History of Estonia & Latvia

Modern Estonia and Latvia have shared a common historical direction since approx the 12th century, based on written and provable source. Much of what happened before, we cannot know with any confirmed degree of certainty.

Medieval Period: Terra Mariana or Old Livonia

The medieval period is the easiest one to look at from some points of view. The modern two countries were separated into a loose confederation of principalities who while nearly always feuding with themselves were intent on the missions of Christianising the local peoples as well as fighting against Lithuania and Novgorod/Muscovy.

The name of this land — Terra Mariana — comes from the Virgin Mary who was to protect this land. The (primarily) German crusaders set up first the Order of the Brethern of the Sword and the Bishopric of Riga (later upgraded to an archbishopric). Modern northern Estonia went to the Danish crown as the Duchy of Estonia for the valiant efforts of King Valdemar II to conquer the region, though the Danish sold this territory in 1346 to the Livonian Order which was a branch of the German or Teutonic Order.

By this point, as well, the Livonian Order had subsumed the remnant of the Sword Brethern who perished in an ambush on one of their campaigns in 1236. The Archbishop of Riga, meanwhile, had managed to ensure (spiritual) supremacy over the Bishops of Dorpat and Ösel. Another established bishopric in Courland was meanwhile under virtual subservience to the Livonian Order from the end of the 13th century. A short-lived bishopric also existed in Semgallia though this was joined with the Archbiscopal see in 1251.

All of these great lords were in the habit of trying to strengthen their hold on power by the prudent use of fortifications. Similarly, many types of defensive establishments were a virtual necessity in a land where both Russians and Lithuanians were at arm’s reach. Therefore, there is a fairly numerous population of castles and other fortifications to trace from this period, as shown on the map below.

Live map version: v1.1 from 3rd May 2020.

The accuracy of the map is as good as possible, but no doubt inaccuracies exist. It should be noted that this is a map of historic locations — many of these were developed throughout the 16th to 19th centuries into local manors while others fell into disuse. A map of touristy castles and fortifications in the area would look quite different.


  • Nicolle, David. ‘Teutonic Knight: 1190–1561’, 2007.
  • Pavils, Gatis. ‘Medieval castles’, 2009. [Accessed 2020 February]
  • Turnbull, Stephen. ‘Crusader Castles of the Teutonic Knights (1): The red-brick castles of Prussia 1230–1466’, 2003.
  • 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.