In 2,500BC Indo-European tribes arrive on the Baltic Sea coast. In Latvia the inhabitants split into several tribes: Zemgaļi, Sēļi, Latgaļi and Kurši. Among surviving tongues, Latvian and Lithuanian are the closest to the original tribal languages. The Livonians, a Finno-Ugric group, are equally ancient settlers.
12th - 15th Century
In the 1100s, German traders search for a trade route with the East. They choose Riga for its strategic location at the outlet of the Daugava and prepare to conquer with both Bible and sword. Pitched battles near Riga ensue between the invaders and Livonian settlers. A holy war against the Baltic heathens is launched.
Riga is founded in 1201, when Bishop Albert builds a castle on the site. In 1202, the military Order of the Brothers of the Sword is founded, and over the coming decades they crush and convert the warlike, but fatally divided, Latvian and Livonian tribes. The foundations of the Dome cathedral are laid in 1211. The last stand of the Latvian tribes is crushed in 1290.
Over the next 200 years, rivalry and warfare rage between the Church, the Teutonic Order, and Riga in a fight for trade and territory. The Order gains the upper hand.
German preachers bring the reformation to Latvia in 1522. Social unrest breaks out in 1524, churches are vandalised and monks are exiled from Riga.
In the Polish-Swedish war (1600 - 1629), Sweden wins northern Latvia, while the provinces of Kurzeme and Zemgale are united into a duchy loyal to the Polish-Lithuanian empire. Trade is expanded to all corners of the world: Latvian pines become masts for English warships. The duchy gains the island of Tobago, later exchanged for Gambia. During Swedish occupation schools are opened, oppression of the peasants lessened and the Bible is translated into Latvian.
From 1700 until 1721 Sweden and Russia fight for control of Livonia. At first the Swedes find success, but their armies are defeated in Moscow. The Russians occupy Latgale in 1795, and control the entire country until WWI. The wars devastate Latvia. After the Russians capture Riga in 1710, 90,000 people are left in all of Livonia.
Poverty leads to a peasant rebellion in 1802, which is brutally crushed. Another revolt, meeting a similar fate, occurs in 1840. Serfdom is abolished in Latvia between 1817 and 1819, but while Latvians are free to go where they wish, the land remains in the hands of its previous owners.
In the second half of the century, a group of Latvian students in St. Petersburg, the Jaunlatvieši (Young Latvians), forge a rebellion. Their St. Petersburg Paper, published 1862 - 1865, raises Latvian national consciousness.
One of the most significant events of this rise of national consciousness is the first all-Latvian song festival held in Riga in 1873.
Commerce and industry develop rapidly in Riga, making it the third most vital industrial city in Tsarist Russia.
This mixture of national feelings, with the demands of the new industrial proletariat, make Latvia a hot spot in the 1905 revolution. In January 24, 1905, a general strike is called and 50,000 workers protest in the streets. Eighty people are killed in clashes with Tsarist troops.
On October 30, 1905, the Tsar allows free speech and the formation of a Constituent Assembly. Two months later Russian ‘punishment brigades’ execute almost 2,000 Latvians. Many prominent citizens are forced into exile, including the national poet Janis Rainis.
During WWI, Latvian soldiers under the Russian army fight the Germans. By 1915 the Germans occupy half of Latvia, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. In June, the Russians allow independent Latvian units to defend the country, and eight battalions are raised for battle.
The weakened Russian army fails to oppose a major German offensive and Riga is taken September 3, 1917. At the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty of March 1918, the Bolsheviks give the enemy the rest of Latvia. The Latvian Riflemen withdraw to Russia where they become Lenin’s most trustworthy soldiers during the Civil War.
From 1917 Latvian nationalists secretly plot against the Germans. When Germany surrenders on November 11, they declare Latvia’s independence at the National Theatre on November 18, 1918. Two years of war follow.
