Ancient Estonia

Ancient Estonia

Ancient Estonia refers to a period covering History of Estonia from the middle of the 8th millennium BC until the conquest and subjugation of the Estonian people in the first quarter of the 13th Century during the Northern Crusades. [ [ History of Estonia By Mati Laur; p.11; ISBN 9985203240] ]

The Mesolithic Period

The region has been populated since the end of the last glacial era, about 10.000 BC. The earliest traces of human settlement in Estonia are connected with Kunda culture. The oldest known settlement in Estonia is the Pulli settlement, which was located on the banks of the river Pärnu, near the town of Sindi, in Western Estonia. It has been dated to the beginning of the 9th millennium BC. The Kunda Culture received its name from the "Lammasmäe" settlement site in northern Estonia, which dates from earlier than 8500. [ [ Estonia: Identity and Independence, p.24 ISBN 9042008903] ] Bone and stone artifacts similar to those found at Kunda have been discovered elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Latvia, northern Lithuania and southern Finland. Among minerals flint and quartz was used the most for making cutting tools.

The Neolithic Period

The beginning of the Neolithic period is marked by the ceramics of the Narva culture, which appears in Estonia at the beginning of the 5th millennium BC. The oldest finds date from around 4900 B.C. The first pottery was made of thick clay mixed with pebbles, shells or plants. The Narva type ceramics are found throughout almost the entire Estonian coastal region and on the islands. The stone and bone tools of the era have a notable similarity with the artifacts of the Kunda culture.Around the beginning of 4th millennium BC Comb Ceramic Culture arrived in Estonia. [ of Estonia ISBN 9985206061] ] Until the early 1980s the arrival of Finnic peoples, the ancestors of the Estonians, Finns, Livonians on the shores of Baltic sea around was associated with the Comb Ceramic Culture. [ [ Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States, p153 ISBN 0313306109] ] However, such a linking of archaeologically defined cultural entities with linguistic ones cannot be proven and it has been suggested that the increase of settlement finds in the period is more likely to have been associated with an economic boom related to the warming of climate. Some researchers have even argued that a Uralic form of language may have been spoken in Estonia and Finland since the end of the last glaciation. [ [ The Cambridge History of Scandinavia, p.51 ISBN 0521472997] ] The burial customs of the comb pottery people included additions of figures of animals, birds, snakes and men carved from bone and amber. Antiquities from comb pottery culture are found from Northern Finland to Eastern Prussia.

The beginning of the Late Neolithic Period about 2200 BC is characterized by the appearance of the Corded Ware culture, pottery with corded decoration and well-polished stone axes (s.c. boat-shape axes). Evidence of agriculture is provided by charred grain of wheat on the wall of a corded-ware vessel found in Iru settlement. Osteological analysis show an attempt was made to domesticate the wild boar. [ [ Estonia: Identity and Independence, p.29 ISBN 9042008903] ]

Specific burial customs were characterized the dead laid on their sides with their knees pressed against their breast, one hand under the head. Objects placed into the graves were made of bones of domesticated animals.

The Bronze Age

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Estonia is dated to approximately 1800 BC. The development of the borders between the Finnic peoples and the Balts was under way. The first fortified settlements, Asva and Ridala on the island of Saaremaa and Iru in the Northern Estonia began to be built. The development of shipbuilding facilitated the spread of bronze. Changes took place in burial customs, a new type of burial ground spread from Germanic to Estonian areas, stone cist graves and cremation burials became increasingly common aside small number of boat-shaped stone graves. [ [ Estonia: Identity and Independence, p.26 ISBN 9042008903] ]

The Iron Age

The Pre-Roman Iron Age began in Estonia about 500 BC and lasted until the middle of the 1st century BC. The oldest iron items were imported, although since the first century iron was smelted from local marsh and lake ore. Settlement sites were located mostly in places that offered natural protection. Fortresses were built, although used temporarily. The appearance of square Celtic fields surrounded by enclosures in Estonia date from the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The majority of stones with man-made indents, which presumably were connected with magic designed to increase crop fertility, date from this period. A new type of grave, quadrangular burial mounds began to develop. Burial traditions show the clear beginning of social stratification.

