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.
Perched atop its cliff where the Ploučnice meets the Elbe, Děčín Castle is one of the oldest and largest landmarks in northern Bohemia. In the past several hundred years it has served as a point of control for the Bohemian princes, a military fortress, and noble estate.
The forerunner of the Děčín Castle was a wooden fortress built towards the end of the 10th century by the Bohemian princes. The first written record of the province dates from 993 A.D. and of the fortress itself from 1128. In the thirteenth century it was rebuilt in stone as a royal castle that, under unknown circumstances, fell into the hands of the powerful Wartenberg dynasty around 1305.
Numerous later renovations has erased all but fragments of the original medieval semblance of the castle. A significant change to the castle came in the second half of the 16th century when it was held by the Saxon Knights of Bünau, who gradually rebuilt the lower castle into a Renaissance palace with a grand ceremonial hall. The current semblance of the castle is the work of the Thun-Hohensteins, who held the Děčín lands from 1628 to 1932. The Thuns originally came from southern Tyrol and gradually worked their way to the upper echelons of Hapsburg society where they regularly filled important political and church appointments.
The Thuns reworked the castle twice. The first reconstruction, in the Baroque style, was undertaken by Maximilian von Thun, Imperial envoy and diplomat, and was meant to enhance the ceremonial aspects of the property. A central element of the project was a grand access road, the Long Drive, ending in the upper gate of the completely rebuilt entry wing. Along the drive stretched an ornamental garden (today known as the Rose Garden) and a riding yard. Maximilian’s brother Johann Ernst von Thun was responsible for the erection of the Church of the Ascension of the Holy Cross in the town below.
The second and final reconstruction of the castle was undertaken in 1786–1803. The Gothic and Renaissance palaces were torn down, all structures were leveled to the same height and gave them a unified facade. On the riverfront the castle's new dominant feature arose, a slender clock tower. Thus the castle took on the Baroque-Classical style we see today.
In the course of the 19th century, the castle became an important cultural and political center. In the 20th century the castle was used as a military garrison for German and Soviet troops after being handed to the Czechoslovak state in 1932. In 1991 the castle reverted to the ownership of the city of Děčín and the gradual renovation of the devastated structure began.
The eastern wing serves as a branch of the Děčín Regional Museum. The northern wing is occupied by the State District Archives. The staterooms of the western wing welcome individual and group tours, weddings, concerts, exhibits, and other cultural events. The castle courtyard comes to life throughout the year with events ranging from the Historic May Fair to the Wine Festival in September.