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

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle is a famous ruin and one of the the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The rich and eventful history of Heidelberg Palace began when the counts palatine of the Rhine, – later prince electors – established their residence at Heidelberg. The earliest castle structure was built before 1214 and later expanded into two castles circa 1294; however, in 1537, a lightning-bolt destroyed the upper castle. Until the Thirty Years’ War, Heidelberg Palace boasted one of the most notable ensembles of buildings in the Holy Roman Empire. The present structures had been expanded by 1650, before damage by later wars and fires. In 1764, another lightning-bolt caused a fire which destroyed some rebuilt sections.

The 19th century brought a new wave of admiration: a sight both terrible and beautiful, the ruins epitomised the spirit of the Romantic movement. Heidelberg Palace was elevated to a national monument. The imposing edifice and its famous garden, the Hortus Palatinus, became shrouded in myth. The garden, the last work commissioned by the prince electors, was never completed. Some remaining landscaped terraces and other vestiges hint at the awe-inspiring scale of this ambitious project. In the 17th century, it was celebrated as the “eighth wonder of the world”. While time has taken its toll, Heidelberg Palace’s fame lives on to this day.

Heidelberg Castle is located 80 metres up the northern part of the Königstuhl hillside, and thereby dominates the view of the old downtown. Set against the deep green forests on the north flank of Königstuhl hill, the red sandstone ruins tower majestically over the Neckar valley.