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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe


MapFinno-Ugric & Samoyed Tribes IndexEstonia (Eesti) (Aestii)
Incorporating the Alempois, Chudes/Chuds, Harria, Ugaunians, & Vironians

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 a generalised European origin, one of the pockets of humans that had survived the recent ice age by taking refuge in southern Europe.

At the beginning of the third millennium BC, tribes of Ugric-speaking people migrated from the east and soon became dominant. These peoples had originated in Uralic-speakers around the Ural Mountains, but groups had been slowly migrating outwards for centuries. They quickly came to dominate a vast swathe of territory between modern Finland and the eastern side of the Urals, although in general they were peaceful foragers rather than kingdom-builders. Those who settled between Lake Peipsi and the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland provided the ancestors of the Finno-Ugric Estonians.

Between around 3000-2500 BC, another new wave of migrant tribes arrived in Estonia. They were 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 saw the migration southwards from Scandinavia of Germanic tribes. Some of these settled for a time on the southern Baltic coast, pushing the Baltic tribes further north and eastwards and impacting somewhat on the more southern Finno-Ugric territories in the process. In the first century AD, the Baltic tribes' south-western neighbours were the Gepids and Goths, with the Venedi to the immediate south. Roman writers referred to the people of the eastern Baltic Sea as Aestii - east men. However, these are described as being like Suevi, although they speak like Britons. That classes them very distinctly as northern Celts: Belgae. It may be the case that the Aestii, then, were Venedi-type people around the mouth of the Vistula rather than being Estonians.

The fifth to ninth centuries AD were witness to less settled times for the Estonians. 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 out of tribal territories, and these maintained their own security and looked after their own interests. The main county in the north was Rävala. Its main settlement was near a castle called Lindanise (Kolyvan in Rus sources) which was used mainly as a defensive refuge. The settlement may have traded with Scandinavian and Russian states from around AD 1000 onwards. By 1170 some of the native tribes could be identified by name, such as the Alempois of central Estonia, the Harria in the north, the Ugaunians or Unguenois (the Estonian name for their part of the greater body of Chudes or Chuds - to the early Rus - who extended into Karelia and modern north-western Russia), and the Vironians around modern Viru. Each tribe, or parish, in Estonia was headed by a council of Elders.

Churches of EuropeOnce Christianity arrived in the country (borne at the point of a Crusader sword), the Dome Church (Toomkirik in Estonian) was built as the mother church of the country's official (post-Reformation) Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church body. The invading Danes probably built the original, temporary wooden, church on the spot on Toompea Hill (in modern Tallinn) shortly after their conquest of North Estonia in 1219. There were already some Christianised elements in the country before that date, but their church organisation is entirely unknown. (The index of Estonian churches contains much more history of various church buildings - see link, right.)

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Gediminas Kiveris and Merit Pai, from Life in Estonia, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from Eric's Chronicle, from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), and from External Links: Archaeology: The First Vikings, and The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it), and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA. Other major sources listed in the 'Northern Europe' section of the Sources page.)

9000s BC

FeatureBy this date, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Prussia are settled by pre-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.

Map of Scandinavia 9000 BC
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, while the map above shows the approximate location of the ice sheet at this time (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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, Livs, 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 they continue to exist alongside universally-practised hunter-gather activities for some time. Both of these groups - foragers and farmers - 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 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.


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.


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.

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.


The Finnic-speaking tribes of the Baltic coast are beginning to change. They share the strong trading connections of their Baltic 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 eastern 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.

In fact, the threat may be the Balts themselves. The numerous Baltic tribes are currently ruled by powerful chieftains and landlords, a system which remains in place until the beginning of recorded history in the region. Among the Baltic tribes the Prussians and Couronians continue to play leading roles. In the previous century or so, the Lets have expanded their territory to cover much of northern Latvia, replacing the previously dominant Finno-Ugric tribes there, the early Estonians.

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. However, the Estonians have other pressures to contend with.  In the previous century or so, the Lets have expanded their territory to cover much of northern Latvia, replacing the previously dominant Finno-Ugric tribes there, Estonians.

700 - 750

Two ships filled with Viking warriors who have been killed in battle are uncovered by archaeologists on the island of Saaremaa in 2008. The carefully stacked remains of thirty-three men have been buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to Saaremaa more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail across such distances. They are almost certainly Swedes who have been conducting a raid but have been defeated by the island's determined defenders - a sign of many battles to come.

