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European Kingdoms

Northern Europe

 

Latvia (Latvija) / Livonia (Balts)
Incorporating the Lats, Lets, Livs, Sels, Semigallians, & Zemgals

This Baltic country has historically also been known Lattonia, Lettonia, and Lettland, but for several hundred years it was submerged within a Germanic Crusader state called Livonia. Today the name of Livonia is still important as a description for areas of the region, even though it is no longer marked on any maps. Its core lands belong today to Latvia, with this state in Northern Europe sharing its borders with Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south - and both Russia and Belarus to the east and south-east. It is separated from Sweden in the west by the Baltic Sea, and the capital is Riga, a city founded by the very Germanic crusaders who conquered the territory during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and founded the Livonia state.

The Latvian territory was first populated around 10,000 BC, as the ice sheet slowly retreated northwards from the Early Baltics. The Indo-European proto-Baltic ancestors of the Latvian people, or Lats, settled on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea between around 3000-2500 BC, along with the Finno-Ugric peoples who had earlier settled in Estonia to the north (of whom the Livs were part, and all of whom belonged to a Uralic-speaking super-group). The Indo-European arrivals initially formed part of a general westwards migration until they split off and headed northwards. They further divided from the closely-related Slavic group around 2500 BC and went on to form the ancestors of the Latvians, Lithuanians and Old Prussians. These ancient Balts traded Latvia's renowned supplies of amber with ancient Greece and the Roman empire.

Various Baltic tribes could be distinguished by the tenth century AD. Presumably these had formed some time previously, probably centuries beforehand, as the Balts seemed to be relatively settled peoples. These tribes included the Lats (probably better known to the Germanic crusaders as Latgals or Latgallians), the Lets (Letti, Letts, Letten, or Lettigalians), the Livs (perhaps better known as Livonians, and the only Finno-Ugric group in this collective), the Sels (also referred to as Selonians), and the Zemgals (or Žiemgaliai - the Zimegola of the Russian Primary Chronicle). The last of these were also referred to as Semigallians, this being nothing more than a more international variation of the Baltic name. They were situated between the Lithuanians and the Lats in what is now southern Latvia. The neighbouring Couronian Livonians (otherwise known as Kurshes) occupied the north-western corner of modern Latvia. The main group of Livs could be further divided into the Gauja Livonians and Daugava Livonians. The Couronian, Selian, and Semigallian languages disappeared between 1400 and 1600, either being Lettonised or Lithuanised. Other eastern Baltic languages or dialects became extinct in the proto-historic or early historic period and are not preserved in written sources. Today only the Lettish and Lithuanian languages survive.

(Additional information by Leitgiris Living History Club, from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, David W Anthony, from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Links: 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 Leitgiris.)

1st century AD

MapThe 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.

The ancestors of the Galindians, Lets, Lithuanians, Natangians, Sambians, and Semigallians continue throughout the entire Early Iron Age to build stone cists in which they place urns of a family or kin, covering them with an earth barrow secured by a stone pavement from above and stone rings around. While available, Middle and Late La Tène fibulae are also imported and imitated. In marked contrast to Celtic and Germanic graves, however, weapons are extremely rare in Baltic graves. The inland Prussian tribes seem to live a rather peaceful life.

Other Baltic tribes are now developing their own distinctive burial rites. Sudovians build stone barrows, Couronians place their dead in stone circles or rectangular walls, while their neighbours in central Lithuania use flat graves supporting tree-trunk coffins with stones. The differentiation of local burial rites from around this time permits modern scholars the chance of perceiving tribal borders between the various Baltic tribes, which thereafter remain unchanged in this region until the coming of the Germans. Until then, there is no evidence of migrations, shifts of population, or invasions of the Baltic lands by foreign peoples.

5th century

In the first half of the fifth century, there is some evidence of a new wave of invaders in Lithuania. There is every reason to believe that nomadic hordes (either the Huns or a fringe group related to or vassals of them) carry out raids on the forts of southern and eastern Lithuania. Although Prussian tribes have returned westwards to reoccupy some of the lands previously lost to East Germanic tribes, they start to come under pressure from Slavs who are now migrating into what is now central Poland.

To the east, however, it is still largely a case of Balts integrating with Finno-Ugric tribes. Many barrows in these areas yield purely Baltic finds of the Let type. These date from the fifth to twelfth centuries AD. Even to the south of Smolensk, Moscow, and Kaluga, along the tributaries of the River Zhizdra and upper Desna, a number of excavated barrow cemeteries and hill forts of the Baltic type yield finds which are related or identical to those in eastern Latvia, and which can be dated up to the twelfth century. The archaeological finds also fully confirm a dating up to the twelfth century for the remnants of those Balts who live to the west of Moscow, in the area between Smolensk, Kaluga and Brjansk, the Galindians.

7th century

The Baltic tribes enjoy what could be termed a 'second golden age', buoyed by rapidly-expanding Viking trade networks which are reaching far the west and deep into Eastern Europe to establish contacts with the Byzantine empire at Constantinople. It's not all peaceful trade, however. The Vikings see the Balts as a viable target for raids, little realising at first how good are the Balts at defending their territories and even striking back at Viking targets.

The numerous Baltic tribes are currently ruled by powerful chieftains and landlords, a system which remains in place until the beginning of locally-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.

900

Four Baltic tribal cultures have developed by this time: Couronians or Kurshes, Lats or Latgallians, Sels or Selonians, and Semigallians (who are for a long time troublesome border tribes between later Livonia and northern Lithuania). A Danish Viking onslaught had been launched in 870 against 'Semigalia', showing that they were also troublesome quite a bit farther afield.

