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Short History Lesson on Estonia

Since I am fairly new here, I researched a little bit on the Virily name and its headquarters and I found out, like probably most of you know, that they are located in Tallin, Estonia. I had heard that name before but knew little about the country of Estonia. I also researched the website of Virily and found a few articles on the country itself but none on its history. Since, I am a history fanatic, I decided to write this “short” (but not really that short) history of Estonia.

First I have to place Estonia on a map. Geographically, Estonia is bordered to the north by Russia, to the south by Latvia, to the West by the Baltic Sea and across that sea to the west is Sweden and to the north Finland. As such Estonia is mostly considered a Baltic country along with Latvia and Lithuania, although the Estonian language is from the finnish-uralic family of  languages while Latvia’s and Lithuania’s language is more from indo-european descent. Also because of its geographical position, Estonia is just like a transit pole between Nordic Scandinavian, Polish, Belarussian and Russian zones.

Throughout its history, Estonia remained a very strong entity despite being in the middle of multiples cultural influences. Around 9,000 to 6,000 BC, the finnish-uralic population (mostly from Russia between the Volga region and the Ural mountains) migrated and finally settled down (around 4,000 BC) in the Baltic territories. More specifically the Estes people which formed the base for the Estonian population drifted down along with the Finnish and thus started to populate what is now today Estonia.

But Estonia is also located on one of the routes of the Viking bigger commerce route between Sweden and Byzantium. Some of the first Viking trading post were established in 750 for commercial destination with Byzantium. That is why the Estes people (although confounded with the Aestis denomination) are mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus in his “Germania” history.

Around 1050, German merchants started to compete with the Scandinavians (Denmark, Norway, Sweden). The eastern Estonia then started some dependant relations with some Russian principalities mostly by versing tributes or participating to military campaigns. As such Estonia was at that time a pre-feudal society dominated par an aristocracy that some Roman sources call “vanemad”. Thus Estonia did not really exist then because it was not unified politically. All the diverse inhabitants grouped in several small towns lived in a vacuum and conquerors benefited and certainly took advantage of this division.

Germans, though, were not going to be undone because from 1208-1227 they attempted to conquer Estonia mostly for religious reasons because at that time in the Middle Ages, Europeans had a tendency to think in religious terms and pagan regions of Europe (just like Estonia) were considered scandalous to the European clergy. Yes, in those days, most Estonians worshipped forces of nature, sacrificing animals to them. Also, most sources of the X111e century mention only one divinity, Tarapita, whom some have compared to the god “Thor” of the Scandinavians.

Germans wanted to conquer and christianize Estonia and the surrounding countries. They then formed a fraternity of warrior monks fashioned on the model of the Knights Templar which they called “Brothers of the Sword” (or in French the “porte-glaives”. I just had to write that french translation because after all I am French Canadian). The crusaders from 1211-1217 conquered the south of Estonia. They then called on Denmark for help because they found that the indigenous people of Estonia resisted far better than they thought. Danish crusaders landed in Tallin in 1219 and finally abandoned their siege in 1223. But the remaining Brothers of the Sword managed to take over again and conquered Tartu in 1224 and Saaremaa island in 1227. Since Estonia’s population had become decimated and could not count on Russia for help, Estonia and Latvia fell under Germanic rule and domination and became Livonia.

While under Germanic rule, Estonia’s culture remained because there was no real immigration of Germans except those of the Brothers of the Sword. Towns were reserved for the nobility and the Estonians could not establish themselves in them. In this type of life, the Estonians, although not slaves, became more like serfs by the beginning of the XVe century. Following this, several wars raged between 1558-1710 starting with the invasion of Ivan the Terrible in 1558. The Russians were, however, finally defeated in 1582.

Finally, Sweden started dominating more and more Estonia. This period is marked by an impressive and important cultural development including the foundation, in 1632, of the University of Tartu. But in 1700, Sweden came on the defensive during the Northern War from attacks by Denmark, Poland and Peter the Great from Russia. At the end of this war (1721), Russia seizes Estonia which would come under the tsar’s control and its inhabitants again reduced to serfdom. This Russian domination lasted for two centuries till 1921 when Estonia finally is acknowledged internationally and enters the League of Nations. This came after a national awakening movement in 1857 with the publication of “Kalevipoeg”, an epic tale written in the Estonian language. It also came after the end of the first world war when, in 1918, Estonia takes advantage of the Russian Revolution and the end of the war to proclaim its autonomy though it was brief because it was repressed by Russia and Germany which were then in conflict.

But as it was in the world’s history, the second world war happened when between 1941-1944 there came German occupation. During that time more than 5,000 Estonian Jews were sent to German concentration camps. In the autumn of 1944, the German defeat gave the go ahead for Russia to invade again Estonia. A massive and violent sovietisation followed with religious persecution, deportation of opponents to Siberia and destruction of property. Several Estonians started resisting against soviet power by forming a clandestine guerrilla called Brothers of the Forest (Frères de la Forêt) because they found refuge in the large expanses of forests that they knew much better than the Russians.

Throughout this latest period, Estonians never ceased to protest and to try to break free from the Russian yoke. Estonian intellectuals wrote letters denouncing the occupation. Protesters rallied and manifestations were organised in favour of complete independence though singing festivals which is the symbol of the Estonian identity. By 1988, Estonia reestablishes her sovereignty along with her flag and her national estonian language becomes official. In 1989, two millions persons join hands from Tallinn to Vilnius in an act of rare historical solidarity.

Since then Estonia has become a member of the United Nations and NATO and has become renowned for her songs and her tourism especially in Europe. Estonia has also come in the forefront as a cyber sentinel after a massive cyber-attack in 2007.

So I hope you enjoyed my little or rather long history lesson on Estonia. Please let me know.

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Written by HistoryGal

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  1. Excellent snapshot of the history of Estonia. I knew it was colorful. The only thing I had to look up the words “cyber sentinel” I didn’t know what it meant. Learned the definition and now I’m intrigued to know more about Estonia and the cyber sentinel.




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