Viking remains found on Saaremaa
Two ships were filled with Viking warriors who were killed in battle between AD 700-750, proof of a Viking raid more than a century before the Vikings are thought to have been able to sail such distances


MapViking interest and exploration into the Slavic lands to the east of the Baltic states has been building up for some time. According to tradition, in this year a Kven Viking named Rurik founds the 'Rus' state with his headquarters at Novgorod and with a population that is made up of eastern Slav, Finno-Ugric, and Baltic people. His brothers Sineus (Signiutr) and Truvor (Thorwardr) govern the Slav centres at Beloozero (modern Belozersk) and Izborsk (bordering the Eesti) respectively (see map link).


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.


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


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.


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 threaten its Baltic trade. These come from the island of Ösel (Saaremaa, the richest area of Estonia) and the later province of Courland respectively, 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 (although three days of fighting is also given).

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 or Ungenois (Chudes or Chuds to the early Rus), and Vironians (modern Viru) in the south. Each tribe, or parish, in Estonia is headed by a Council of Elders.

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


Sverris saga says that King Sverre's brother, Erik, spends three years around 1185 looting Estonian coastal areas and then sails back to Svitjod in Svealand, to King Knut Eriksson of the Swedes, to whom he is related. Svitjod would seem to be Sigtuna, the most important centre in Svealand.


FeatureThe 'pagans of the Eastern Sea' (Estonians of Saaremaa, Couronians, and Sambians (Zembs) of Old 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.


A Danish fleet makes a second attack on Estonia.


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


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.


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.


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


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


Estonian chief from Sakala.

? - 1217


Estonian chief from Sakala.

1217 - ?


Estonian chief from Sakala.


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

1220 - 1226

Despite the Danes having conquered Lindanäs in northern Estonia, their control certainly does not extend to western Estonia. Neither does that of Livonia to any great extent, as the fiercely independent and powerful 'Vikings' of Saaremaa are still a force to be reckoned with. Now they cross the Moonsund with a great host and liberate Rotalia County in western Estonia from the people of Svealand, who have conquered Lihula Castle. How long they remain there is unclear, but the fight against the Swedes continues in 1226 when the men of Saaremaa sail back home from Svealand with a great deal of loot and a large number of prisoners.

? - 1224

Kyriavanus / Kyriavan

Estonian chief from Virumaa (north-east Estonia).

? - 1224

Tabelinus / Thabelin of Pudiviru

Estonian chief from Virumaa.


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


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.

The role of the Estonian elders on Ösel-Wiek is effectively terminated when that island is finally conquered. Ösel-Wiek is established as one of four bishoprics in Livonia. The territory is divided between the archbishop of Riga, the Livonian Knights, and the city of Riga. Over the course of the next few years, the city of Riga loses its domain and the island remains under the governance of two landlords - the bishop of Saare-Lääne (Ösel-Wiek) and the Livonian Order.


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.

1236 - 1238

The Livonian Knights are decimated by the Samogitians and Semigallians (two peoples who are situated between the Lithuanians and the Lats in what is now southern Latvia) at the Battle of Schaulen (Saule) in 1236. The following year, what remains of the Order joins the Teutonic Knights as an autonomous branch in Livonia, now known as the Livonian Order, or Livonian Knights. While being subject to the grand master of the Teutonic Knights, the Livonian Knights continue to operate on their own behalf. Now unable to hold onto North Estonia securely, the parishes of Harria and Vironia are returned to the Danes under the terms of the Treaty of Stensby in 1238, which is mediated by the Pope. However, the Knights keep Jerwia and also have control of Ösel-Wiek.

1248 - 1249

Saxo Aginsun

Died 1249.


Stigot Agison

1254 - 1257



Jakob Ramessun


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.



Rest of name unknown.


Woghen Palissun



1275 - 1279

Eilard von Oberch

Died 1279.

1279 - 1281

Odewart Lode




Friedrich Moltike



Rest of name unknown.


Johann Sialanzfar


Nils Axelsson


Nikolaus Ubbison


Johann Saxesson


Johannes Canne

1312 - 1313

Ago Saxisson

1313 - 1314

Heinrich Bernauer


Johannes Kanna


Heinrich Spliit

1332 - 1335

Marquard Breide

Died 1335.