Map of Norway
Gutmanala cave in Latvia
Gutmanala, close to Riga (to its north-east), was an ancient cult site of the Livs which remained in use right up to the nineteenth century, while above that is a map showing a host of the many petty Norwegian and Swedish kingdoms in eighth and ninth century Scandinavia (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1106

The Lats, Livs and neighbouring Semigallians have conflicting interests with the Rus principalities of Polotsk, Pskov, and Novgorod, with the latter two making a number of raids on north-eastern Latvia. The first major setback to Rus expansionism is the disastrous defeat of the army led by the sons of Prince Vseslav of Polotsk against the Semigallians (Zimegola, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle). According to the chronicle, Rus losses amount to 9,000 men.

1170

Denmark is fast rising as a great military and merchant power, and it is in its interest to end the occasional Estonian and Couronian pirate attacks that threaten its Baltic trade (these are the Eastern Vikings, from Ösel - Saaremaa, the richest area of Estonia - and the later province of Kurland, respectively). To that end, a Danish fleets now makes an attack against Estonia.

1180

German Christian missionaries arrive, converting small numbers of Balts and probably establishing nascent congregations. On the whole the Balts appear reluctant to convert, perhaps fervently so, which means German Crusaders are sent to the Lats and their neighbouring tribes to convert the pagan population - a pretext for a grab for land and resources which is supported by the Pope. They are strongly opposed, although extremely little is known about the Liv native leaders who lead that opposition.

Map of the Baltic tribes around AD 1000
By about AD 1000 the final locations of the Baltic tribes were well known by the Germans who were beginning their attempts to subdue and control them, although the work would take a few centuries to complete and the Lithuanians would never be conquered by them (click or tap on map to view full sized)

late 1100s on

The Balts have come a long way towards producing contemporarily-modern feudal states. The largest or most powerful castle with a town has become the military and administrative centre for the tribal district. Five 'states' had already existed in the Couronian lands to be chronicled in the 870s by Rimbert. Now, at the beginning of the thirteenth century there are eight 'states' or districts with their own centres, each of which has several villages ('castellatura'). A similar pattern of separate districts pertains for all the other Baltic tribes. The more powerful feudal 'kings' extend their rule over two, three, four, or more districts. These 'kings' or chieftains possess the largest of all the castles. The most influential of them are called 'rex' or 'dux' or 'princeps' by chroniclers. The chronicles enumerate the names of the chieftains and even those of their subordinates. Power and land ownership are inherited.

The hierarchical structure of chieftainship is illustrated by the Chronicle of Volynia, which relates how twenty-one Lithuanian dukes come to sign the treaty of 1219 between Lithuania and the Rus of Halych-Volynia. Of these, five - the most powerful amongst their number - are 'grand dukes', while the other sixteen are dukes of minor importance. From this it may be deduced that Lithuania is now ruled by a confederation of the most powerful chieftains. It is quite possible that such a system of government is also in existence in the other Baltic states and has been for some time.

late 1100s

Kauppo

Liv chieftain.

c.1190s - 1200

Vesike

Liv/Let chieftain in Metzepole (modern Vidzeme).

c.1200s - 1215

Tālivaldis / Talivaldis

Liv/Let chieftain in Talva (Letgale). Burned by Unguenois.

The ruler of the district of Beverina in 'Lettigallia' at the beginning of the thirteenth century is Tālivaldis. He is described as being a rich man with much silver. His three sons are also rich, and possess many lands. He is one of the leaders of Let fighting against the Unguenois during the entire second decade of the thirteenth century. When they finally capture him they burn him alive. In reprisal, Lets capture and burn any Unguenois men they can find.

fl c.1200s

Viestarts

Semigallian chieftain in Tervete (south-west of Riga).

Viestarts is the lord of Tervete in western Semigallia. He is classed as a 'dux' and 'maior natus' and under his rule are all the lands of western Semigallia.

1219

Over the course of this period, North Estonia is slowly taken by force under Danish control. This begins with the arrival of a Danish fleet led by Valdemar II. On 15 June 1219, he attacks the fortress of Lindanäs. The battle is a hard-fought one and the Danes are close to 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.

In the same year the Order of the Knights of the Sword raid Vironian lands, aided by contingents of recently christened Lets, Livs, Sakalians, Ugaunians, and 'Jervians' (presumably people of the Alempois). The raid continues for five days, killing and pillaging Vironian people and settlements, before several elders request a truce. One admits - without having much of a choice - that he is ready to accept the Christian god. The other Vironian elders also accept Christianity and the German crusaders take the customary hostages in the form of the sons of elders to ensure that the truce is maintained.

? - 1244

Vyachko

Lat chieftain in Varka.

Principality of Gersik / Jersika
AD 1180s - 1215

It was around this time that a short-lived Lat principality which was subject to Polotsk appeared in Gersik, or Gersike, situated on the right bank of the Daugava around 150 kilometres south of Riga (and which no longer exists). It had only two rulers before being conquered by the Order of the Knights of the Sword.

fl 1180s - 1190s

Vasilko

Lat chief of Gersik.

1186 - 1215

Vsevolod

Lat chief of Gersik.

