Viking Age

History of Latvia between 800 AD - 1149

During the Viking Age the Scandinavian expansion into the Eastern Baltic increased, and their influence reached as far as the Volga and down it to the Caspian Sea, as well as to the Black Sea and Byzantium. The territory known today as Latvia became famous as a trading crossroads. The famous "route from the Vikings to the Greeks" mentioned in ancient chronicles stretched from Scandinavia through Latvian territory via the Daugava River to the ancient Rus and Byzantine Empire. Vikings started to establish colonies for example in East Prussia, near Elbing and another in Latvia, near Grobina (formerly Seeborg).

This expansion ended with the adoption of the Christian civilization. The Vikings who had become the rulers and kings of Russia, became slavonised and started organizing the Russians for unceasing attacks on the Baltic lands. On the whole, however, this combined Viking-Russian aggression was unsuccessful. The Baltic peoples had learnt from the Scandinavians better use of weapons and military and political organisation. For short periods the Viking-led Russians succeeded in establishing a tributary overlordship, but they were soon driven away and independence was re-established. Thus, the Chronicles tell us that in 1106 the Russians of Polotzk organised an attack down the Daugava against Zemgale (Semigallia — a Latvian Kingdom), but lost 9,000 men and were completely beaten. However, in spite of the occasional restless times and periodic wars, the Viking period gave the Baltic peoples many valuable contacts and stimuli. Large deposits of Arabic and Anglo-Saxon coins have been found, dating from that period. This clearly shows that the cultural tentacles of the Baltic peoples went as far South as the Arabic Caliphates and Iran and so far North-West that they had gained an insight into the Anglo-Saxon world.

Baltic peoples already had their own monetary system (the so-called oserings) and their own system of weights and measures. They had partially adopted the Orthodox Christianity. They had their own penal codes, their own kings, their own states, their own national administration and taxation, their own strategically arranged lines of fortified castles. It is quite clear, therefore, that the lands inhabited by the Baltic nations were a very pronounced independent cultural area. On the other hand, the Slav territories, which in present days encircle the Baltic lands from the East and from the South, have always been much poorer in material culture and their civilization much more monotonous. In the borderlands the Slays make use of many elements that have been borrowed from the Balts. This is particularly noticeable in the ancient Balt territory, White Ruthenia.

Reference: Latvians.com

Popular sites founded between 800 AD and 1149 in Latvia

Tervete Hill Fort

Tērvete village is famous for the historic hillfort built for the kings of Western Zemgale in the Middle Ages. According to popular legend the Semigallian king Namejs made a ring called the 'namejs' so he could be identified by his family. But his enemies got hold of this information and sought the ring to kill the king (during a war) to have victories. The villagers also created these rings in order to pro ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Tērvete, Latvia

Grobina Burial Ground

Very little evidence of, Scandinavian settlement has been found in the eastern Baltic area, outside of the towns and trading places which grew up along the shores of the Baltic Sea in the pre-Viking and Viking periods. One such was Grobina in modern Latvia. Grobina seems to have been a centre of Scandinavian settlement on the Baltic Sea coast. It has a fort and at least three cemeteries containing grave goods of central S ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Grobiņa, Latvia

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Celje Castle

Celje Castle was once the largest fortification on Slovenian territory. The first fortified building on the site (a Romanesque palace) was built in the first half of the 13th century by the Counts of Heunburg from Carinthia on the stony outcrop on the western side of the ridge where the castle stands. It had five sides, or four plus the southern side, which was a natural defence. The first written records of the castle date back to between 1125 and 1137; it was probably built by Count Gunter. In the western section of the castle, there was a building with several floors. Remains of the walls of this palatium have survived. In the eastern section, there was an enclosed courtyard with large water reservoirs. The eastern wall, which protects the castle from its most exposed side, was around three metres thicker than the rest of the curtain wall. The wall was topped with a parapet and protected walkway. This was typical of Ministerialis castles of the time.

Lords of Sanneck and Counts of Celje

The first castle was probably burned and destroyed in the fighting between the Lords of Sanneck and the Lords of Auffenstein. The gateway was later moved from the northern side by freemen loyal to the Lords of Sanneck. They gave the castle a new curtain wall and reinforced this with a tower on the northern side, which guarded the entrance to the inner ward, sometime before 1300. The new wall reached from a natural cliff in the east to the remains of the earlier wall in the northeast. The entrance was moved to the southern side, where it still is today.

In 1333, the castle came into the possession of the Lords of Sanneck, who from 1341 onward were the Counts of Celje. They set about transforming the fortress into a comfortable living quarter and their official residence. Around 1400, they added a four-storey tower which was later called Frederick’s tower. On the eastern side of the courtyard, there was a tall, three-story residential tower, which is the best preserved section of the castle among the Frederick’s tower. The main residential building, which also had rooms for women, stood however in the western section of the castle. This part of the castle ends at the narrow outer ward and is in a state of disrepair. On the southern side of the palatium, there was a tower, known as Andrew’s tower, after the chapel on the ground floor, which was dedicated to Saint Andrew. In the Middle Ages, the castle walls were impenetrable; an attacker would have had to rely on starving the defenders into submission, but a hidden passageway led from the castle to a nearby granary. The Counts of Celje stopped living in the castle in this period, but they stationed a castellan with an armed entourage here.

During an earthquake in 1348, part of the Romanesque palace and the rock on which it stood were destroyed. The ruined section was rebuilt and relocated towards the bailey. In the 15th century, the outer ward was extended on the eastern side of the ridge as far as the rocky outcrop. Here, the wall connected with a powerful, five-sided tower. In the second half of the 16th century, the castle was once again renovated. The walls in the inner and outer wards were made taller, and the bailey was renovated. The modern sections of the walls feature Renaissance-era balistraria.

Holy Roman Empire

The first imperial caretaker, Krištof pl. Ungnad, was named in 1461. Celje Castle was not only the most important castle in Slovenia, but in the entire eastern Alps. It covered an area of almost 5500 m². Several new techniques were employed in the castle’s architectural development, which were the model for other castles in the region under Celje’s influence.

The castle began to fall into disrepair shortly after losing its strategic importance. During the renovation of the lower castle in 1748, the castle’s tiled roof was removed. When Count Gaisruck bought the castle in 1755, he removed the roof truss as well. The best stones were then re-used in the construction of the Novo Celje Mansion between Petrovče and Žalec. From this time onward, it was no longer possible to live in the castle, and it slowly turned into a complete ruin. The last residents left the site in 1795. In 1803, the farmer Andrej Gorišek bought the castle and began to use the site as a quarry.

19th and 20th centuries

In 1846, the governor of the Styria, Count Wickenburg, bought the ruins and donated them to the Styrian estates. In 1871, interest in the ruins began to take hold and in 1882 the Celje museum society began efforts to restore the castle, which continue to this day. During the time of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the authorities in Maribor left control over the ruins to the local municipality, which made great contributions to the castle"s preservation. During World War II, the ruins were abandoned, but reconstruction efforts continued after the war. In the corners of the Friderikov stolp, cement blocks were used to replace missing stones. A proper parking lot was also created in front of the entrance to the castle. On the northern side, the wall was knocked through to create a new side entrance to meet a new route that had been built there.

21st century

Today Celje castle is a popular tourist attraction and several concerts and other events are held there annually.