1340 - 1343

Konrad Preen

Governed Jul-May.


Bertram von Parembeke

Acting governor. Died 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. However, the Knights are unable to prevent some disasters, such as the loss of Pöide Castle on Ösel-Wiek, and the probable massacre of its entire garrison.

1343 - 1344

Goswin von Herike

1344 - 1346

Stigot Andersson

Last Danish vice-regent of North Estonia.


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.


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.


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.


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

Provocation by the Russian czarate and its conquest of Narva and Dorpat ignited the Russian-Livonian War. Dorpat was the first of the Old Livonian states to cease to exist, but not the last. The war quickly escalated into the Livonian Wars as fighting spread across the Baltic states (1558-1583). The wars ripped apart the old order in Livonia and North Estonia: the Livonian Knights were destroyed in battle in 1560, while southern Estonia and the duchy of Courland became part of Poland-Lithuania, ending the independent reign of the archbishopric of Riga. The archbishopric of Ösel-Wiek was purchased by Denmark, with Wiek being ceded to Poland and Ösel becoming a duchy in its own right.

The treaties of Jam Zapolski (1582) and Plussa (1583), brought open hostilities to an end. Sweden's successes helped that country to create 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.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), from Genealogisches Handbuch der baltischen Ritterschaften, Teil 2, 2: Estland, Görlitz (1930, in German), and from External Links: Life in Estonia (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and The Livonian War (Histrodamus).)

1561 - 1562

Lars Ivarsson Fleming

Friherre (baron or count) of Nynäs.


Klaus Christiern Horn of Åminne

Acting governor for Aug only.


Henrik Klasson Horn of Kankas

Governor-general of Finland (1551). Governor of Reval (1565).

1562 - 1564

Svante Stensson Sture

Died 1567.

1564 - 1565

Hermann Pedersson Fleming of Lechtis


Although the Swedish governors-general may be in place, the Livonian Wars continue. Now Henrik Klasson Horn of Kankas, commander-in-chief of Swedish forces in Estonia and Livonia, and briefly governor-general of the Swedish duchy of Estonia in 1562, defeats a German mercenary force near Reval (Tallinn). In the same year, Henrik Klasson is made governor of Reval under the titular rule of Magnus of Livonia. His failure to successfully execute the siege of Narva in 1579 sees him being replaced.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1581
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, while above is a map of the Nordic countries and the western czarate after AD 1581 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

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.

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 Russian czarate. 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.

Swedish coin of the duchy of Estonia
Issued in the name of the king of Sweden, this Reval shilling bears the name of King Johan III of Sweden (1568-1592), as ruler of the duchy of 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


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.


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

Grandson of Svante Stensson Sture (1562).

1626 - 1628

Johan de la Gardie Friherre of Eckholm

1628 - 1642

Philipp Scheiding of Arnö


FeatureThe 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. It is probably during this period that many of the old German Crusader castles such as Helme Order Castle are destroyed (see feature link). The remainder of Livonia, the eastern part of Livonia, named Latgallia, remains in Polish hands and survives today as the Latgale region of Latvia.

Estonian rural house
A traditional sixteenth and seventeenth century house of rural Estonia of the type that today can be found in places such as Tallinn's Open Air Museum

1642 - 1646

Gustaf Gabrielsson Oxenstierna Friherre


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 (see feature link).

1646 - 1653

Count Erik Axelsson Oxenstierna


Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor.

1653 - 1655

Count Heinrich von Thurn-Valsassina


Wilhelm Ulrich

Acting governor for the second time.

1655 - 1656

Bengt Skytte

Became Swedish ambassador to London.

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.


Johan Christoph Scheiding

Acting governor.


MapWith the appointment of Andreas Lennartson Torstensson, the position of governor is elevated to that of governor-general (see the map of Scandinavia for AD 1660).

Map of Scandinavia AD 1660
The Swedes were driven out of Livonia in 1601 but returned in 1629 following the results of further conflict. Russia was becoming increasingly important in these territorial struggles (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1674 - 1681

Andreas / Anders L Torstensson

First governor-general.

