About Estonia » History » Estonia's History

Estonia's history

  • PDF


Antiquity | Middle Ages | Early modern history | Modern history | 20th century


c. 9000 B.C. The oldest archaeological evidence of human beings on Estonian territory.

c. 9000 – 5000 B.C. Mesolithic Age, or mid-Stone Age in Estonia. The settlements on Estonian territory belonged to the Kunda culture found on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea. The Kunda culture extended from what is today southern Finland to the southern part of Lithuania.

c. 5000 – 1800 B.C. Neolithic Period or late Stone Age in Estonia.

c. 4000 B.C. The "comb ceramic" culture spread from Lapland to what is today northern Lithuania, an area that includes Estonia.

c. 3000 B.C. In Estonia the "corded ware pottery" culture began to spread. The beginning of agriculture in Estonia.

c. 1800 – 500 B.C. Bronze Age in Estonia. Ownership of farmland and single-farm settlements in Estonia probably developed during this period.

c. 500 B.C. Beginning of the Iron Age in Estonia.

c. 50 – 450 A.D. Roman Iron Age in Estonia – a remarkable period of growth in the economy and culture of Estonian tribes, during which closer ties than before were formed with peoples to the south and south-west.

98 A.D. Roman historian and author Publius Cornelius, in his work "Germania", named "aeste" among other peoples for the first time. Some historians consider this to be Estonians, others a general name for Baltic and Baltic-Finnic tribes.

c. 600 – 800 Pre-Viking Age in Estonia. Traditional Estonian villages and village society formed. Many villages established in this era are still inhabited today.

c. 800 – 1050 Viking Age in Northern Europe. Estonian tribes participated in trade on waterways from the Baltic Sea to Byzantium and the Orient. Urban establishments formed along this trade route in Northern Russia, populated by Vikings, Finno-Ugric and Baltic peoples, and East Slavs.

c. 1050 – Early 13th century Late Iron Age and a time of great changes in the Estonian society of antiquity. Great walled fortresses were built by villages and parishes that had formed alliances in the name of defence; iron production developed, which also provided for neighbouring lands. Through a higher level of political and military organisation, counties began to form, which are the administrative units found in Estonia today. More frequent encounters with Christianity.

1154 Arab geographer Abu Abdallah Muhammad al-Idrisi depicted and described Estonia (Astlanda) on his world map.

Middle Ages

End of 12th century – 1290 A crusade is launched from Germany, Denmark and Sweden against the Estonians, Livonians and Latvians, as a result of which the area that is today Estonia and Latvia became Medieval Livonia – a loosely tied group of small states included in the German ecclesiastical states of the Holy Roman Empire.

1237 With the permission of Pope Gregorius IX, the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order is created, which becomes the leading military power in Medieval Livonia.

1248 Danish King Erik IV Adraraha declared Lübeck city rights for Tallinn, under which Tallinn and many Estonian cities were governed until the end of the 19th century.

1219 – 1346 The northern part of Estonia belonged to Denmark, under the reign of the King of Denmark. Danish influence led to the creation of Estonia's coat of arms featuring three leopards, which is still used as Estonia's coat of arms today.

1259 The Harju-Viru vassals of the Danish king named themselves a collection of vassals (universitas vasallorum) in a letter to the king (the Duke of Estonia). The autonomous governing of noble estates remained the basis for the organisation of power in Estonia until 1917.

13th – 14th centuries A vast settlement of Coastal Swedes formed on the islands and western coast of Estonia and remained there until the Second World War.

1343 – 1345 St. George's Night Uprising in northern Estonia – an attempt by Estonians to be freed from foreign powers. The uprising was crushed, and as a result the number of Estonians in power across the land diminished.

1347 The northern part of Estonia came under the power of the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order.

1421 The first known meeting of the provincial assembly of the estates of Old Livonia – Maapäev – came together. They discussed and made decisions on matters related to domestic and foreign policy and taxes.

1523 Reformation began in Tallinn. Over the next centuries Lutheranism became the primary and also the most culturally influential religion in Estonia.

1525 The first known book in the Estonian language was printed in Lübeck. After the secularisation of the Teutonic Order the territories of the Livonian Order became an independent confederation.