Prince-Bishops of Livonia
AD 1186 - 1253

While the Danes were securing all of North Estonia by force, the rest of the Baltics 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, governing the heart of later Latvia, the prince-bishop of Riga. The Order of the Knights of the Sword conquered the rest of what is now Latvia and central Estonia. The captured territory between Danish Estonia and Lithuania became known as Livonia. The prince-bishops of Livonia ruled their central section of Livonia first from Üxküll (Uexküll), then from Riga, and were appointed by the archbishop of Bremen.

During this period, important ethnic changes took place among the Baltic peoples. Within the confines of Livonia, the fusion of the kindred Couronians, Lats, and Sels into one people took place, emerging as the Latvians of the future. They took that name from the most numerous of the Baltic peoples in Livonia, the Lats. The assimilation of the Finno-Ugric people, the Livs or Livonians, also began at this time, although they managed to leave their mark on Latvian language and culture.

1186 - 1196

Meinhard

First appointed prince-bishop of Livonia.

1196 - 1198

Berthold

Abbot of Cistercian Lockum Monastery, Hanover.

1198

A large fleet of German crusaders and peasants arrives to increase the size of the colonial settlements in Livonia. Taking the crusaders inland to face a gathering army of Liv natives, Berthold defeats them but is killed at the end of the battle. Bishop Albert is appointed his successor, and he goes on to complete the task of Christianising the Livs.

River Daugava
The River Daugava, which reached down to Polotsk and beyond, was an important border between the tribal Lats and the pre-kingdom Lithuanians

1199 - 1229

Albert of Buxhoeveden

Founded Riga. First grand master of the Order of the Knights of the Sword.

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 Belgic 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.

1201

Bishop Albert of Germany lands with his followers at the mouth of the River Väina and founds the colonial settlement town of Riga. 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.

1202

Bishop Albert founds the Order of the Knights of the Sword for the purposes of conquest and Christianisation in the Baltics. This marks the beginning of the Northern Crusade.

1205

According to the (German) sources, Prince Vetseka of Koknese gives half of his territory to Bishop Albert in return for protection against the duchy of Samogitia and the principality of Polotsk. During a raid by the Order of the Knights of the Sword he is captured and delivered in chains to Riga, where the bishop sets him free.

1207

The bishop of Riga assumes the style 'prince of Livonia', and makes Livonia part of the Holy Roman empire, although this is not formalised until 1 December 1225. Part of the bishop's territories are given as a fief to his standing army, the Order of the Knights of the Sword. The bishop also moves his headquarters from Üxküll to Riga.

1209

By this time, Koknese has been taken over by the Order of the Knights of the Sword and the sovereignty of Polotsk is finally revoked in 1215. The Knights control the town until its transference to the bishopric of Riga in 1238.

1211

Christianity now has effective control of the Lats, with them being governed by German bishops and the Order of the Knights of the Sword. Bishop Albert oversees the building of Riga's Dome Cathedral while also establishing a diocese at Leal (modern Lihula) from which the Unguenois will be subdued and Christianised.

Lihula Castle
Lihula Castle was the first seat of the bishop of Leal (now Lihula) in Estonian lands, with its undoubted mission being to subdue and Christianise the determinedly independent Unguenois

However, in the same year, the 'Vikings' of Saaremaa attack Turaida Castle, a stronghold of the Livs on the River Koiva. The Livs have been cooperating with the 'traitorous' and constantly encroaching Germans from Riga, both by sea as well as on the river.

1215

The small Lat principality of Gersik is conquered by the Order of the Knights of the Sword.

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.

1227

The Danes are temporarily eclipsed in North Estonia when the Order of the Knights of the Sword conquer all of their territory from the heartland of their powerbase in central Livonia. In 1238, North Estonia (Harria and Vironia) is returned under the terms of the Treaty of Stensby, which is mediated by the Pope.

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 Order, 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 Order.

1236

As soon as the Germans had began building their castles along the River Nemunas, they had met well-organised resistance from the Lithuanians. The Samogitians and Semigallians (situated between the Lithuanians and the Lats in what is now southern Latvia) decimate the Order of the Knights of the Sword at the Battle of Schaulen (Saule or Šiauliai), thereby allowing the Lithuanians to consolidate their territories and form a single state.

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. The Knights keep Jerwia and hand over the former principality of Koknese, on the right bank of the River Daugava which borders the Lithuanians, to the archbishop of Riga.

1229 - 1231

Albert Suerbeer

Appointed but not recognised.

1229

Albert Suerbeer is appointed to the position by the archbishop of Bremen, but the canons of Riga refuse to recognise him, preferring to elect their own candidate in Nikolaus von Nauen. He is confirmed by the Pope in 1231. Albert serves in Ireland for five years before being recalled to Germany and then sent back to Livonia to serve as archbishop of Riga.

In the same year, 1229, the bishop's seat in Ösel-Wiek falls vacant with the departure of Gottfried. Authority over the bishopric falls jointly to the bishop of Riga and the Order of the Brothers of the Sword.

1229 - 1253

Nikolaus von Nauen

1248 - 1249

 

Mindaugas commands Tautvilas, Edivydas, and Vykintas of the subject Samogitians to capture the Rus principality and city of Smolensk. They are promised with being able to keep what they conquer. The prince of Moscow, Mikhail Khorobrit, is defeated and killed on the banks of the River Protva, but they in turn are defeated by the resurgent Sviatoslav III of Vladimir-Suzdal.

