History of Estonia & Latvia

Modern Estonia and Latvia have shared a common historical direction since the 12th century. The history of the area since the 1180’s is generally based on Western chroniclers while events before that time need to be traced primarily via the archaeological record though some Scandinavian and Rus sources also mention the area.

Medieval Terra Mariana (Old Livonia)

The medieval period is the easiest one to look at from some points of view. The two modern countries were separated into a loose confederation of principalities who, while nearly always feuding amongst themselves, carried out a mission of converting the local people as well as ensuring independence against Lithuania and Novgorod/Muscovy.

The name—Terra Mariana—comes from Virgin Mary. The dedication of the land to her would both protect the land as well as its Christian settlers. The primarily German crusaders first set up the Order of the Brethern of the Sword and the Bishopric of Riga, which was later upgraded to the status of an archbishopric. Modern northern Estonia went to the Danish crown, and was known as the Duchy of Estonia, for the valiant efforts of King Valdemar II Sejr. The Danish ruled these lands for about twelve decades before selling it to the Livonian Order—or, more precisely, the Livonian Chapter of the German Order—in 1346.

By this point, the Livonian Order had also subsumed the remnant of the Sword Brethern who perished in an ambush in 1236. The Archbishop of Riga, meanwhile, had managed to ensure spiritual supremacy over the Bishops of Dorpat and Ösel. The Bishop of Courland had, however, to accept that his circumstances did not allow for as much independence as those of his equals in rank, and followed the directions of the Livonian Order from the end of the 13th century. A short-lived bishopric also existed in Semgallia until it was joined to the see of Riga in 1251.

All of these great lords wanted to strengthen their domains by fortifying their borders while looking for ways to subjugate the others princes. Many types of defensive structures were also a necessity to defend both against the Russians and Lithuanians who were at an arm’s reach. Therefore, there is a numerous population of fortifications to trace from this the Medieval Terra Mariana.

Live map version: v1.2 from 31st Dec 2021.


  • The accuracy of the map is as good as possible, but inaccuracies will exist;
  • This is a map of historic locations, of which many fell into disrepair while others were developed into manors. That a pin exists on this map does not indicate that there is anything to visit at the site today.


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  • Turnbull, Stephen. “Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (2): The stone castles of Latvia and Estonia 1185–1560”, 2004.
  • Õun, Mati. “Eesti kindlused läbi kolme aastatuhande”, 2017.