1681 - 1687

Robert Johannson Lichton


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, all of which could perhaps be attributed to the Little Ice Age, a period of intense cooling across Europe that also regularly freezes the River Thames in London.


Sweden finds itself attacked by Russia, Poland, and Denmark in the Great Northern War (alternatively entitled the Second Northern War) which lasts until 1721. Sweden's expansion at the end of the Livonian Wars had antagonised several states, notably those on the receiving end of defeats such as Russia and Denmark. The latter state takes the opportunity presented by the death of Charles XI of Sweden to organise an anti-Swedish coalition.

1704 - 1706

Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach

Russian captive in 1712, and switched allegiance.

1706 - 1709

Niels Jonsson Stromberg af Clastorp

Later governor of Livonia (1709).

1709 - 1710

Carl Gustaf von Nieroth

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


FeatureDuring the Great Northern War, Dorpat (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 (see feature link).

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


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 (Reval Governorate)
AD 1710 - 1915

The Livonian Wars of 1558-1583 had allowed Sweden to take control of the Baltic states, but the Great Northern War at the start of the eighteenth century ended that control. The Russian empire had been building its strength and territories over the intervening time and was now the dominant regional force. In 1710 Russia secured control of the territory that would form modern Estonia, all except Ösel which the Swedes retained. It was Rudolph Felix Bauer who besieged Riga, Pärnu, and Tallinn, successfully securing all three and becoming the first Russian governor-general of Estonia.

The captured territories were divided by their new masters into three Baltic Provinces: Courland, Estonia (with its capital at Reval - today's Tallinn), 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 individually, answering directly to St Petersburg. To gain support from the German landowners who still dominated the region culturally and linguistically, the Russian authorities greatly diminished the rights and freedoms of the Estonian peasants. On the plus side - if there could be one for the enslaved Estonians - this regime was not nearly so aggressively destructive for them as the later Soviet one would be.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), from Genealogisches Handbuch der baltischen Ritterschaften, Teil 2, 2: Estland, Görlitz (1930, in German), and from External Links: Life in Estonia (dead link), and Encyclopaedia Britannica.)

1710 - 1711

Rudolph Felix Bauer

Russian general and first governor-general.

1711 - 1719

Prince Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov

Also governor of Livonia.


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 (see feature link).

Map of Scandinavia AD 1721
This map shows the Nordic borders following the conclusion of the Great Northern War in 1721, after which large swathes of eastern territory changed hands (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1719 - 1728

Count Fyodor Matveyevich Apraksin

Last of the governors-general in Estonia. Removed.


The Great Northern War is ended with the Treaty of Nystad by which time Russia has already gained much influence in the duchy of Courland with the marriage of Princess Anna Ivanova (later empress in 1730) to the ruling duke. That duchy, plus Ingria, Estonia, and Livonia, are confirmed as Russian possessions. Large numbers of Ingrian Finns (not to be confused with Izhorian-speaking Ingrians) migrate back into Finland proper as Russia starts to impose its own rule on the region. Czar Peter is subsequently proclaimed 'Emperor of All Russia', although only Poland-Lithuania, Prussia, and Sweden recognise this claim.

1728 - 1736

Friedrich Baron von Löwen

Former deputy governor. Now (reduced) governor of Estonia.

1736 - 1738

Sebastian Ernst von Manstein

Acting governor.

1738 - 1740

Gustaf Otto Douglas

Swedish, but captured and 'became' Russian. Arrested.

1740 - 1743

Woldemar von Löwendahl

Later a marshal of France.

1762 - 1783

A Swedish attempt to regain territory lost to Russia backfires in the Russo-Swedish War, which is part of the greater Austrian War of Succession. Also known as the Hats' Russian War, the Russian forces sweep the Swedes back to Helsinki where they surrender, and Finland is again occupied while peace negotiations rumble on. The Lesser Wrath, as this event is known, sees Sweden further diminished as a great power when it is forced to hand over the Finnish towns of Hamina and Lappeenranta, along with a strip of territory lying to the north-west of St Petersburg. The River Kymi is set as the new border.

1743 - 1753

Peter August Friedrich

Duke of Holstein-Beck. Returned to active service (1753).

1753 - 1758

Prince Vladimir Petrovich Dolgorukiy

Previously and later governor of Livonia (1751 & 1758).

1758 - 1775

Peter August Friedrich

Second term of office. Died 1775. Interim followed.

