ESTHONIA (Ger. Ehstland and Esthland, Esthonian Eestimaa and Meie-maa, also Viroma and Rahvama; Lettish Iggaun Senna), a Baltic province of Russia, stretching along the south coast of the Gulf of Finland, and having Lake Peipus and Livonia on the S. and the government of St Petersburg on the E. An archipelago of islands, of which Dagö is the largest, belongs to this government (Oesel belongs to Livonia). The area is 7818 sq. m., 503 sq. m. of this being insular. The surface is low, not exceeding 100 ft. in altitude along the coast and alongside Lake Peipus, while in the interior the average elevation ranges from 200 to 300 ft., and nowhere exceeds 450 ft. It was entirely covered with the bottom moraine of the great ice-sheet of the Glacial Epoch, resting upon Silurian sandstones and limestones. In places sands and clays overlie the glacial deposits. The principal stream is the Narova, which issues from Lake Peipus, flows along the eastern border, and empties into the Gulf of Finland. The other drainage arteries are all small, but many in number; while lakes and marshes aggregate fully 221% of the total surface. The climate is severe, great cold being experienced in winter, though moist west winds exercise a moderating influence. Nevertheless the annual mean temperature ranges between 39° and 43° Fahr. In 1878 the nobility, mostly of German descent, owned and farmed 52% of the land; 42% was farmed, but not owned, by the peasants, mostly Esths or Ehsts, and only 3% was owned by persons outside the ranks of the nobility. Since then one-fourth of the peasantry have been enabled to purchase their holdings, more than half a million acres having passed into their possession. Agriculture is the chief occupation, and it is, on all the larger holdings, carried on with greater scientific knowledge than in any other part of Russia. Of the total area about 16.6% is under cultivation; meadows and grass-lands amount to 41.7%; and forests cover 19%. The principal crops are rye, oats, barley and potatoes, with large quantities of vegetables. Cattle-breeding flourishes, and meat and butter are constantly increasing items of export. The manufactories consist chiefly of distilleries (over 13,500,000 gallons annually), cotton (at Kränholm falls on the Narova), woollen, flour, paper and saw mills, iron and machinery works, and match factories. Fishing is active along the coast, especially for anchovies. The province is intersected by a railway running from St Petersburg to Reval, with branches from the latter city westwards to Baltic Port and southwards into Livonia, and from Taps south to Yuryev (Dorpat). The chief seaports are Reval, Baltic Port, Hapsal, Kunda and Dagö. Esthonia is divided into four districts, the chief towns of which are Reval (pop. in 1897, 66,292), the capital of the province; Hapsal, a lively watering-place (3238); Weissenstein (2509); and Wesenberg (5560). The population, which consists chiefly of Ehstes (365,959 in 1897), Russians (18,000), Germans (16,000), Swedes (5800), and some Jews, is growing fairly fast: in 1870 it numbered 323,960, and in 1897 413,747, of whom 210,199 were women and 76,315 lived in towns; in 1906 it was estimated at 451,700. Ninety-six per cent. of the whole belong to the Lutheran Church. Education is, for Russia, relatively high.
