A history of Estonia

Ancient Estonia

Archaeological evidence shows that human beings lived in the area now known as Estonia as early as 10,000 BC. Around 3500 BC, nomadic tribes began practicing agriculture and putting down roots there, making Estonia one of the longest continuously settled areas in Northern Europe.

Between 4000 and 3000 BC, Finno-Ugric tribes began migrating into Estonia, bringing their language, their religion and their customs. While some of them stayed in the immediate area, others migrated to the area now known as Finland.

Although Estonia was never part of the Roman Empire, it was well known to the Romans, and was mentioned in the "Histories" written by the Roman senator Tacitus in the 1st century AD. The country's modern name "Estonia" is believed to be a corruption of Aestii, which was the name Tacitus used for the area.

Estonia in the Middle Ages

Estonia did not convert to Christianity until the 12th century when Pope Celestine III launched the Northern Crusades to oust the last remaining pockets of paganism from Europe. Estonian tribes staged a fierce resistance that lasted several decades before capitulating to the new religion and surrendering their independence to Danish crusaders. Estonia largely remained under either Danish or Swedish political control until the 16th century.

 

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The Protestant Reformation spread to Estonia in the early 16th century, and by 1600, Lutheranism dominated church architecture and the daily life of the people.

Estonia and Russia

In 1561, Estonia actively solicited to become part of the Swedish Empire in order to receive protection from aggressive Russian and Polish interests. When Sweden lost the Great Northern War in 1721, however, all of Estonia came under Russian rule.

Inspired by the French Revolution and the Romantic Movement, many members of Estonia's educated class embraced the cause of Estonian nationalism in the 19th century. Newspapers began to be published in the Estonian language rather than in Russian or German. Following the Estonian War of Independence between 1918 and 1920, Estonia gained its independence from Russia and established itself as the Republic of Estonia.

Independence proved to be short lived, however. In 1940, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler made a secret pact that paved the way for a Russian takeover of the Republic of Estonia in 1940. Soviet control resulted in a reign of terror. During World War II, Estonia lost 25 percent of its population to executions, military conscriptions and forced labor camps.

Following World War II, Estonia was annexed as a satellite nation of the Union Soviet Socialist Republics, and many more executions took place. Most of Europe refused to recognize Estonia as part of the USSR. Estonians formed a huge guerrilla movement called the Forest Brothers, but the guerrillas could not prevail against the powerful Russian army. The dissident movement in Estonia continued to grow, however, and in 1990, disobeying orders from Moscow, Estonia held elections. In 1991, the Republic of Estonia was established once again.

Today, Estonia has a reputation as one of the most socially progressive and technologically advanced countries in all of northern Europe. Estonia joined the European Union in 2004, becoming the first of the former Soviet Socialist republics to embrace pan-Europeanism.

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