The First Republic
The Latvian army pushes back first renegade German forces, then Russian troops, who for a while declare the country a Soviet Republic. Under the Treaty of Riga, Russia vows to respect Latvia’s independence, which is also recognised by the international community on January 26, 1921.
One third of Latvia’s population is displaced by the war and much of its industry shipped to Russia. Still, the country grows rapidly: land is redistributed to the peasants, and soon Latvia has one of the highest living standards in Europe.
President Kārlis Ulmanis stages a bloodless coup in May 1934 and effectively becomes a dictator for six years.
WWII and the Aftermath
The secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact marks the twilight of independence, as Germany and the USSR divide Eastern Europe. Latvia falls to the latter, and troops invade on June 17, 1940. The Soviets hold sham elections to legitimise the takeover. On the night of June 13 - 14, 1941, they force tens of thousands into cattle cars and deport them to Siberia.
The Germans take Riga when invading the USSR in early July 1941. They are welcomed by many as ‘liberators’, but German rule does not bring independence. The Nazis murder 90% of Latvia’s Jewish population in their three years of occupation. From 1943 Latvian youths are conscripted into the German army. The Red Army retakes most of Latvia in July and September 1944. Thousands of Latvians flee.
The reinstated communist regime forces general collectivisation along with a massive wave of deportations. On March 25, 1949, 42,000 people are deported to Siberia. Resistance to the Soviet regime continues in the forests until 1956.
The Stalinist regime begins a russification campaign in Latvia. Russian workers are brought in to man the factories and are given housing preference. Latvians almost become a minority and some cultural expressions are banned. Before the war Latvians comprised 75% of the population, but by 1989 their share dwindled to 51.8%. Today the decline has been slightly reversed and Latvians account for 57.1% of the population.
The Singing Revolution & Beyond
Protests by green groups stop the development of a hydroelectric dam on the Daugava and an environmentally disastrous plan for a Riga metro.
June 14 - First protests since the war take place at the Freedom Monument, commemorating the 1941 deportations to Siberia.
June 1 - 2 - The Latvian Writers’ Union publicly reveals and denounces the secret protocols of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, under which the Baltics were given to the USSR.
November 11 - The Latvian pre-war flag is raised on the Riga Castle.
May 31 - The Latvian Popular Front calls for complete independence.
August 23 - Some two million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians join hands in a human chain stretching from Tallinn to Vilnius in the 650km-long Baltic Way, which protests the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
May 4 - The Supreme Council adopts a declaration restoring independence with a transitional period.
January 13 - After a bloody assault on the TV tower in Vilnius, Lithuania, barricades are erected to protect the parliament.
January 20 - Special Soviet OMON troops attack the Interior Ministry building in Riga, killing five people and injuring 10 others.
March 3 - In a referendum in which 87.6% of eligible voters take part, 73.7% vote in favour of independence.
April 27 - The Popular Front adopts a plan for transition to independence by spring 1992.
August 19 - 20 - Soviet troops block roads leading to Riga and seize the Interior Ministry building.
August 21 - The Moscow coup collapses and the Latvian parliament votes to restore independence.
August 23 - The local Communist Party is banned.
September 6 - The USSR recognises the independence of the Baltics.
September 17 - Latvia is admitted into the UN.
June 6 - 7 - First free elections. The Saeima (parliament) elects Guntis Ulmanis as president.
July 6 - US President Bill Clinton stops in Riga for a whopping six-hour state visit.
August 31 - The last Soviet troops pull out of Latvia and Estonia. Some 500 officers stay to operate the Skrunda early warning radar station until 1998.
February 10 - Latvia becomes a member of the Council of Europe.
May 4 - The Skrunda radar station is dynamited to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the restoration of independence.
June 18 - President Guntis Ulmanis is elected for a second term by 53 of the 100 deputies in the Saeima. 1997
August 31 - The last Russian military outpost in the Baltic countries, Skrunda, is officially shut down.