1554 The provincial assembly of the Livonian estates declared freedom of religion.

Early modern history

1558 – 1583 The Russian-Livonian War was fought, as a result of which the state order of Livonia was destroyed. On the basis of truces and charters, the laws and customs of the land were preserved under all subsequent rulers. The "age of three kings" began during which the land was divided among Denmark, Sweden and Poland (this lasted until 1645). The border between Sweden and Rzeczpospolita's domains became the border between Estonia and the Livonian province, which remained until 1917.

1559 – 1645 Saaremaa under Danish rule.

1561 Northern Estonia fell under Swedish power.

1582 – 1627 Southern Estonia under the power of Rzeczpospolita.

1600 – 1627 The Swedish-Polish Wars, as a result of which southern Estonia came under Swedish rule.

1632 A university was opened in Tartu – the first institute of higher education in Estonian history.

1645 Upon seizing Saaremaa from Denmark, the entire Estonian territory (except for the Seto region) came under Swedish rule.

1693 Pastor Johann Hornung made the first ever report on Estonian-language grammar, based on the language of the people, and adopted a new way of writing that was used until the middle of the 19th century.

End of 17th century Russian Orthodox believers fled to Estonia from Russia and settled on the western shore of Lake Peipus; to this day they make up one of the most traditional cultural minorities in Estonia.

Read more about Russian Old Believers in Estonia

1700 – 1721 The Great Northern War, which ended with Sweden being defeated by Russia.

1710 The Estonian authorities surrendered to the Russian csar. In the capitulation agreement concluded between Pete I and the local authorities, Russia accepted the previously observed law and order. The self-governing Baltic Landestaat formed, which was characterised by its administrative and legal order, education system, German-language record-keeping, and preference for the Lutheran church. This order essentially remained in place until the end of the Russian Empire.

1739 The first complete Estonian translation of the Bible was published.

Modern history

1802 The university in Tartu, which had been evacuated to Sweden during the Northern War, resumed its activities.

1816/1819 Serfdom ended in Estonia and Livonia. The abolishment of serfdom along with rights being given to peasants opened up greater opportunities than before for the peasantry, which was mostly Estonian, to participate in the development and governing of the land.

Mid-19th century – End of 19th century The age of Estonian's "national awakening", which laid the foundation for the birth of Estonian high culture.

1862 The first Estonian-language version of the Estonian national epic "Kalevipoeg" was published.

18. – 20.06.1869 The first national song festival took place in Tartu, which was the start of the national song festival tradition that continues to this day.

04.06.1884 The blue-black-white flag of the Estonian Students' Society was blessed in the Otepää church. This later became the national flag and, after Estonia's independence, the state flag.

20th century

End of 19th century – Early 20th century The central imperial power attempted to carry out Russianisation in Estonia and Livonia, which ended in failure.

1905 – 1906 The revolutionary activity that began in the Russian Empire reached Estonia as well, where the first Estonian political parties were created. In the years after the revolution, Estonians began to play a greater role in Estonia's socio-political and economic life.

1914 – 1918 The First World War, which brought with it the defeat and collapse of the Russian Empire.

February 1917 The February Revolution began in Russia and Csar Nicholas II was removed from the throne. The revolution and the desire of the Provisional Russian Government to institute democracy gave the peoples that had belonged to the Russian Empire an opportunity to determine their own future.

30.03.1917 The Russian Provisional Government approved the decree "On the Temporary Order of the Administration and Municipal Government of the Estonian Governorate", with which the Estonian governorate and the northern part of the Livonian governorate were joined as one unified autonomous national governorate led by a governorate commissar. The residents of the governorate elected an advisory council in May of 1917—the provisional Province Assembly.

October – November 1917 Communist coup in Russia.

15.11.1917 The Province Assembly declared itself the sole higher authority in Estonia until the convening of the Estonian Constituent Assembly. Preparations began for the election of the assembly and for declaring the independence of Estonia.

24.02.1918 The Estonian Province Assembly declared the "Manifest for all the Peoples of Estonia", with which Estonia declared itself an independent democratic republic. A day later the German occupation forces arrived in Tallinn on the heels of the retreating Russian units.

Read more about February 24: Independence Day

February – November 1918 German occupation of Estonia.