Mindaugas subsequently seizes their land and property for direct Lithuanian control, with the three failed would-be conquerors fleeing to Daniel of Galicia (Halych) in 1249 (he is Tautvilas' brother-in-law). The four of them form a powerful coalition with the main body of Samogitians, along with the Livonian Order, and Vasilko of Volhynia to oppose Mindaugas. He, however, outmanoeuvres them both militarily and politically by agreeing terms with Riga and the Order so that he will be crowned king.

Archbishopric of Riga / Prince-Bishops of Livonia
AD 1255 - 1561

The bishopric of Livonia was soon raised to an archbishopric, as the new order in the Baltics cemented its rule over the native Ests (Estonians), Livs (Livonians, modern western Latvians and southern Estonians) and Lats (or Latgalians, modern eastern Latvia). The position was a secular one with a capital at Riga, although the initial intention had been to set up a pro-Papal ecclesiastical state. That hope was destroyed in North Estonia in 1233, when the Danes defeated an attempt to achieve it.

1253 - 1273

Albert Suerbeer

Raised to archbishop in 1255.

1259

At the end of a two year truce, the eager Samogitians inflict a defeat on the Livonian Knights at the Battle of Skuodas under the leadership of Treniota, nephew of Mindaugas of the Lithuanian kingdom. Their success encourages the Semigallians to rebel against the rule of the Knights.

1260

The Livonian Knights, along with the Teutonic Knights, are abandoned by their Estonian and Couronian vassals and defeated again, this time 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.

1268 & 1270

The Danish fleet sails to Reval in 1268 and 1270 to ward off threats posed by the Lithuanians and Rus (probably of Novgorod). The rebellions by Estonians and Couronians in northern Livonia seem not to extend into North Estonia, but the political situation is doubtless fraught and North Estonian lands vulnerable to attack.

1273 - 1284

Johannes I von Lune

1282

The towns of Riga, Cesis, Limbaži, Koknese and Valmiera in Livonia, and Tartu within the bishopric of Dorpat, are included in the Hanseatic League of trading towns in Northern Europe.

Riga
The inclusion of Riga in the Hanseatic League in 1282 would have accelerated its development as an important trading town with vital seaward connections to Europe

1285 - 1294

Johannes II von Vechten

1290 - 1307

The principality of Polotsk is controlled by the archbishopric, before the brother of Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania secures the throne. During a shorter period within the same timeframe - specifically 1294 to about 1297 - the office of bishop of Ösel-Wiek appears to fall vacant again. Once again authority over the bishopric very likely falls jointly to the archbishop of Riga and the Livonian Knights (formerly the Order of the Brothers of the Sword).

1294 - 1300

Johannes III von Schwerin

1300 - 1302

Isarnus Tacconi

Archbishop of Lund (1302-1310).

1303 - 1310

Jens Grand

Archbishop of Lund (1289-1302).

1304 - 1310

Jens Grand's occupation of the title is in name only as he never enters Riga. Instead, day-to-day duties are handled by Friedrich von Pernstein, who is appointed the succeeding archbishop when Jens Grand becomes prince-bishop of Bremen in 1310-1327. Those duties include administering the bishopric of Ösel-Wiek between about 1307 and 1310 alongside the Livonian Knights following the death of Bishop Konrad I.

1310 - 1341

Friedrich von Pernstein

De facto archbishop from 1304.

1326

Peter von Dusburg writes that in the Prussian province of Nadruva, in the place called Romuva, there is a powerful priest named Krivė, whom the people regarded as pope, and whose dominion extends not only over Nadruva, but also over Couronia, Lithuania, and Semigallia. The only such 'pope' known to recorded history, Krivė is highly respected by the kings, nobility and common people, and his rule covers almost all of the Baltic lands during the wars against the Teutonic Knights.

1341 - 1347

Engelbert von Dolen

1348 - 1369

Bromhold von Vyffhusen

1370 - 1374

Siegfried Blomberg

1374 - 1393

Johannes IV von Sinten

1379

Bishop Dietrich of Dorpat hates the Livonian Knights with some intensity, so much so that he forms a coalition against the Knights with Lithuania, Mecklenburg and the notorious Victual Brothers who are Baltic pirates. The Knights invade the bishopric but achieve no success. In the end their lack of results removes from them the right to demand military service from the Livonian bishops.

1381 - 1385

The seat of the bishop of Ösel-Wiek is vacant for the fourth time until the post is filled by Winrich von Kniprode. His mother is Margarete von Uexküll, linking him to what will become one of the most prominent Baltic-German families. His uncle is the identically-named Winrich von Kniprode, grand master of the Teutonic Knights.

1393 - 1418

Johannes V von Wallenrodt

Became prince-bishop of Liège (1418-1419).

1410

The Battle of Tannenberg sees 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.

1418 - 1424

Johannes VI Ambundi

1424 - 1448

Henning Scharpenberg

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 in 1510 isn't even a real tree, just a wooden pyramid decorated with flowers, fruits and toys.

1448 - 1479

Silvester Stodewescher

Died, triggering a contested replacement process.

1449

Internal politics in and around the archbishopric of Riga at this time is rife with struggles to achieve power, prestige, and position. The position of Ludolf Grove as bishop of Ösel-Wiek has been properly approved by Riga and by the Pope, but this is the period of the 'Great Schism' in papal affairs. In 1447, shortly before being deposed, Pope Eugene IV had appointed Johann Cruel to the post in opposition to Grove, despite Grove continuing to fulfil his duties to the utmost of his abilities. The new 'bishop' establishes his seat in Wiek while Grove remains on the island of Ösel. In time Grove outlives his rival.