The Esths, Ehsts or Esthonians, who call themselves Tallopoeg and Maamees, are known to the Russians as Chukhni or Chukhontsi, to the Letts as Iggauni, and to the Finns as Virolaiset. They belong to the Finnish family, and consequently to the Ural-Altaic division of the human race. Altogether they number close upon one million, and are thus distributed: 365,959 in Esthonia (in 1897), 518,594 in Livonia, 64,116 in the government of St Petersburg, 25,458 in that of Pskov, and 12,855 in other parts of Russia. As a race they exhibit manifest evidences of their Ural-Altaic or Mongolic descent in their short stature, absence of beard, oblique eyes, broad face, low forehead and small mouth. In addition to that they are an under-sized, ill-thriven people, with long arms and thin, short legs. They cling tenaciously to their native language, which is closely allied to the Finnish, and divisible into two, or according to some authorities into three, principal dialects—Dorpat Esthonian and Reval Esthonian, with Pernau Esthonian. Reval Esthonian, which preserves more carefully the full inflectional forms and pays greater attention to the laws of euphony, is recognized as the literary language. Since 1873 the cultivation of their mother-tongue has been sedulously promoted by an Esthonian Literary Society (Eesti Korjameeste Selts), which publishes Toimetused, or “Instructions” in all sorts of subjects. They have a decided love of poetry, and exhibit great facility in improvising verses and poems on all occasions, and they sing, everywhere, from morning to night. Like the Finns they possess rich stores of national songs. These, which bear an unmistakable family likeness to those of the great Finnish epic of the Kalevala, were collected as the Kalevi Poëg, and edited by Kreutswald (1857), and translated into German by Reinthal (1857–1859) and Bertram (1861) and by Löwe (1900). Other collections of Esthnische Volkslieder have been published by Neuss (1850–1852) and Kreutzwald and Neuss (1854); while Kreutzwald (1866) and Jannsen (1888) have published collections of legends and national tales. The earliest publication in Esthonian was a Lutheran catechism in the 16th century. An Esthonian translation of the New Testament was printed at Reval in 1715. Between 1813 and 1832 there appeared at Pernau twenty volumes of Beiträge zur genauern Kenntniss der esthnischen Sprache, by Rosenplänter, and from 1840 onwards many valuable papers on Esthonian subjects were contributed to the Verhandlungen der gelehrten esthnischen Gesellschaft zu Dorpat. F. J. Wiedemann, who laboured indefatigably in the registration and preservation of matters connected with Esthonian language and lore, published an Esthnisch-deutsches Wörterbuch (1865; 2nd ed. by Hurt, 1891, &c.), and in 1903 there appeared at Reval a Deutsch-esthnisches Wörterbuch, by Ploompun and Kann.
The Esthonians first appear in history as a warlike and predatory race, the terror of the Baltic seamen in consequence of their piracies. More than one of the Danish kings made serious attempts to subdue them. Canute VI. invaded their country (1194–1196) and forced baptism upon many of them, but no sooner did his war-ships disappear than they reverted to their former heathenism. In 1219 Waldemar II. undertook a more formidable crusade against them, in the course of which he founded the town and episcopal see of Reval. By his efforts the northern portion of the race were made submissive to the Danish crown; but, though conquered, they were by no means subdued, and were incessantly in revolt, until, after a great rebellion in 1343, Waldemar IV. Atterdag sold for 19,000 marks his portion of Esthonia in 1346, to the order of the Knights of the Sword. These German crusaders had already, after a quarter of a century’s fighting, in 1224 gained possession of the regions inhabited by the southern portion of the race, that is those now included in Livonia. From that time for nearly six hundred years or more the Esthonians were practically reduced to a state of serfdom to the German landowners. In 1521 the nobles and cities of Esthonia voluntarily placed themselves under the protection of the crown of Sweden; but after the wars of Charles XII., Esthonia was formally ceded to his victorious rival, Peter the Great, by the peace of Nystad (1721). Serfdom was abolished in 1817 by Tsar Alexander I.; but the condition of the peasants was so little improved that they rose in open revolt in 1859. Since 1878, however, a vast change for the better has been effected in their economic position (see above). The determining feature of their recent history has been the attempt made by the Russian government (since 1881) and the Orthodox Greek Church (since 1883) to russify and convert the inhabitants of the province, Germans and Esths alike, by enforcing the use of Russian in the schools and by harsh and repressive measures aimed at their native language.
See Merkel, Die freien Letten und Esthen (1820); Parrot, Versuch einer Entwickelung der Sprache, Abstammung, &c., der Liwen, Lätten, Eesten (1839); F. Kruse, Urgeschichte des esthnischen Volksstammes (1846); Wiedemann, Grammatik der esthnischen Sprache (1875), and Aus dem innern und äussern Leben der Esthen (1876); Köppen, Die Bewohner Esthlands (1847); F. Müller, Beiträge zur Orographie und Hydrographie von Esthland (1869–1871); Bunge, Das Herzogthum Esthland unter den Königen von Dänemark (1877); and Seraphim, Geschichte Liv-, Est-, und Kurlands (2nd ed., 1897) and various papers in the Finnisch-Ugrische Forschungen. (P. A. K.; J. T. Be.; C. El.)