1762 - 1783

With an increase of direct Russian control of the Baltic states in mind, Catherine the Great orders Livonia to be administered directly by the governor-general of the Baltic Provinces, Count George Browne. Estonia is forced to follow suit in 1775. However, from 1783, Georg Friedrich von Grotenhielm begins to handle local matters.

Czarina Catherine the Great
The assassination of Czar Peter III and the seizure of the imperial throne by his widow, Catherine (pictured on the balcony at the time of her accession as czarina), resulted in a shift in Russian policy and in its administration of the Baltic Provinces

1783 - 1786

Georg Friedrich von Grotenhielm

First regional governor since 1775. Retired due to illness.

1786 - 1797

Heinrich Johann Baron von Wrangell

Aged 60 in 1797. Retired? Died 1813.

1788 - 1790

Having secured the Swedish throne through force, Gustavus conducts two failed military campaigns in 1788-1790, first to capture Norway and then to recapture the Baltic Provinces from Russia.

1797 - 1808

Andreas von Langell

Previously deputy governor (1786-1797).


The Second Coalition is formed by Austria and Russia against France. It ends in Austrian defeat at the Battle of Marengo, which eventually secures the French client republics in the Netherlands and Italy.


The Third Coalition is formed against France so, in a swift campaign, Napoleon marches east, occupies the Austrian capital of Vienna, and defeats large armies of Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. The coalition lies in ruins.

1808 - 1809

Duke Peter Friedrich Georg v Oldenburg

Grandson of Frederick II Eugene of Württemberg. Died 1812.

1809 - 1811

On 3 August 1809, Peter von Oldenburg, a younger son of the grand duke of Oldenburg, marries Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna of Russia in order to keep her out of the hands of the now-divorced Napoleon Bonaparte of France. On the same day, Duke Peter is appointed governor-general of Russia's three central provinces of Novgorod, Tver, and Yaroslavl. The post of governor of Estonia is vacant for two years and later occupants are increasingly drawn from the local nobility.

1811 - 1816

Grand Duke Paul F August v Oldenburg

Elder brother. Later grand duke of Oldenburg.

1812 - 1813

Incensed by Russia's refusal to join his blockade of Britain, Napoleon invades with one of the largest armies Europe has ever seen. Courland is captured, and Lithuania is occupied, and the French advance to Moscow. However, frustrated by the Russian policy of using the vast space of the country to defeat him, and perhaps unnerved by being ignored after his capture of Moscow, he is forced to retreat to Germany. In early 1813, Europe's armies mobilise against him, and a victory at Leipzig pushes the French back within their own borders.

French defend against Prussians. Leipzig 1813
French grenadiers of the line defend against an attack by Prussian infantry in the three-day Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, dubbed the 'Battle of the Nations' due to the number of states involved, in this 1914 painting by Richard Knötel

1816 - 1819

Berend Johann Baron Üxküll

Head of the Estonian Knighthood (1806-1809).

1819 - 1832

Gotthard Wilh. Baron v Bönninghausen

A Baltic-German.

1832 - 1833

Otto Wilhelm von Essen

A Baltic-German.

1833 - 1841

Paul Friedrich von Benckendorff

A Baltic-German.

1842 - 1859

Johann Christoph E von Grünewaldt

A Baltic-Russian.

1859 - 1868

Wilhelm Otto Cornelius Alexander Ulrich

A Baltic-Russian. Married into the Essen family.


The 'Emancipation Reform of 1861' - more literally known as the Peasants' Reform' - abolishes serfdom in the Russian empire. The act frees up to twenty-three million people. (Serfs living on state-owned lands are freed in 1866.)


The period between 22 January 1863 to April 1865 witnesses the 'Second (January) Insurrection', or January Uprising in Poland. The uprising takes place across much of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic Provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. Following this, Congress Poland is administered as an integral part of Russia.

1868 - 1870

Mikhail Nikolaiyevich Galkin-Vraskoy

Russian. Later governor of Saratov.

1870 - 1875

Mikhail Shakhovskoiy-Glebow-Strezhnev

Russian. Later governor of Tambov.

1875 - 1885

Viktor Petrovich Polivanov

Russian. Former deputy-governor.

1885 - 1894

Sergey Vladimirovich Shakhovskoiy

Russian. Beginnings of Russification policy.

