Estonia and the Estonians
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Estonia and the Estonians

Second Edition, Updated

Toivo U. Raun

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eBook - ePub

Estonia and the Estonians

Second Edition, Updated

Toivo U. Raun

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About This Book

Estonia and the Estonians provides the first compendious survey in any language of Estonian history, from prehistoric times to the twenty-first century. Estonia's strategic geopolitical location—a crossroads where the major powers of northeastern Europe have struggled for influence—and the small number of ethnic Estonians are crucial factors that have shaped the history of the area and its inhabitants.

The book emphasizes the period since the mid-nineteenth century, when a national movement calling for Estonian cultural and political autonomy began to emerge. During the two world wars, Estonia gained and lost political self-determination. Yet a modern Estonian culture was firmly established, and a strong sense of national identity survived the Soviet era.

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Information

Year
2002
ISBN
9780817928537
Edition
1
ESTONIA BEFORE 1710
PART ONE
1 The Prehistoric Era
The prehistoric era—from the first signs of human habitation to the emergence of written records—in the region that would become modern Estonia lasted nearly nine millennia. Little is known about this long period; however, a growing number of archaeological finds and evidence from other disciplines provide the basis for cautious generalizations. Before turning to such issues as the origins of the Estonians and the arrival of their ancestors in the Baltic, it will be useful to make some brief geographical comments.
The area populated by the Estonian people and their ancestors has not changed appreciably in the last 1500 years. Twentieth-century Estonia is approximately the size of the states of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. In comparison to other European states, it is larger than Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, or Belgium. To the west and north, Estonia borders on the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland, affording an avenue of contact with Central Europe and Scandinavia. Other nationalities located on the Baltic, especially the Germans, Swedes, and Danes, have used this open waterway to penetrate Estonian territory. To the east, Lake Peipsi has formed a natural dividing line between Slavic and Finnic worlds for centuries. Only in the twentieth century has the Slavic element moved significantly farther west into traditionally Estonian areas. To the south, Estonia has a land border with the Latvians that gradually moved north until it stabilized in early modern times.
Geographically, Estonia is part of the great East European plain and can be divided into two major regions. Lower Estonia consists of the western and northern coastal regions, including the islands as well as the areas around Lakes Peipsi and Vorts (the two largest inland bodies of water). Upper Estonia includes the central and southern regions, excluding the lake districts, and is perhaps best pictured as the areas surrounding the urban centers of Rakvere (Wesenberg), Paide (Weissenstein), Viljandi (Fellin), Tartu (Dorpat), and Peru (Werro). Ninety percent of the country is less than 100 meters above sea level, although the higest point in Estonia at Suur Munamagi in the extreme southeast reaches nearly 318 meters. Whereas Lower Estonia is almost completely flat and often marshy, Upper Estonia is characterized by a more varied landscape and, as a result of glacial deposits, is by far the more agriculturally fertile of the two regions. Estonia possesses no great natural resources. The only mineral wealth of note is oil shale and phosphorite; abundant supplies of limestone and dolomite are available as building materials.
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Estonia's climate is characteristic of the continental mixed forest zone, but it is tempered in the winter by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf Stream. The vegetation period (average temperature above 5°C) ranges from 145 to 165 days per year, and the active growing season (average temperature above 10°C) is 110-135 days per year. The warmest areas of the country are the western coastal regions and accompanying islands; there the nights are frost free from four to six months of the year. Average annual precipitation ranges from 21.7 to 25.6 inches.
THE ORIGINS OF THE ESTONIANS
The Estonian language belongs to the Uralic or Finno-Ugric linguistic groups. Uralic, the broader of the two terms, subsumes both FinnoUgric and the Samoyed languages of western Siberia. The Ugric branch of Finno-Ugric includes Hungarian and the Ob-Ugric subgroup (Vogul [Mansi] and Ostyak [Khanty]), while the Finnic category consists of Perm-Finnic (Votyak [Udmurt] and Zyrian [Komi and Komi-Permiak]), Volga-Finnic (Mordvin and Cheremis [Mari]), Lapp (Sami), and Balto-Finnic. Estonian belongs to the Balto-Finnic subgroup, which can be divided into the two following branches:
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It should be noted that there is disagreement among linguists with regard to distinguishing among dialects and languages in the Balto-Finnic group. For example, Soviet Estonian linguists recognize Izhorian (Est. isuri) as a language spoken in Ingria. Among the Balto-Finns, only the Finns and Estonians have achieved modern cultures. Of the others, only Livonian has a written language, but in the mid-1980s only some 90-100 Livonian speakers (all of them elderly) still remained.1
The origins of the Uralic and Finno-Ugric peoples are obscure, but linguistic, archaeological, and anthropological evidence provide important clues upon which credible theoretical constructions can be based. The first major theory on this question was offered by the Finnish scholar M. A. Castren in the mid-nineteenth century. His so-called Altaic theory postulated a common homeland for the Uralic and Altaic (Turco-Tatar, Mongol, Tungus) peoples in the Altaic mountains of southeastern Siberia. This view is now obsolete, since the alleged connections between Uralic and Altaic have proved problematic. The nineteenth-century mind equated language and race and thus reached the unwarranted conclusion that the Finno-Ugrians were anthropologically Mongoloid. In the 1870s a counterargument to that of Castren appeared and was later forcefully expounded by the Finnish linguists E. N. Setala and Heikki Paasonen. Known as the Uralic theory, this view placed the original homeland of the Finno-Ugrians and Samoyeds in the middle Volga region between the Kama and Oka rivers. Gradually the various subgroups broke off: the Samoyeds left first, followed by the Ugrians, Perm-Finns, and Balto-Finns. With certain significant modifications, the Uralic theory has been accepted by most twentieth-century scholars. The archaeologist Richard Indreko has argued that the Finno-Ugrians originated in Western Europe,2 but his views have not found appreciable acceptance.
There is substantial agreement among Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian scholars that the original homeland of the Finno-Ugrians is to be found in the forest zone of Eastern Europe west of the Ural mountains. The Hungarian linguist Peter Hajdu places the Uralic homeland on the eastern side of the Urals (6000-4000 B.c.), and he suggests that the Finno-Ugrians crossed over to the European side by 3000 B.c. while the Samoyeds remained in Siberia.3The major differences of opinion today concern how and when the Finno-Ugrians split apart and finally reached their later destinations. In particular, archaeologists have tended to push the stages of migration much farther back in time than linguists. However, in recent decades Soviet Estonian scholars from various disciplines have agreed that the ancestors of the Balto-Finns were already in the Baltic area during the third millennium B.C.4
It must be remembered that the notion of a compact original homeland with later neat severances by various subgroups is only a theoretical construct based on linguistic data and hardly does justice to the complexity of actual events. The Finnish ethnologist Kustaa Vilkuna has suggested that the concept of an original homeland is itself obsolete and that attempts to locate one are pure speculation. If the idea of a narrow homeland is abandoned, it becomes possible to postulate the Finno-Ugrian region as a long band of thinly populated settlements, perhaps stretching from the Urals to the Baltic area in northeastern Europe.5 It is also probable that the westward migration of the Finno-Ugrians took place gradually in small waves rather than in any large single movement. Although the Ob-Ugrians show strong Mongoloid characteristics, an anthropological study by the Estonian scholar Karin Mark indicates that the Balto-Finns have overwhelmingly Caucasoid physical features.6
PERIODIZATION
The northeastern Baltic area was freed from the last Ice Age in the period 10,000-8000 B.c., and the first signs of human life appear to date from about 7500 B.c. The oldest archaeological find to date is located at Pulli on the Pa'rnu River. However, the Kunda culture, named for a north Estonian coastal settlement of this period, left few clues about the origins of its founders. It seems reasonable to assume that these early inhabitants, who were hunters and fishermen, came from the south and were probably later assimilated by Finnic elements.7 The prehistoric era in Estonian history can be divided as follows:
Early Stone Age: 7500-4000 B.c.
Late Stone Age: 4000-1500 B.c.
Bronze Age: 1500-500 B.c.
Pre-Roman Iron Age: 500 B.c.-Birth of Christ
Roman Iron Age: Birth of Christ-400 A.D.
Middle Iron Age: 400-800 A.d.
Late Iron Age: 800-1200 A.d.
Although any such periodization remains artificial to a degree, these approximate dates clearly indicate that the northern Baltic region lagged centuries behind developments in the more favorable climates of Asia, northern Africa, and southern Europe.
The Late Stone Age is the first period for which large numbers of artifacts are available. The greater part of...

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