1479 - 1480

The seat remains temporarily vacant as competing claims delay the process of appointing a replacement. The Livonian Order proposes Simon von der Borch, bishop of Reval and relative of Bernhard von der Borch, grand master of the Order (1471-1483). Both have been staunch opponents of Archbishop Silvester Stodewescher. Pope Sixtus IV, however, prefers the candidate who has been put forward by Grand Master Martin Truchseß von Wetzhausen of the Teutonic Knights - Stephan Grube.

1480 - 1483

Stephan Grube

Candidate of the Teutonic Knights. Died.

1484 - 1509

Michael Hildebrand

1501 - 1503

As the Orthodox Rus border Livonia to the east, the Livonian Knights can claim to be holding an outpost of Catholic Europe, and while they are more than interested in trade with the Rus, the expansion of Moscow up to Livonia's borders at this time complicates matters. War between Moscow and the Knights breaks out in 1501. Livonians, uniting their forces under the leadership of the Knights, defeat Moscow's army near Lake Smolensk in 1502, and a truce is concluded the following year which lasts until 1558. The Russians are prevented from expanding westwards to the Baltic coast.

Information on two of the last archbishops to be subsequently appointed, Linde and Blankenfeld, is contradictory, and due to deflation no coins are minted during their terms of office.

1509 - 1524

Jasper Linde

1524 - 1527

Johannes VII Blankenfeld

Already bishop of Reval (1514), and Dorpat (1518).

1525

The German Lutheran reformation reaches Livonia and Dorpat, accompanied by a violent stripping of the churches. This movement weakens the Catholic church in Old Livonia and North Estonia, making it more likely that one or more of the neighbouring centralised states will attempt to seize power. Moscow, Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden are all eager to do just that.

1528 - 1539

Thomas Schoning

1539 - 1563

Wilhelm von Brandenburg

Grandson of Albert III of Brandenburg.

1558 - 1561

Following Russian provocation and the conquest of Dorpat, the Livonian Wars erupt in the Baltic states, 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.

However, 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, the master of the Order, Gotthard Kettler, acknowledges the supreme power of Sigismund II over all areas regarding the Order, including its territories, formally dissolving the Livonian Knights. The archbishop of Riga also accepts the treaty of dissolution, known as the Pacta Subiectionis.

Russian atrocities in Livonia
Russian troops committed atrocities against the Livonian population, as shown in this print from 'Zeyttung' which was published in Nuremberg in 1561.

Polish Governors of Livonia
AD 1561 - 1621

Following the dissolution of the Livonian Knights in 1561, southern Estonia remained within Livonia which, along with the duchy of Courland, became part of Poland-Lithuania. Grand Duke Sigismund II of Lithuania took possession and became grand duke of Livonia in 1566. The city of Riga refused to accept the Pacta Subiectionis, although it was secularised in 1563 (and only restored in 1918 as the diocese of Riga). Instead Riga became a Free City until the end of the Livonian Wars in 1583, while Polish military governors controlled the rest of Livonia.

1559 - 1560

Jan Chodkiewicz

1559 - 1560

Jerzy Zenowicz

Ruled jointly. Last of the military governors.

1560 - 1561

Mikolaj Radziwilj

First Polish governor.

1561 - 1562?

Mikolaj Radziwill

Administrator.

1562 - 1566

Gotthard Kettler

Duke of Courland & Semigallia.

1566 - 1578

Jan Chodkiewicz

Administrator.

1570 - 1578

Magnus of Livonia

Prince of Denmark. Titular 'king of Livonia'.

1570 - 1578

Magnus, bishop of Courland and of Reval, claims the title, 'king of Livonia', although his power is very limited. He is, however, supported by the Russian czar, Ivan the Terrible, who launches a new offensive in this decade, and reaches Riga and Tallinn. He does not manage to capture either town.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1581
Magnus of Livonia
The failure of Magnus of Livonia to capture the territory he claimed probably would have made very little difference to most of the population, although the subsequent Swedish period was later viewed as a golden age, 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)

1578

Aleksander Chodkiewicz

Acting governor.

1578 - 1584

Mikolaj Radziwill

Second term of office.

1582 - 1583

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 - 1588

Stanislaw Pekoslawski

Commissar.

1588 - 1598

The post is vacant, but the duties are administered by Jan Dymitr Solikowski, the commisar.

1588 - 1598

Jan Dymitr Solikowski

Commissar.

1598

Lew Sapieha

Commissar.

1598 - 1603

The post is vacant again, but the duties are administered by Jan Abramowicz, the governor of Dorpat province.

1598 - 1603

Jan Abramowicz / Abrahamowicz

Administrator.

1600 - 1605

The Swedish king initiates the First Polish-Swedish War by assembling troops in Tallinn in order to attack Poland-Lithuania's Livonia, but instead the army suffers significant losses at Cesis and Koknes. The Swedes are driven out of Livonia in 1601. Further attacks on Riga in 1604 and Courland in 1605 also fail, but the Swedish-Russian alliance diverts Polish efforts towards Moscow.

1603 - 1621

Jan Karol Chodkiewicz

1621 - 1629

FeatureSweden captures Riga in 1621, and the First Polish-Swedish War ends with the Treaty of Altmark, which sees most of Poland-Lithuania's Livonia come under Swedish rule. 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 (Inflantia or the Inflanty Voivodeship, the principality of Livonia), and survives today as the Latgale region of Latvia.

