The Iron Age

History of Estonia between 500 BC - 1207

The Pre-Roman Iron Age began in Estonia about 500 BC and lasted until the middle of the 1st century AD. The oldest iron items were imported, although since the 1st 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 a 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.

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 the Northern Sagas (9th century) the term started to be used to indicate the Estonians.

In the 1st 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.

Varbola Stronghold was one of the largest circular rampart fortresses and trading centers built in Estonia, Harju County (Harria in Latin) 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 led to the 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.

Reference: Wikipedia

Popular sites founded between 500 BC and 1207 in Estonia

Rõuge Stronghold Hill

The ancient hill fort of Rõuge was used for defensive purposes between 6th and 11th centuries. Archaeologists have also excavated an Iron Age settlement near the hill. You can visit on the hill by following the hiking trail.
Founded: 500 AD | Location: Rõuge, Estonia

Varbola Stronghold

The Varbola Stronghold was the largest circular rampart fortress and trading centre in Estonia in the 10th-12th centuries. The first record of Varbola is written by Henry of Livonia, who mentions the Castrum Warbole being besieged in 1211 for several days by Mstislav the Bold of Novgorod. The conflict was resolved with a payment of seven hundred Marks. During the Livonian crusade Livonian Brothers of the Sword invaded th ...
Founded: 10th-12th centuries | Location: Märjamaa, Estonia

Lõhavere Hill Fort

Lõhavere was an ancient hill fort of Lembitu, the legendary chief of Estonians. It was used in defensive purposes about 20 years in the 12th and 13th centuries. Lembitu was killed in the battle of Madise (St. Matthew’s) day in 1217 by German crusaders and Latgalian allies. Towering in the middle of the forest, the hill of the fort with it's naturally deep slopes leaves an imposing impression even today. ...
Founded: 12th-13th centuries | Location: Suure-Jaani, Estonia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hochosterwitz Castle

Hochosterwitz Castle is considered to be one of Austria's most impressive medieval castles. The rock castle is one of the state's landmarks and a major tourist attraction.

The site was first mentioned in an 860 deed issued by King Louis the German of East Francia, donating several of his properties in the former Principality of Carantania to the Archdiocese of Salzburg. In the 11th century Archbishop Gebhard of Salzburg ceded the castle to the Dukes of Carinthia from the noble House of Sponheim in return for their support during the Investiture Controversy. The Sponheim dukes bestowed the fiefdom upon the family of Osterwitz, who held the hereditary office of the cup-bearer in 1209.

In the 15th century, the last Carinthian cup-bearer, Georg of Osterwitz was captured in a Turkish invasion and died in 1476 in prison without leaving descendants. So after four centuries, on 30 May 1478, the possession of the castle reverted to Emperor Frederick III of Habsburg.

Over the next 30 years, the castle was badly damaged by numerous Turkish campaigns. On 5 October 1509, Emperor Maximilian I handed the castle as a pledge to Matthäus Lang von Wellenburg, then Bishop of Gurk. Bishop Lang undertook a substantial renovation project for the damaged castle.

About 1541, German king Ferdinand I of Habsburg bestowed Hochosterwitz upon the Carinthian governor Christof Khevenhüller. In 1571, Baron George Khevenhüller acquired the citadel by purchase. He fortified to deal with the threat of Turkish invasions of the region, building an armory and 14 gates between 1570 and 1586. Such massive fortification is considered unique in citadel construction.

Since the 16th century, no major changes have been made to Hochosterwitz. It has also remained in the possession of the Khevenhüller family as requested by the original builder, George Khevenhüller. A marble plaque dating from 1576 in the castle yard documents this request.

A specific feature is the access way to the castle passing through a total of 14 gates, which are particularly prominent owing to the castle's situation in the landscape. Tourists are allowed to walk the 620-metre long pathway through the gates up to the castle; each gate has a diagram of the defense mechanism used to seal that particular gate. The castle rooms hold a collection of prehistoric artifacts, paintings, weapons, and armor, including one set of armor 2.4 metres tall, once worn by Burghauptmann Schenk.