Estonian history till German conquest

Humans have inhabited the region that is Estonia today since the end of the last glacial era, around 10,000 BC. The earliest traces of human inhabitation in Estonia are associated with Kunda culture flourishing in Mesolithic period. Pulli settlement is the oldest known settlement in Estonia. It was located on the banks of the river Pärnu, near Sindi town in southwestern Estonia. It has been dated to the start of the 9th millennium BC. Stone and bone artefacts similar to those unearthed at Kunda have been found elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Russia, northern Lithuania, Latvia and southern Finland. Ceramics of the Narva culture signal the start of Neolithic period.  Pottery of Narva culture appears in Estonia at the start of the 5th millennium BC. The oldest finds are from about 4900 BC. Start of late Neolithic or chalcolithic period at around 2200 BC is signalled by appearance of corded ware culture. Evidence of agriculture has come to the fore. In approximately 1800 BC Bronze Age started and around 500 BC pre-roman Iron Age began. Roman iron age is dated between 50 and 450 AD.

Roman historian Tacitus (1st century CE) mentions the Estonians in Germania. This was the first mention of Estonians. Political system of Estonians was patriarchal, centred on clans headed by elders. First to invade this country were Vikings, who on their way to the Slavonic hinterland passed through Estonia and Latvia in the mid-9th century. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Swedes and the Danes attempted to Christianize the Estonians, but failed. Between 1030 and 1192, the Russians intruded Estonia 13 times but failed to establish supremacy.

German conquest

In 1180, a monk from Holstein (Meinhard) landed on the Latvian coast and for 16 years preached Christianity to the Livs (a Finno-Ugric tribe). His successor Berthold of Hanover was killed in 1198 in battle. Albert of Buxhoevden succeeded Berthold of Hanover as bishop and proved himself a discerning colonizer. In 1202 Albert established the Order of the Brothers of the Sword. By 1208 the knights were decisively established on both banks of the Western Dvina (Daugava) River, and Albert felt powerful enough to proceed northward to conquer Estonia. Finally, in a major clash in 1217, the knights overpowered the Estonians and slew their commander, Lembitu. Northern Estonia and the islands, nevertheless, remained free for another 10 years.

In 1237 the Order of the Brothers of the Sword suffered a humiliating defeat and was absorbed by the Teutonic Order, which took control of Livonia. Northern Estonia and the islands were under the Danish; Livonia (i.e., southern Estonia and Latvia) was shared between the bishops and the Teutonic Order. The terms under which the Estonian localities submitted were not too severe, but the victors violated them as their position became robust, provoking a series of revolts. After major uprisings in 1343–45, the Danish crown sold its sovereignty over northern Estonia to the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order in the year 1346. Thus the Germans became the masters in the “Land of the Virgin”. The Estonians, the Livs, and the Latvians became the serfs of their conquerors.

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