Swedish Governors-General of Livonia
AD 1629 - 1721

The First Polish-Swedish War ended with the Treaty of Altmark in 1629, which formalised the occupation of Poland-Lithuania's Livonia under Swedish rule as Swedish Livonia. In fact, parts of Livonia as far south as Riga had been in Swedish hands since 1621. Only the remainder of Livonian territory, the small eastern part of Livonia, named Latgallia, remained in Polish hands. In the Swedish territory, serfdom was eased and a network of schools was established for the peasantry. The country also retained its own diet, or parliament.

1622 - 1628

Jacob De la Gardie

Former governor of Swedish Estonia (1619).

1628 - 1629

Gustaf Evertsson Horn

1629 - 1633

Johan Skytte

Also governor-general of Ingria & Karelia.

1633 - 1634

Nils Assersson Mannersköld

1634 - 1643

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna

Son of Gabriel Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1645). Also in Ingria.

1643

Hermann greve Wrangel

Former governor of Swedish Prussia (1632).

1644

Erik Eriksson Ryning

1645 - 1647

Gabriel Bengtsson Oxenstierna

Former governor of Estonia (1611) & Finland (1631).

1649 - 1651

Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie

Son of Jacob De la Gardie (1622).

1652 - 1653

Gustaf Evertsson Horn

Second term. Later governor of Ingria (1654) & Finland (1657).

1655 - 1657

Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie

Second term of office.

1655 - 1660

Seeing a golden opportunity following the Russian capture of large areas of Lithuania in 1654, Swedish troops enter the duchy of Courland, triggering the Second Polish-Swedish War. It ends when Livonia is officially ceded to Sweden following Poland-Lithuania's signing of the Treaty of Oliva.

FeatureDuring 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.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1660
The Swedes had removed themselves from the Union of Kalmar with Denmark and Norway in 1523, and since that time had built up a Nordic empire of their own which now dominated the eastern lands and Baltic territories (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1661

Axel Lillie / Lillje

Former governor of Pomerania (1652).

1662 - 1665

Bengt Oxenstierna

Second term of office.

1665 - 1671

Clas Åkesson Tott the Younger

1671 - 1674

Fabian von Fersen

1674 - 1686

Krister Klasson Horn af Åminne

Former governor of Ingria (1657).

1687 - 1695

Jacob Johan Hastfer

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 Livonian population. The famine is theorised to be the result of climate change, and Livonia is not the only victim. Estonia and Finland 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.

1696 - 1702

Erik Dahlberg

Former governor of Bremen-Verden (1693).

1700

Sweden fights Russia, Poland and Denmark in the Great Northern War, which is another attempt at empire building in the Baltic states by outside powers.

1702 - 1706

Carl Gustaf Frölich

Later governor of Finland (1735).

1706 - 1709

Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt

Captured and detained by Russia until his death.

1708 - 1709

Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt may have been appointed governor of Livonia on the strength of his victory at the Battle of Gemauerthof in 1705. Now he is ordered to march east with a supply column to support Charles' main invasion force in Russia. Lewenhaupt is engaged at the Battle of Lesnaya and is defeated and forced to abandon his supplies. In the following year he finally meets up with the king's army and is given command of the infantry at the Battle of Poltava, a disaster for Sweden, and the army's surrender at Perevolochna. Lewenhaupt is captured by the Russians and remains in Moscow until his death in 1719.

1709

Henrik Otto Albedyll

1709 - 1710

Niels Jonsson Stromberg af Clastorp

Former governor of Swedish Estonia.

1710 - 1721

Sweden is defeated at the end of the Great Northern War, and much of Livonia has been devastated by it, with castles and strongholds destroyed, farms laid waste, and peasants chased off the land. The victors, Russia, Poland and Denmark, divide the spoils with the Treaty of Nystad. Much of Livonia is handed to Russia, although it has already been occupied by Russian troops since 1710.

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)

Russian Governors of Livonia (Riga Governate)
AD 1710 - 1915

The captured territories, in Russian hands from 1710, were divided by the Russian empire into three Baltic Provinces: Courland, Estonia and Livonia (the Riga Governorate, to which Ösel was attached). 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. The governor-general was also the military governor of Riga until 1864 and then commanders of the military district of Riga until 1870.

In 1718 the region's new ruler, Czar Peter the Great, took it upon himself to investigate the reasons behind Livonia's high levels of orderliness. It transpired that the former Swedes and now their native Livonian successors were spending as much administering Livonia (which was approximately three hundred times smaller in territory than was the Russian empire) as Peter was spending on the entire Russian bureaucracy. Despite Livonia's success in this area, Peter dismantled the province's government.

(Additional information from Russia Under the Old Regime, Richard Pipes (1974).)

1710 - 1711

Prince Anikita Repnin-Obolenskiy

Interim governor.

1711 - 1719

Prince Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov

Also governor of Estonia.

1719 - 1726

Prince Anikita Repnin-Obolenskiy

Second term of office.

1726 - 1727

Herman Jensen de Bohn

Acting governor.

1727 - 1729

Count Grigoriy Petrovich Chernyshev

1729 - 1751

Count Peter Lacy

Governor (1729-1740), then governor-general.

1751 - 1753

Prince Vladimir Petrovich Dolgorukiy

Acting governor. Governor of Estonia (1753).

1753 - 1758

Pyotr Voyeykov

Acting governor.

1758 - 1761

Prince Vladimir Petrovich Dolgorukiy

Second term of office after Estonia.

1761 - 1762

Fyodor Matveyevich Voyeykov

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. Local governors are re-introduced in 1783.

