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Estonia as Part of The Livonian Confederation – Terra Mariana

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A feudal system was formed on the lands of the order. The feudal lords were German knights, bishops and a few Estonian elders who were quickly Germanized. On the territory of modern Estonia, in addition to the possessions of the Livonian Order, there were also Revel, Ezel-Viksk and Derpt bishops, which since December 4, 1435 were part of the Livonian Confederation.

In the XIV century there were significant differences between the major feudal lords of Livonia (mainly between the Livonian Order and the bishops), who led to armed clashes. In the XV century there was a consolidation of estates and the settlement of relations between them.

From the 15th century, questions relating to the entire country — political, economic, and ecclesiastical — were resolved in the Landtag. The participation in them was attended by masters, commers, vogts and representatives of the Order; bishops and other members of the higher clergy, as well as representatives of large cities.

Agriculture and the position of peasants

With the completion of the expansion of the Order to the east on the territory of Estonia, the manor agriculture based on the three-field system was actively developing. Rye, barley, oats and wheat were grown. The rights of the peasants were systematically limited, burglar and monetary payments were added to the duties. Increased pressure on the peasants continued until the introduction of serfdom by the XVI century. In 1550, in-kind taxes reached 25%, and the first case of selling a peasant separately from the land dates back to 1495. Estonian peasants, who constituted about 80% of the population, did not have personal freedom until the abolition of serfdom in 1816-1819. By the 16th century, the number of noble estates reached 500.

Cities in the “Hanseatic” period

All administrative and judicial power was in the hands of German magistrates. Merchant guilds and artisan workshops were formed in the cities. In 1464, a plague epidemic destroyed 2/3 of the population of Tallinn.

The architectural appearance of cities, especially Tallinn with its medieval Gothic, was shaped under the strong influence of Western and North European (“Hanseatic”) architecture. The population of Estonia in 1550 was about 250 thousand people, of which 6-8% lived in cities, including 8000 in Tallinn and 6000 in Tartu. Estonian cities played a significant role in trade between Russian cities and the West: According to historian Jüri Kivimäe, “Economically Tallinn at that time was superior to the capital of the Swedish kingdom Stockholm, not to mention the leading cities of Finland Turku (Abo) and Vyborg ”.

Cities became the centers of the spread of German culture. The first library in Estonia was founded in Tallinn in 1552.

Catholic Church

There are disagreements about the attitude of the Catholic Church to the Estonian population. The Estonian Encyclopedia, on the contrary, asserts that “the Catholic Church, at least in the cities, showed great attention to the so-called“ non-Germans ”(Estonians)”. In all Tallinn churches and monasteries, except German, sermons were also read in Estonian. Pagan customs intertwined with Catholic rites were common among the peasants. By the 16th century, the inhabitants of Estonia began to use Christian names, which replaced the ancient Estonian.

At the end of the Middle Ages in Estonia there were 12 monasteries and conventions of mendicant orders. Cistercians, Dominicans, and Franciscans were active in Estonia. Church institutions in the cities served as banks.


The movement of the Reformation, which was initiated by Martin Luther in Germany, became widespread on the territory of modern Estonia. The basis of the Reformation in Estonia was the economic contradictions of the cities as shopping centers, on the one hand, and the Order and chivalry, on the other. Lutheran preachers began their regular activities in Tallinn and Tartu in the spring of 1524. In the autumn of the same year, unrest broke out, in which citizens (mostly ordinary people and young merchants) in iconoclasm destroyed not only parish churches and monasteries, but also the homes of the clergy.

In the countryside, the introduction of Lutheranism was much slower, and even in the 18th century, rural Lutheran priests complained about the adherence of their members to the Catholic rites.

One of the requirements of the Reformation was to hold worship in the languages ​​of local peoples, which caused the publication in Germany of the first books in Estonian (1525 or 1535) and led to changes in the culture of the indigenous population.

Livonian War and the Confederation Section

The Livonian Confederation was able to maintain stable relations with the Russian kingdom until the middle of the XVI century. By the beginning of the Livonian War (1558–1583), the population in the territory of modern Estonia ranged from 250 to 300 thousand people. At the initial stage of the war, the confederation was unable to resist the Russian troops, was quickly defeated and ceased to exist in 1561. The result of the Livonian War was the division of the confederation and its land in Estonia between Sweden, Denmark and the Commonwealth. In 70 years of hostilities, the population of Estonia had dropped to 100 thousand people.


Toivo Miljan. Historical Dictionary of Estonia
Rein Taagepera . Estonia: Return to Independence
Tuchtenhagen R. Geschichte der baltischen Länder

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