Estonia Danish


Teutonic Order
Pagan Lithuania

The Baltic Countries before the Crusades (-1199)

Several Viking trade routes passed by or crossed the region of the eastern Baltic, one following the northern coast of Estonia, the other following the Dvina (Daugav) River. A number of Viking era coin hoards have been found there, dating from the 9th to the 12th century and totalling c.20,000 coins, from the Arab world, Byzantium, for the later period from Germany or England. A Viking settlement at Grobin (Latvia), since the 5th century, according to archeologists' research, was given up after being destroyed by the Curonians (in the late 9th century).
Few written sources report of raids undertaken by the pre-conquest inhabitants of the eastern Baltic, even targeting places in Viking Scandinavia. The not insignificant number of coin hoards lead to the conclusion, that Balts participated in the Viking era far distance trade.
In the 12th century the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea, between the Vistula River and Narva, were inhabited by heathen peoples, the PRUSSIANS, LITHUANIANS, CURONIANS, LIVONIANS, ESTONIANS. Little is known about them, for there are hardly any written documents. The Prussian, Lithuanian and Latvian languages belong to the Baltic family of languages; Estonian and Livonian to the Finno-Ugric languages; the allocation of the Curish language to either one of the language families is still disputed. Yet it seems that they lived, for the most part, in peaceful relations with their neighbours across the Baltic, for Curonians were accustomed to visit the coast of Gotland (to trade), and both Danes and Gotlanders refused to participate in a crusade against Livonia in 1200.
The Swedes have undertaken several expeditions against Estonia, in the middle ages Swedish settlements existed on islands and coastal places; the population of RUNOE preserved it's Swedish language until this century. However, these settlements are believed to have been established in the early crusade period, i.e. the early 13th century.
The crusader chronicles describe the heathen Estonian side as the seniors and the people of Estonia, giving the impression of a society of free men, lead by a nobility, but without an institutionalized duke.

The Prussians, Lithuanians, Curonians, Livonians, Estonians stuck to their heathen belief, although the Christian neighbour monarchies, especially Sweden and Denmark, used crusades against heathen peoples as an excuse to extend their domain. The inhabitants of the eastern shore of the Baltic did not follow the example of the Gotlanders, who in ca. 1000 voluntarily adopted christianity to improve their trade relations with christian countries. Early in the 13th century, they were to pay the price.

Estonia : Early History and Latvia : Early History, from Library of Congress, Country Studies
Pagan Latvian Deities, by A. Steinbergs
DOCUMENTS Maps : Baltic Lands, 1000, from Freeman Historical Geography, 1903, posted by Perry Castaneda Library, UTexas

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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