Are there black people in Estonia?

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania

Karsten Brüggemann

To person

is Professor of Estonian and General History at Tallinn University and Vice Chairman of the Baltic Historical Commission. [email protected]

At the beginning of the history, which can be traced back to written sources, also in the case of the Baltic states the spread of Christianity stands. [1] The history of Lithuania is usually introduced with an indication that the term Litua as a target region of the Catholic mission already found in 1009 in the Quedlinburg annals. However, these early efforts were unsuccessful, as the Lithuanians were considered the "last pagans" of Europe until the end of the 14th century. In the case of Livonia - the medieval designation of today's areas of Estonia and Latvia - Christianization as a result of the "Baltic Crusades" was of major importance. The founding of the city of Riga in 1201 by Bishop Albert, a ministerial of the Archdiocese of Bremen, gave the starting signal for the colonization process carried out by missionaries and merchants, in which Danes as well as Germans were involved. With the Order of the Sword Brothers, which later became the Teutonic Order, the mission created its army.

At the same time, the region had been in more or less close contact with Kievan Rus, which had been Christianized since the end of the 10th century, since the 11th century. The Russian chronicles testify to the close ties, especially with the Lithuanians - in war and peace. In eastern Livonia, too, this neighborhood sometimes led to tribute payments to Russian princes. The decline of the Rus from the middle of the 13th century as a result of the expansion of the Mongols favored the consolidation of the supremacy of the Teutonic Order in Livonia. At the same time, Lithuanian princes were increasingly advancing into the Slavic (and thus Orthodox) populated areas (map).
The Baltic States in 1260 and 1721 (& copy mr-kartographie. Gotha 2017)

But let's stay in Livonia for the time being. Northern Estonia fell into Danish hands during the Crusades. In 1346 Denmark sold it to the Order, the largest landowner in Livonia. However, there were other important centers of power with the Archbishop of Riga, the other bishops and the cities of Riga, Tartu (in German Dorpat) and Tallinn (in German Reval). These cities with German legal forms were important members of the Hanseatic League, in whose name they controlled the lucrative trade in Russia and were responsible for the Hanseatic Office in Novgorod. This ensured the prosperity of these cities, which also maintained a continuous intellectual exchange with the centers of Northern and Western Europe. So they became potential opponents of the order.

Internal conflicts, especially due to the order's striving for supremacy, did not fail to appear. This particularly affected Riga. Time and again, the Pope and Emperor were used as mediators, which testifies to the close links between Livonia and the central authorities of medieval Europe. The Reformation, which not least questioned the position of the order and the bishops, spread in the cities as early as the beginning of the 1520s. The model of the Grand Master of the Teutonic Order, who resided in Königsberg, Albrecht von Brandenburg-Ansbach, who became Protestant Duke of Prussia under Polish suzerainty in 1525, could hardly be transferred to Livonia, which had a much more sensitive balance of power. The Livonian order master Wolter von Plettenberg remained a Catholic, but tolerated the new faith that was firmly established in the cities.

In the meantime, Lithuania developed into a major European power. Grand Duke Mindaugas, who accepted Catholic baptism on the occasion of his coronation in 1253, but later gave it up again, is considered to be the founder of the state. Under Grand Duke Gediminas, Kiev was conquered in 1321, and Vytautas the Great reached the Black Sea at the end of the 15th century. Lithuanian paganism provoked constant conflicts with the Teutonic Order, but also the "Lithuanian journeys" of the European nobility, which were actually "knightly" war campaigns, inspired by the concept of missions. The promise of baptism also made it possible to form alliances with Christian neighbors, not least with the order. In 1385 the Polish-Lithuanian dynastic union of Krewo finally came about: Grand Duke Jogaila ascended the Polish throne as King Władysław II Jagiełło in order to secure his power in Lithuania by gaining status. In return, he had his country baptized Catholic.

The Livonian War sparked by the Moscow Tsar Ivan IV from 1558 to 1582/83 changed the balance of power in the region. Medieval Livonia had nothing to oppose this attack, it fell apart and looked for new protective powers. North Estonia fell to Sweden, the island of Saaremaa, in German Ösel, to Denmark. Poland-Lithuania, which had become an electoral monarchy with the Real Union of Lublin in 1569, secured Livonia and South Estonia. The last Livonian order master Gotthard Kettler founded the Duchy of Courland as a Polish feudal man. In further wars, Poland lost Livonia north of the Daugava to Sweden in 1629.

Universities were founded during this period of war. In the course of the Counter-Reformation, a Jesuit college was founded in Vilnius, in German Wilna, in 1579. The resulting university became a remarkable cultural center in Poland-Lithuania. As long as Livonia was Polish, the Jesuits were also active in Tartu and Riga. Courland and western Livonia, however, remained Protestant. Only in the eastern part of Livonia, in Latgale, which remained Polish, did Catholicism prevail and it still dominates there today. Overall, the Polish-Lithuanian aristocratic republic was multi-denominational. This is how Vilnius, the "Jerusalem of the North", became a cultural center of Eastern European Jewry.

The Protestant supremacy of Sweden also founded a university in Tartu in 1632. However, their impact was initially limited. However, especially with regard to the initiatives in education policy, the time in Sweden is highly valued in the history of Estonians and Latvians. In the late 17th century, however, the state only created the ideological framework, because farmers too should understand the Bible. It was during this time that the first translations of the Bible into Latvian and Estonian were made. Overall, however, it was mostly local efforts to create schools for the poor or farmers that bore fruit until they ebbed in the Great Northern War from 1700 to 1721.

This war devastated the entire region, resulted in a dramatic population decline and once again changed the balance of power. Sweden lost Estonia and Livonia, which submitted to the Russian Tsar Peter the Great (map). The two Baltic provinces initially remained largely autonomous under the administration of the knighthoods, to whom the surrenders had granted extremely advantageous privileges, including with regard to religion and language.

In the 18th century, Poland-Lithuania visibly paralyzed itself domestically through the right of veto in the aristocratic parliament itself and came under pressure from its neighbors in terms of foreign policy. In the course of the partitions of the country in 1772, 1791 and 1795, Russia also annexed Courland and large parts of Lithuania (map). For the first time, the settlement areas of the Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians were almost completely united under one rule, only a few Lithuanians continued to live in East Prussia ("Little Lithuania"). For St. Petersburg politics, however, it was still a matter of clearly separate areas: while Estonia, Livonia and Courland were perceived as German and Protestant, in the Lithuanian areas the Polish and Catholic influence was considered to be decisive.