Vastseliina Castle in Estonia
Vastseliina Castle (now in Võrumaa in Estonia but in the 1700s still well within Livonia) was destroyed by the Russians during the Great Northern War which ended in 1721

1783

Naumov

Died in office.

1783 - 1790

Aleksandr Andreyevich Bekleshev

1790 - 1792

Johann von Reck

1791

Russia begins to administer an area known as the Pale of Settlement. Initially this is small, but it increases greatly from 1793 and the Second Partition of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. By the mid-nineteenth century it incorporates modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. Having formerly been citizens of the defunct commonwealth, the Jewish population of the 'Pale' is restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper.

1792 - 1795

Peter Ludwig Freiherr von der Pahlen

1795 - 1797

Gerhard Konrad K Freiherr von Meyendorff

1795

The joint kingdoms of Poland-Lithuania are extinguished. Lithuania and the unconquered remains of Livonia, known as Latgallia, are submerged within imperial Russia. The following year, the Riga Governorate is renamed the governorate of Livonia.

1797

Balthasar Freiherr von Campenhausen

1797

Ernst Burchard Graf von Mengden

1797 - 1808

Christoph Adam von Richter

1808 - 1811

Ivan Nikolayevich Repyev

1811 - 1827

Joseph Duhamel

1812

Napoleon invades the Russian empire with one of the largest armies Europe has ever seen, occupying the Baltic Provinces for several months until he is forced to drag his French-led army back to Germany. The governor of Courland flees to Riga and remains there for the period of French occupation.

1817 - 1819

The emancipation of the serfs in Latvia is something which is advantageous to the nobility, as it dispossesses the peasants of their land without compensation. The social structure changes dramatically, and a class of independent farmers establishes itself after reforms allow the peasants to repurchase their land.

1827 - 1829

Paul Baron von Hahn

1829

Ludwig Johann Ferdinand von Cube

Acting governor.

1829 - 1847

Georg Friedrich Baron von Fölkersahm

1847

Ludwig Johann Ferdinand von Cube

Acting governor for the second time.

1847 - 1862

Heinrich Magnus Wilhelm von Essen

1862 - 1868

August Georg Friedrich von Öttingen

1863 - 1880

The January Uprising takes place across much of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic Provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. Although it is entirely ended by 1865 it results in a policy of Russification after spreading from Latgallia to the rest of what is now Latvia.

January Uprising
The January Uprising took place across the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a result of Russian occupation and control, but the last of its leaders were captured in 1865

1868 - 1871

Friedrich Woldemar von Lysander

1871 - 1872

Julius Gustav von Cube

Acting governor.

1872 - 1874

Michael Baron von Wrangell

1874 - 1882

Alexander Karl Abraham

Acting governor until 18 Dec 1874.

1876 - 1905

Between these years, authority over the Baltic Provinces is devolved, with the governor in each province apparently gaining more power. Revolution in the Baltics takes on a nationalist character, and in the same year the position of governor-general of Courland and Livonia, but not Estonia, is revived.

1881

The first modern-era wave of Jewish migrations back to Palestine begins with an event known as the First Aliyah. The Jews are fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most notably in the territories of the Russian empire under Alexander III and his imposition of anti-liberalisation reforms. These may be partially the result of the January Uprising of 1863 (see above).

Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement, largely territory to the west which has been acquired from the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Today this forms Russia's western border region, and from 1791-1793 it has incorporated modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. The Jewish population of the 'Pale' are restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper and are now being discouraged from remaining in the western border regions of the empire.

1882 - 1883

Hermann von Tobiessen

Acting governor.

1883 - 1885

Ivan Yegorovich Shevich

1885

Hermann von Tobiessen

Acting governor for the second time.

1885 - 1895

Mikhail Alekseyevich Zinovyev

Died in office.

1895 - 1896

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Bulygin

Acting governor.

1896 - 1900

Vladimir Dmitriyevich Surovtsev

1900 - 1901

Aleksandr Nikolayevich Bulygin

Acting governor for the second time.

1901 - 1905

Mikhail Alekseyevich Pashkov

1903 - 1914

The Second Aliyah to Palestine is triggered in 1903 by an anti-Jewish riot in the city of Kishinev (modern Chişinău), the capital of the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), part of the Russian empire. Something like 40,000 Jews settle in Palestine, although only half remain permanently. Many others, evicted from their settlements in the 'Pale' head towards western Poland or America (something that is dramatically highlighted, if with a touch of artistic licence, in the film musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971. which has its final scenes set in 1905).

1905

P P Neklyudov

Acting governor.

1905

Yakov Dmitriyevich Bologovskoy

Acting governor.

1905 - 1914

Nikolay Aleksandrovich Zvegintsev

1905 - 1906

Janis Ozols

Leaders of the rebel Federated Committee of Riga, Oct-Jan.

1905 - 1906

Samuil 'Maksim' Klevansky Bund

Leaders of the rebel Federated Committee of Riga, Oct-Jan.

1914 - 1916

Arkady Ippolitovich Kelepovsky

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).

1916

Sergey Sergeyevich Podolinsky

Acting governor.

1916 - 1917

N N Lavrinovsky

Feb 1916 - Feb 1917.

1916 - 1917

Sergey Alekseyevich Shidlovsky

Feb-Mar 1917.

