
AD 1918 - Present Day

Estonia is the northernmost of the three Baltic States, with Russia to the east, and Finland to the north, across the bay of the same name. After centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, and Russian rule, and despite entering the modern period still under Russian rule, Estonia gained its independence in 1918, following the collapse of empires in Eastern Europe. It was formed of northern Livonia, the island of Ösel (Saaremaa), and North Estonia.

This happened on 23 February 1918. The announcement was made public on 24 February - Independence Day. Following the November armistice in the same year, and with assistance from the Finns and the British Royal Navy, Estonian forces were able to repel Bolshevik troops who tried to re-occupy the country following the German withdrawal.

1920

Estonian independence is formalised in the Treaty of Tartu, signed with the post-revolution Moscow government.

1920 - 1939

FeaturePolitical stability eludes the new republic, and it has twenty short-lived coalition regimes before 1933, when a new constitution gives the president sweeping authority. Political parties are abolished in 1934, and President Konstantin Päts institutes an authoritarian regime. A more democratic constitution comes into force in 1938, but the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 places the Baltic States under Soviet control, and the following month the USSR secures military bases in Estonia.

1940 - 1944

Following a rigged election, an Estonian Parliament declares Estonia a constituent part of the Soviet Union in August 1940. Then the German army arrives to occupy Estonia until 1944.

1944

German forces withdraw from Estonia in the face of the Soviet advance. On 18 September 1944, interim president Jüri Uluots inaugurates the government of Otto Tief, which declares neutrality in the war. Tief's government lasts only four days because on 22 September the Red Army captures Tallinn (in 2007, the Estonian Parliament recognises 22 September as the 'Day of Resistance'). Soviet forces re-establish Russian control in Estonia, partly by means of the aerial bombardment of Narva and Tallinn, which flattens much of the former.

Harju street ruins in Tallinn
A symbol of the re-establishment of Soviet control over Tallinn was in the ruins created by the bombing of Harju street, finally covered over by a new public garden in 2007-2008

1944 - 1987

Society and industry are modelled along Soviet lines and absolute control rests with the Soviet Communist Party. The United Kingdom and most other western countries never recognise de jure the Baltic States' incorporation into the USSR.

1987 - 1990

Estonians, defiant against Soviet rule, sing traditional folk songs, culminating with one-third of the entire country holding hands in an unbroken chain which connects similar chains in Latvia and Lithuania. In March 1990 liberation groups assume control of government.

1991

The restoration of Estonian independence takes place on 20 August 1991, when Estonia breaks from the USSR, catalysing its swift disintegration. Restored independence is first recognised by Iceland, with a swiftly changing Russia being the second. The United Kingdom, with the rest of the European Community, follow on 27 August, and Lennart Meri is the country's first elected president.

1994

On 31 August, the last Russian soldiers leave Estonia.