11.11.1918 Germany and the Entente signed the Compiègne Armistice, the Estonian Provisional Government gathered in Tallinn.

28.11.1918 – 02.02.1920 The Estonian War of Independence, during which Estonia and its allies (Great Britain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic Germans, Russian and Jewish volunteers) fought against the attacking Red Army and the Baltic Landeswehr.

Read more about Võidupüha (Victory Day) - 23 June

02.02.1920 The Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and Russia was signed and Russia became the first nation to recognise Estonia's independence de jure.

15.06.1920 The Constituent Assembly approved the first constitution of the Republic of Estonia, which is deemed one of the most democratic in the world.

04.01.1921 The parliament chosen on the basis of Estonia's new constitution – the Riigikogu – convened.

22.09.1921 Estonia was accepted as a member of the League of Nations.

12.02.1925 The Riigikogu approved the "Cultural Autonomy Act", which fulfilled the promise of cultural autonomy for national minorities made in the independence manifest. On the basis of the act, in 1926 Estonia became the first country in the history of the world to give cultural autonomy to Jews.

1932 – 1933 The culmination of the global financial crisis brought a political crisis to Estonia.

12.03.1934 A coup took place, as a result of which Head of State Konstantin Päts and Commander of the Defence Forces Johan Laidoner declared an authoritarian state order in Estonia.

18.06.1935 An agreement was concluded between the navies of Great Britain and Nazi Germany that allowed Germany to increase its naval fleet. As a result of the agreement, Germany's influence on the Baltic Sea increased.

03.12.1938 A declaration of neutrality was made. Estonia renounced its previous foreign policies geared towards establishing a collective defence system and set out on the path of neutrality.

23.08.1939 The Non-Aggression Treaty between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was signed in Moscow. Its secrets additional protocols divided Central and Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

Read more about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

01.09.1939 World War II began. Estonia declared itself neutral in the new war.

28.09.1939 As the result of military threats by the Soviet Union, a mutual assistance pact between Estonia and the Soviet Union was signed in Moscow, on the basis of which Soviet military bases were established in Estonia. Similar agreements, through which the USSR began to fulfil the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, were forced on Latvia and Lithuania.

16.06.1940 Taking advantage of the fact that the world's attention was on Paris being occupied by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union occupied Estonia and began to destroy the existing national order. The same took place in the other occupied Baltic states. The Soviet oppression of Estonian citizens began; the first people targeted were local Russians.

14.-15.07.1940 The Soviet forces carried out illegal elections with fraudulent results in the Baltic nations, as a result of which Soviet order was declared in the Baltic states. These illegal elections became the basis for the Western world's non-recognition policy during the next half a century.

06.08.1940 The USSR Supreme Soviet decided to accept the Estonian SSR into the USSR. With that, the annexation of Estonia was complete. The annexation was accompanied by the destruction of the existing state structure and the annulment of the Cultural Autonomy Act.

14.06.1941 The Soviet authorities organised the first mass deportations in the Baltic states, during the course of which over 10 000 people (including close to 10% of the Jewish community) from Estonia were sent to prison or labour camps in Russia.

Read more about Soviet deportations from Estonia in 1940s

22.06.1941 Nazi Germany declared war against the Soviet Union.

July – October 1941 Military activity between the units of Nazi Germany and the USSR took place on occupied Estonian territory. Upon local initiative, the Forest Brothers that had worked for Estonian independence took over power from Soviet officials in many local municipal governments. In many places this was accompanied by mob law over the communists.

15.09.1941 The German authorities set up a German civilian administration in Estonia to show that one occupation had been replaced by another.

01.07.1942 In a report by the German security police, Estonia was the first occupied Eastern territory to be declared "free of Jews". By that time, most of the 1 000 Jews that remained in Estonia in 1941 as well as several hundred Gypsies had been executed by the German security police. After that the Nazi German authorities brought Jews from other occupied European countries to occupied Estonia, and in 1944 the number of Jews killed was approaching 10 000.

Read more about The Jewish Community in Estonia

28.08.1942 The German powers announced the formation of a Waffen SS. Due to the unpopularity of the German occupation, only slightly more than a thousand volunteers came together. As a result, in 1943 and 1944 the Nazis employed massive drafts.