1915 - 1918

Thanks to Russian First World War defeats up to 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, Bolshevik-inspired thoughts of revolution are swiftly put down by the Germans and a semi-independent pro-German regime is established. The Baltic provinces are formally transferred to German authority by Russia in 1918 following the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and of Berlin.

Modern Latvia
AD 1918 - Present Day

The modern republic of Latvia sits in the middle of the three Baltic states, resting on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. Independent of Soviet occupation since 1990, it 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 problems do still exist. Latvia is neighboured to the north by Estonia, to the east by Russia and Belarus, to the south by Lithuania, and across the Baltic Sea to the west by Sweden.

Latvia of the Early Baltic States prehistoric period was occupied by a large collection of tribal entities. Following conquest and dominance by centuries of German, Swedish, and Russian rule, and despite entering the twentieth century still under Russian rule, Latvia gained its independence in 1918 following the collapse of empires in Eastern Europe. It was formed from various territories which had been created by the crusaders of the eleventh and twelfth century, and which included the duchy of Courland, Latgallia, Livonia, much of which was ruled by the Livonian Knights, the small Polotsk principality of Koknese, and also Semigallia. Germany's collapse in 1918 brought about the creation of a republic, as any German level of control was rejected throughout the Baltics. However, Lithuania and Latvia together now covered the smallest ethnographic territory to which the Baltic-speaking people had ever been reduced.

Medieval Semigallia is better known today as Zemgale. For the most part it is formed of flat land, largely devoid of uplands and deep river valleys, and boasts one of the most fertile grain fields in Northern Europe, something that has ensured the prosperity of the region for many successive centuries. The region was prosperous, which allowed the building of many luxurious manor houses and castles, one of which survives today - the Baroque masterpiece that is Rundāle Palace. In 1562, Semigallia became part of the duchy of Courland & Semigallia.

At the heart of ancient Latgalia lay the settlement of Rēzekne, on the banks of the river of the same name. It began with a wooden castle on a hill by the river, which was built in the ninth century and lasted until the thirteen century. The name Rēzekne was first documented in 1285 (in German as Rositten), although the modern Latvian form of the name was only approved in 1920. After the war, Rēzekne developed as an important industrial city.

(Additional information by Kaspars Zvergism and from External Link: The Warfare Historian.)

1919

Three governments, Karlis Ulmanis' government, the Iskolat (which occupies almost all of the country), and the Baltic German government all struggle for control. At the same time, Latvia must fight off the Bermontians (the West Russian Volunteer Army under the command of Cossack General Pavel Bermont-Avalov). The enemy is a German-backed force that is involved in the Russian Civil War. Instead of focussing on that, it is intent on retaking Latvia and Lithuania, a desire which sees it heavily defeated in November by the home forces.

The Russo-Polish War is also ignited between Poland and Ukraine on one side and Soviet Russia on the other over the creation of the Second Polish Republic and the somewhat uncertain borders on its eastern flank. Józef Piłsudski considers this the best opportunity to restore Poland to its former greatness, and he leads his troops into both Vilnius (part of the fairly brief Polish-Lithuanian War) and Kyiv, occupying a welcoming western Ukraine (part of the former Polish Commonwealth).

Latvia is drawn into the conflict in September 1919 when it takes part in a joint operation with Poland. The Poles launch Operation Winter in which General Edward Rydz-Śmigły wins a battle against Red Guard detachments and Latvian communists at Daugavpils (Dyneburg) in Latvia on 15 January 1920.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1917-1944
Russo-Polish War
Polish Renault FT-17 tanks during Operation Winter, Poland's joint operation with the republic of Latvia and Ukrainian forces during autumn 1919, while above is a map showing the great changes wrought by the twentieth century on Nordic and surrounding borders (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1920

A freely elected Constituent Assembly is convened, which in 1922 adopts a liberal constitution, the Satversme, under Latvia's first president, Janis Cakste. It is suspended after Karlis Ulmanis' coup in 1934 but is reaffirmed in 1990.

1939

The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is signed in Moscow on 23 August. It places the Baltic states under Soviet Russian control, and on 5 October Latvia is forced to accept a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet Union, granting the Soviets the right to station 25,000 troops on Latvian territory.

1940

On 16 June Vyacheslav Molotov presents the Latvian representative in Moscow with an ultimatum accusing Latvia of violations of that pact and on 17 June Soviet forces occupy the country. Annexation is formalised on 5 August, but the German army swiftly occupies Latvia until 1944, and in the following war more than 200,000 Latvian citizens die.

1944 - 1945

The Soviets reoccupy Latvia, and mass deportations follow as the country is forcibly Sovietised. A total of 42,975 persons are deported in 1949.

1989

Remaining defiant against Soviet rule and given a level of freedom by the Perestroika reforms of the Soviet Union, Latvians take part in a growing movement of passive resistance which coalesces in the form of the Popular Front of Latvia. Passive resistance culminates on 23 August 1989 with a major section of the country's population holding hands in an unbroken chain which connects to similar chains in Estonia and Lithuania. In the same year, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR adopts a resolution on the 'Occupation of the Baltic states', in which it declares that the occupation had been 'not in accordance with law', and not the 'will of the Soviet people'.

1990 - 1991

On 4 May the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR adopts the Declaration of the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia, which results in Latvian independence. This is fully realised on 21 August 1991 under the direction of Anatolijs Gorbunovs, the caretaker president. A parliament (the Saeima) is elected in 1993, with Guntis Ulmanis as its first elected president, and Russia completing its military withdrawal in 1994.

Riga's Old Town
Modern Riga's Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site