1894 - 1902

Yevstafiy Nikolaiyevich Skalon

Russian. Oversaw completion of the Nevsky Cathedral.

1902 - 1905

Aleksey Valerianovich Bellegarde

Russian. Former deputy governor of Livonia.


FeatureEstonia 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. (It is now five years since the newly-completed Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn had been consecrated - see feature link.)

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn
Situated opposite the Tallinn's modern parliament building, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral was erected between 1894-1900 on a grass square which had previously held a memorial to Protestant reformist Martin Luther (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page).


Aleksey Aleksandrovich Lopuchin

Accused of being too lenient with protestors. Dismissed.

1905 - 1906

Nikolay Georgiyevich von Bünting

Of Prusso-Courlandic descent.

1906 - 1907

Pyotr Petrovich Bashilov

Russian. Died 1919.

1907 - 1915

Ismail Vladimirovich Korostovets

Former deputy governor of Courland.


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

Last civil governor of Estonia. Independence followed.

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 which lie on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. The Estonians are a Finno-Ugric people, part of the same wave of arrivals in the region around 3000 BC as the Finns. Independent of Soviet occupation since 1991, Estonia and its immediate neighbours have proven themselves to be some of the better former Eastern Bloc countries in terms of their economic performance and standard of life, although some problems do still exist. Estonia is neighboured by Finland to the north, across the bay of the same name, Russia to the east, Latvia to the south, and Sweden across the Baltic Sea to the west.

It was a conquering crusade by soldiers of the Holy Roman empire in the twelfth to thirteenth centuries which ended the freedom of a great many Baltic peoples, plus the southern Estonians, while the Danes took North Estonia to complete the work. After centuries of German, Danish, Swedish, and Russian rule, Estonia entered the twentieth century still under the control of the last of these, but sweeping changes were coming. The First World War resulted in the collapse of the Russian empire and, as civil war gripped its territories, Estonia gained its independence, creating its own nation state for the first time in history. It was formed of northern Livonia, the island of Ösel (Saaremaa), and North Estonia, with Tallinn as its capital. Physical independence was achieved on 23 February 1918, but the public announcement to that effect was made on 24 February - Independence Day, celebrated annually.

FeatureEstonia's newly-born independence lasted until the Second World War, which ended with it being occupied by the Soviets until 1991. Since then Estonia has powered ahead as a centre of technological excellence, with a vibrant economy and a tendency towards inventiveness (Skype and TransferWise are both Estonian creations, as is a functional e-society). Modern Tallinn's Old Town is one of the best preserved Hanseatic town centres in the world, although many of its historic churches have been preserved - see feature link). On the edge of this is the city's highly modern business centre with slick-looking office towers and luxury hotels, plus trendy neighbourhoods and large shopping centres. A member of the European Union since 2004, Estonia is one of the post-Cold War period's big success stories.

(Information by Peter Kessler and Maret Tamjärv, with additional information by Katrin Kimmel, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from the 15th Yearbook of the Estonian Learned Society in Sweden, 2010-2014 (Eesti Teadusliku Seltsi Rootsis aastaraamat XV. 2010-2014), Ants Anderson (Ed, Stockholm, 2015), from Estonia: Return to independence, Rein Taagepera (Westview Press, 1993), and from External Links: Life in Estonia (dead link), and Visit Estonia, and Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Russia Agrees to Full Withdrawal Of Troops in Estonia by Aug 31 (New York Times), and Split By a Border and Fading Fast: Estonia's Unique Seto People, Helen Wright.)

1917 - 1920

The collapse of the Russian empire following the February and October revolutions of 1917 allows Estonia to form its own autonomous governorate. This is forced underground by the Bolsheviks, but only months later the Bolsheviks are forced out of Estonia by the advancing German imperial army. The Estonians declare their independence on 24 February 1918 (which is celebrated annually). One day later German troops enter the capital, Tallinn, and end this briefest period of independence in favour of the rights of the Baltic German nobility.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1917-1944
The twentieth century wrought great changes on the borders of the Nordic countries with Finland, controlled from Moscow since 1809, now becoming a battleground between Soviet and German interests, while Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany (click or tap on map to view full sized)

German capitulation at the end of the First World War results in political power being formally handed back to Estonians between 11-14 November 1918. A hastily-assembled Estonian army is mobilised to fight the Estonian War of Independence. With some assistance from the Finns and the British Royal Navy, Estonian forces are able to repel Bolshevik troops who had tried to re-occupy the country. Estonian independence is formalised on 2 February 1920 by the Treaty of Tartu, signed with the post-revolution Soviet government.