08.02.1944 The Infantry Regiment 200 was formed in Finland. It consisted of 3 400 Estonians that had fled to Finland during mobilisation (the "Finnish Boys").

14.02.1944 An Estonian opposition centre was formed in Tallinn – the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia, which recommended that Estonians contribute to Western nations and refrain from mobilising. These positions brought about oppression by the Nazi forces.

July – November 1944 Nazi German forces retreated and the forces of the USSR advanced onto occupied Estonian territory.

20.09.1944 The National Committee of the Republic of Estonia handed power to the Government formed by Jüri Uluots, the last constitutional pre-war prime minister of the Republic of Estonia who had served as president, which then attempted to restore the independence of the Estonian nation during the changing of the occupations. Jüri Uluots, who had fled to Sweden, created an exile government there, which together with the embassy in London and the consulate general in New York maintained the principles of Estonian independence abroad.
The resistance of the local people against the occupation forces continued in the forests. The last Forest Brother was killed in 1978.

08.05.1945 The end of World War II in Europe. In Estonia, which lost close to 20% of its population in the war, the Soviet occupation continued until 1991.

Read more about 8 May: Memorial Day for the victims of World War II

15.08.1945 The first post-war deportation took place in Estonia, during which more than 400 local Germans were deported to Siberia.

25.-27.03.1949 Mass deportations from Estonia to the USSR. According to the information available, 20 702 people were deported, of which 20.8% were men, 49.4% were women, and 29.8% were children. Of these people about 3 000 perished in Siberia. The fear of continuing oppression gave an impetus to the establishment of collective farms.

Read more about Soviet deportations from Estonia in 1940s

01.04.1951 More than 300 Jehovah's Witnesses and members of other forbidden sects were deported from Estonia.

21.07.1955 The Estonian World Council was created in exile, with the goal of bringing together all Estonians abroad.

1956 With the end of the Stalin personality cult came a certain degree of softening in the political climate in Estonia, known as the "Khrushchev thaw". Many of those deported had the opportunity to return to Estonia.

1978 – 1982 A period of Russianisation in occupied Estonia.

23.08.1979 45 citizens of occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania presented a memorandum to the UN secretary general, USSR, Federal Republic of Germany, German Democratic Republic, and the governments of the nations that signed the Atlantic Charter with a proposal to annul the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and restore the independence of the Baltic countries. The memorandum was followed by oppression.

14.06.1982 President of the USA Ronald Reagan declared this day to be Baltic Freedom Day.

1985 The reform campaign of the new General Secretary of the CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev began in the USSR, the goal of which was to bring the USSR out of its stagnant state.

1987 The "Phosphorite War" – the public protest against establishing phosphorite mines in Viru County became a more general condemnation of the USSR's policies.

23.08.1987 In Tallinn's Hirve Park, a protest condemning the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact took place – the first in occupied Estonia.

1988 The "Singing Revolution" began – night-time song festivals and other music events became massive peaceful protests against the Soviet occupation.

23.08.1989 The "Baltic Way" was organised on the 50th anniversary of the MRP. A human chain of over 600 km was formed from Tallinn to Vilnius, with nearly two million people participating.

24.12.1989 The Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union admitted the existence of the MRP secret protocols, condemned the agreement between the USSR and Nazi Germany, and declared it invalid from the moment it was signed.

1990 After a break of over half a century, the first free elections took place in Estonia. Votes were cast to determine the makeup of the XII Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, for which all Estonian residents were eligible, and the Congress of Estonia, for which only Estonian citizens were eligible.

20.08.1991 The restoration of the independence of the Republic of Estonia on the basis of continuity.

Read more about Estonia's return to independence 1987–1991

24.08.1991 Russia recognised Estonia's independence.

17.09.1991 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were accepted as members of the UN.

20.06.1992 Monetary reform. The Estonian kroon came back into use.

03.07.1992 The new constitution of the Republic of Estonia came into force.

31.08.1994 The Russian armed forces withdrew from Estonia.

Read more about 31 August - Anniversary of the Withdrawal of Russian Troops from Estonia

2004 Estonia became a member of the European Union and NATO.

2010 Estonia became a member of OECD

2011 Estonia became a member of eurozone and the currency in Estonia changed to euro.