The Roman Iron Age in Estonia is roughly dated to between 50 and 450 AD, the era that was affected by the influence of the Roman Empire. In material culture this is reflected by few Roman coins, some jewellery and artefacts. The abundance of iron artefacts in Southern Estonia speaks of closer mainland ties with southern areas while the islands of western and northern Estonia communicated with their neighbors mainly by sea. By the end of the period three clearly defined tribal dialectical areas: Northern Estonia, Southern Estonia, and Western Estonia including the islands had emerged, the population of each having formed its own understanding of identity. [ [ Estonia: Identity and Independence, p.28-31 ISBN 9042008903] ]

Early Middle Ages

The name of Estonia occurs first in a form of Aestii in the 1st century AD by Tacitus, however, it might have indicated Baltic tribes living in the area. In Northern Sagas (9th century) the term started to be used to indicate the Estonians. [ [ The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics., p21-23] ISBN 0631231706]

Ptolemy in his "Geography III" in the middle of the 2nd century AD mentions the Osilians among other dwellers on the Baltic shore. [ [ A History of Pagan Europe By Prudence Jones, Nigel Pennick; p.195] ISBN 0415091365] According to the fifth-century Roman historian Cassiodorus the people known to Tacitius as the Aestii were the Estonians. The extent of their territory in early medieval times is disputed but the nature of their religion is not. They were known to the Scandinavians as experts in wind-magic, as were the Lapps (known at the time as Finns) in the North. [ [ A History of Pagan Europe. p179] ISBN 0415091365] The name Estonia is first mentioned by Cassiodorus in his book V. Letters 1-2 dating from the 6th century. [ [ The Letters of Cassiodorus Translated by Thomas Hodgkin] ]

The Chudes as mentioned by a monk Nestor in the earliest Russian chronicles, were the Ests or Esthonians. [ Pre- and Proto-historic Finns by John Abercromby p.141] ] According to Nestor in 1030 Yaroslav I the Wise invaded the country of the Chuds and laid the foundations of Yuriev, [ [ Pre- and Proto-historic Finns by John Abercromby p.142] ] (the historical Russian name of Tartu, Estonia). According to Old East Slavic chronicles the Chudes where one of the founders of the Rus' state.

In the first centuries AD political and administrative subdivisions began to emerge in Estonia. Two larger subdivisions appeared: the parish (kihelkond) and the county (maakond). The parish consisted of several villages. Nearly all parishes had at least one fortress. The defense of the local area was directed by the highest official, the parish elder. The county was composed of several parishes, also headed by an elder. By the 13th century the following major counties had developed in Estonia: Saaremaa (Osilia), Läänemaa (Rotalia or Maritima), Harjumaa (Harria), Rävala (Revalia), Virumaa (Vironia), Järvamaa (Jervia), Sakala (Saccala), and Ugandi (Ugaunia). [ Estonia and the Estonians (Studies of Nationalities) Toivo U. Raun p.11 ISBN 0817928529] Estonia constitutes one of the richest territories in the Baltic for hoards from the 11th and the 12th centuries. The earliest coin hoards found in Estonia are Arabic Dirhams from the 8th Century. The largest Viking Age hoards found in Estonia have been at Maidla and Kose. Out of the 1500 coins published in catalogues, 1000 are Anglo-Saxon. [Estonian Collections : Anglo-Saxon, Anglo-Norman and later British Coins; ISBN 0197262201]

Varbola Stronghold ( _la. Castrum Warbole) was one of the largest circular rampart fortress and trading center built in Estonia, Harju County ( _la. Harria) at the time.

In the 11th century the Scandinavians are frequently chronicled as combating the Vikings from the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea. With the rise of Christianity, centralized authority in Scandinavia and Germany eventually lead to Baltic crusades.The east Baltic world was transformed by military conquest: First the Livs, Letts and Estonians, then the Prussians and the Finns underwent defeat, baptism, military occupation and sometimes extermination by groups of Germans, Danes and Swedes. [The Northern Crusades: Second Edition by Eric Christiansen; p.93; ISBN 0140266534]


*"History of Estonia" 2nd Edition. Tõnu Tannberg, Ain Mäesalu, Tõnis Lukas, Mati Laur and Ago Pajur, ISBN 9985-2-0606-1, A/S BIT, Tallinn, 2002;


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