1920 - 1934

The constitution of April 1920 is remarkably liberal. Estonia's international status becomes more secure in 1921, when the world's leading nations recognise Estonia de jure. The new state becomes a full member of the League of Nations, and radical land reform (enacted in 1919) ends the economic and political supremacy of the Baltic German minority.

However, despite massive cultural and economic progress, political stability eludes the new republic. It has twenty short-lived coalition regimes before 1933, when a new constitution gives the new post of president sweeping authority. Political parties are abolished in 1934 as President Konstantin Päts (ex-prime minister and previously the minister of war during the fight for independence) institutes an authoritarian regime under a state of emergency.

This is referred to as the 'Era of Silence', with Päts justifying his 'coup' as a pre-emptive move for the sake of national unity to prevent what he sees as a takeover by the anti-communist and anti-parliamentary Vaps Movement (the League of Veterans - Eesti Vabadussõjalaste Keskliit). He is largely supported by the populace because he still stands very strongly for Estonian national identity.

Spartacist Uprising of 1919
The political instability in Estonia mirrored the situation in Germany, thanks to which Adolf Hitler was able to manoeuvre himself into a position of power

1934 - 1940

Konstantin Päts

Unelected president who ruled by decree. Died 1956.

1938 - 1939

FeatureA new constitution comes into force in 1938 when Päts is formally elected the first president of the republic, ending the 'Era of Silence'. Then the Nazi-Soviet Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of August 1939 places the Baltic states under Soviet control, and the following month the USSR secures military bases in Estonia. With 25,000 Soviet troops now on Estonian territory, Estonian independence remains in name, but in practice the country is an unwilling Soviet ally. Päts is retained as a puppet before being shipped eastwards into Soviet captivity (following several moves, he dies a prisoner in 1956).

1940 - 1944

Following a rigged election, an Estonian parliament declares Estonia to be a constituent part of the Soviet Union in August 1940. Privately-owned land is forcibly redistributed and businesses are nationalised. By summer 1941 the majority of the elite have either been killed or have been arrested and deported to Soviet prison camps. In June 1941 alone about 10,000 people are deported. There is almost a sense of relief amongst Estonians when Nazi Germany launches its eastern offensive against the Soviets on 22 June 1941. German forces reach the Baltic states within weeks, with Estonia being occupied until 1944. The Reichskommissariat Ostland (RKO) is established to govern the Baltic states.

1941 - 1944

Karl-Siegmund Litzmann

Nazi German general kommisar for Estland. Died 1945.


With other eastern front districts collapsing, 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 their control of Estonia, partly by means of the aerial bombardment of Narva and Tallinn, which flattens much of the former and leaves some long-lasting scars in the latter. In autumn 1944, approximately 70,000 Estonians flee from Estonia to Germany and Sweden.

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, which were finally covered over by a new public garden in 2007-2008

1944 - 1950s

Estonian society and industry are modelled along Soviet lines and absolute control rests with the Soviet Communist Party. A process of Russification involves hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians being settled in the country while several thousand Estonians are exiled to Siberia. The oppression of the Stalinist regime peaks with deportations in March 1949 when over twenty thousand Estonians are deported to Siberia. The collectivisation of farms, forced industrialisation, and the imposition of a rigid state-planned economy helps to destroy the traditional small state economic model. The United Kingdom and most other western countries never recognise de jure the Baltic states' incorporation into the USSR. Instead, they continue to recognise the Estonian government-in-exile in Oslo and New York City.

1950s - 1987

Thousands more Estonians have refused to accept the renewed Soviet occupation and have banded together in hiding under the banner of the 'Forest Brothers' (in Estonian, 'Metsavennad'). Other central-eastern and Eastern European countries have formed similar movements (with at least one, in Georgia, bearing the same name). These movements are extensive, waging a guerrilla war against the Soviets until the period between 1952 and 1956, when military repression becomes overwhelming.

