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History of Estonia During the Medieval Period

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The period of the spread of Christianity in the beginning of the XIII century to the Livonian War (1558) is considered to be the Middle Ages for Estonia. The period of the Middle Ages in Estonia represents the introduction of the colonial Western feudal Catholic system. The first decades of this period are reflected in detail in the so-called. Livonian chronicle. Starting from the XV — XVI centuries written management is actively developing, thanks to which this period has also been studied in sufficient detail by historians. The second half of the 13th century and the 14th century are poorly reflected in historical sources.

Estonia in the XI — XII centuries

Maakondas and kihelkondas in the territory of modern Estonia at the beginning of the XIII century

By the end of the XII – the beginning of XIII century on the territory of present-day Estonia, there were 8 maakondov (land) – Ugandi, Sakala, Viru, Järva, Lääne, Harju, Rävala, Saaremaa, and 6 individual kihelkondov (parishes) – Alempois, Nurmekund, Mõhu, Vayga, Yongentagana and Soopolitse. The population numbered 150–180 thousand people, consolidation of the Estonian nationality occurred. By the 10th – 13th centuries, the early feudal structure of society was formed, where the elders and leaders of the military detachments were at the head of the lands.

In the 11th — 12th centuries, the first records of the Estonian cities Tartu (Yuryev, Dorpat) and Tallinn ( Kolyvan , Lidna, Lindanise, Reval (the Estonian name supposedly means “Danish city” – “Taanilinn”) appear in historical chronicles. According to the Tale of Bygone Years, In 1030, Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev undertook a campaign against the Chud, conquered them and laid the city called Yuryev. By the end of the XII century, the first elements of feudal relations emerged.

Around 1070, the Archbishop of Bremen appointed bishops to estas and finns. The first attempts of papal missionaries to introduce Estonians to Christianity began in the 1170s, but they did not succeed without military support.

The conquest of Estonia by the Crusaders

At the end of the XII century, the military expansion of the Crusaders into the Baltic began, supported by scattered forces: the papal curia, the Hamburg-Bremen archbishops, the Teutonic Order, the Danish and Swedish kingdoms.

Crusade leader

The Livonian crusade after the conquest of the Livonians and Latgalians also spread to the land of the Estonians. In 1206, the Danish king Valdemar II made the first attempt to conquer Saaremaa. In 1208, the Order of the Swordsmen attacked Ugandi, plundered the city of Otepää, and later, in 1212, in alliance with the Bishop of Riga Albert Buksgevden, organized a series of trips to southern and central Estonia. In the same period Novgorod and Pskov princes invaded Estonian territory.

In 1210, the Estonians defeated the Crusaders on the River Umera, In 1215 the Crusaders captured Sakala and Ugandi. In 1217, the Estonians were defeated in the battle of Viljandi, in which Elder Lembitu was killed. In 1219-1220 Danish king Valdemar II with the 60-thousand army conquered Northern Estonia, defeating the Estonians in the battle of Lindanis. The stronghold of the Danes was Revel. The northwestern part of Estonia, including the islands of Harjumaa and Saaramaa, was declared a Danish province. From this point on, the Danes and Germans competed in the seizure and baptism of Estonia.

In 1222, the inhabitants of the island of Saaremaa defeated the Swedes who invaded Läänemaa and expelled the Danes from the island, who had built a castle there. As a result of the uprising that broke out in 1223, almost the entire territory of present-day Estonia was liberated from the Germans and Danes. It was an alliance with Novgorod and Pskov. Small Russian garrisons were deployed in Yuriev, Felline and other cities. However, next year Derpt (Yuriev), like the rest of the mainland of modern Estonia, was again captured by the crusaders, in 1227 the Germans conquered Saaremaa.

The main reasons for the defeat were the numerical and military-technical superiority of the enemy, as well as the lack of centralized political power among the Estonians.

The first century of foreign control

From the second quarter of the 13th century to 1561, the entire territory of present-day Estonia and Latvia was called Livonia.

In 1237, the Order of the Swordsmen became part of the Teutonic Order. By the Stensby Peace Treaty of 1238, northern Estland was returned to Denmark.

In the first half of the 13th century, the new authorities restricted their activities to the baptism of Estonians and the collection of taxes from them. Later, the Danish king, the bishops and the Order began to distribute land to the vassals in flax.

On the lands conquered by the Order, the Ezel-Viksk and Derpt bishops were created. The northern part of Estonia was part of the Danish kingdom. In 1240, the Danish king granted land for the establishment of the Tallinn bishopric. After the conversion of the Bishop of Riga into an archdiocese in 1251, the Dorpat and Ezel-Viksk bishops passed into submission to the Riga Archbishop. The Tallinn Bishop submitted to Archbishop Lund and did not possess secular authority on his territory.

In 1251, the first school in Estonia was opened in Pärnu at the Cathedral. In 1283, the cities of Tallinn, Tartu, Pärnu and Haapsalu became members of the Hanseatic League.

The conflicts of the new authorities with the local population led to the uprisings, the most famous of which was the Yurievian Night Uprising in Danish Estland in 1343. The Danes could not cope with it themselves and called for help from the Teutonic Order. The uprising was crushed for 2 years.

Further, due to growing internal problems, on August 29, 1346, the Danish king Waldemar IV Atterdag sold the Danish part of Estland to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order Heinrich Duzemeru for 19,000 Cologne silver stamps, and the latter handed Estland to the Landmaster of the Teutonic Order for Livonia Gos. Over the next five centuries, the Germans dominated Estonia.


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

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