The second half of the 1970s witnesses an intensification of Russification, propaganda which espouses a 'joint Soviet nation', and bilingualism. Ethnic Russians now number a third of Estonia's entire population. Libraries have long since been emptied of the 'heritage of bourgeois society', with a considerable number of periodicals and books of fiction which had been published during the period of independence having been destroyed. Access to most of the remaining copies is restricted.

Nikita Kruschev and John F Kennedy
Photographed together here, John F Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev would, in 1962, play the world's biggest game of brinkmanship as the USA and Soviet Union vied for supremacy

1987 - 1990

Estonians remain defiant against Soviet rule and now find themselves given a level of freedom by the Perestroika reforms of the Soviet Union. Soviet plans to establish phosphorite mines in northern Estonia are revealed in 1987, unleashing an extensive protest campaign nicknamed the Phosphorite War. Estonians sing patriotic songs (many of which are especially composed) in a growing movement of passive resistance which later becomes known as the 'Singing Revolution'. This culminates on 23 August 1989 with one-third of the entire country's population holding hands in an unbroken chain which connects to similar chains in Latvia and Lithuania. Throughout this period Estonians gain increasing levels of control over their own country, and in March 1990 liberation groups assume control of government.

1991 - 1992

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 1991. In 1992, Lennart Meri is the country's first elected president, being handed his credentials by the last prime minister of the government-in-exile, Heinrich Mark.

Soviet troops attempting to take control of the tv tower
The Estonian declaration of independence in 1991 was met with Soviet tanks rolling through the countryside and paratroopers attempting (unsuccessfully) to take control of the tv tower just outside Tallinn - until the parallel attempted coup in Russia failed and more reasonable Russian elements called off the military action in Estonia


On 31 August, the last two thousand Russian soldiers on Estonian soil leave after some bad will by the Russian government. Talks about the removal have previously stalled over the fate of some 10,000 former Soviet officers who live in retirement in the country. All Russians in Estonia are offered the opportunity to apply for citizenship, although not all of them take up the offer.

2004 - 2005

Estonians are very much in favour of joining the European Union, as they demonstrate in September 2003, when a large proportion of the population turns out to vote. Just over two-thirds of voters are favour of membership. In 2004 Estonia becomes a member both of the European Union and of Nato, two important events in the country's modern history.

In May 2005, Estonia and Russia sign a treaty which delineates their joint border. This still results in Estonia accepting the loss of some eastern territory, most notably a large chunk of the Seto county of Petserimaa in the south-eastern corner of Estonia. The Estonian parliament ratifies the border treaty in June but defies warnings from Moscow by introducing an amendment which refers to Soviet occupation. Russia reacts by withdrawing from the treaty.


In February, parliament passes a law which prohibits the display of monuments that glorify Soviet rule, paving the way for the relocation of a controversial Red Army war memorial in Tallinn. The following month, Estonia becomes the first country to allow internet voting for national parliamentary elections, a big step towards the introduction of a full e-society. Prime minister Andrus Ansip's Reform Party wins by a narrow margin, going ahead in April with the relocation of the Red Army war memorial in Tallinn. Pro-Russian elements protest vocally, and protestors, mostly ethnic Russians, attempt to halt the removal. One person is killed and more than forty are injured during two nights of disturbance. The violence is largely confined to the boulevard on which the memorial is located prior to being moved, but some shop windows in the nearby Old Town are smashed as it overspills onto the cobbled streets.

2007 Tallinn riots
The 2007 riots in Tallinn resulted in smashed shop windows, some looting, and some visibly damaged cars that had been parked in the vicinity of the trouble, but after a couple of nights it faded out very quickly and a heavier police presence remained in place for some time


Estonia and Russia re-start talks on a border treaty in October, seven years after Russia had withdrawn from the 2005 agreement. The new treaty is signed in February 2014 after extensive negotiations, thereby ending their border dispute. Unfortunately, this confirms the loss of much of the Seto territory, including the Seto capital of Petseri. When Estonia begins to erect a border fence to fend off Russian military incursions (which are never publicly admitted to by Russia), this only serves to confirm the loss, although Setos on the Russian side have already been offered resettlement in Estonia. By far the majority of them accept, preferring to live alongside their Finno-Ugric cousins. Unfortunately Seto culture continues to fade at an alarming rate.