October 3 - Elections: the People’s Party and Latvia’s Way gain the most seats in the Saeima. A referendum is held granting citizenship to children born in Latvia to non-citizens after 1991.
March 25 - A trail of flowers over 300m long is laid at the Freedom Monument in honour of those Latvians deported to Siberia in 1949.
June 17 - The Saeima elects Latvia’s first female president, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, a Canadian-Latvian.
December 10 - Latvia is officially invited to begin talks with the European Union.
August 17 - 19 - More than one and a half million Latvians and visitors celebrate Riga’s long-awaited 800th anniversary.
November 21 - At the NATO Summit in Prague, Latvia and six other countries are officially invited to join the alliance. December 13 - Latvia is invited to join the European Union.
March 26 - Existing NATO countries sign an agreement for Latvia and six other countries to join the military alliance.
May 24 - Riga hosts the 2003 Eurovision Song Contest.
June 20 - Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga is re-elected President of Latvia. Only six of 100 deputies in parliament oppose a second term for the former psychology professor.
September 20 - In a national referendum, 67% of Latvians vote in favour of joing the European Union. Over 72% of eligible voters cast their ballots.
March 9 - Relative outsider Indulis Emsis becomes Europe’s first Green prime minister.
March 29 - Latvia officially joins the NATO military alliance at a ceremony held in Washington D.C.
May 1 - Latvia joins the European Union.
December 1 - Aigars Kalvītis of the Peoples’ Party becomes prime minister of Latvia - the third person to occupy this position in one year.
January 8 - 9 - The most devastating storm to hit Latvia in 40 years rips through the Baltic Sea flooding coastal cities.
May 5 - 21 - Riga hosts the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
October 7 - The Peoples’ Party led by Aigars Kalvītis gain the most seats in parliamentary elections.
November 28 - 29 - Riga hosts the 2006 NATO Summit.
March 14 - Aivars Lembergs, mayor of the town of Ventspils is arrested on charges of bribe taking and money laundering.
July 8 - Parliament elects a controversial figure, former surgeon Valdis Zatlers, as president of Latvia.
September 21 - Parliament speaker Indulis Emsis resigns amid allegations of corruption.
October - November - More politicians are embroiled in scandal. Citizens in their thousands meet on Dome Square to voice their concern. The prime minister resigns.
December 20 – Ivars Godmanis becomes Latvia’s prime minister.
December 21 – Latvia opens its land and sea borders to Europeans by joining the Schengen zone.
March 30 – Latvia’s international airports no longer check passports of travellers entering Latvia from other Schengen Agreement nations in Europe.
November 8 – The Latvian government makes its first bank bailout as a result of the global financial crisis by taking a 51% stake in beleaguered Parex Bank.
December 19 – The IMF and EU agree to give Latvia a €7.5billion loan with several strings attached.
January 1 – VAT is increased to a whopping 21%. Unemployment rises.
January 8 – Transport minister and reputed oligarch Ainārs Šlesers is once again embroiled in scandal appointing his chauffeur’s unqualified 26-year-old son to a 4000Ls/month position in a state-owned enterprise.
January 13 – After a peaceful anti-government demonstration on Dome Square local inebriated youth, anarchists, Bolsheviks and assorted hooligans cause mayhem in Old Riga throwing cobblestones at the police, smashing windows and vandalising cars. Nearly 100 troublemakers are arrested.
February 20 – Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis resigns.
March 12 - Valdis Dombrovskis of the opposition New Era party becomes prime minister and appoints a new cabinet. Former Latvian bank president Einars Repše becomes finance minister.
December 1 - The Latvian Parliament approves an austerity budget for 2010 raising taxes and cutting public services.
Unemployment in Latvia soars to over 20%, the highest figure in the EU.
February 14 - A cyber militia calling itself the Fourth Awakening’s People’s Army, or 4ATA, informed a national TV news show that it had found a hole in the State Revenue Service’s online tax registry and had downloaded 7.4 million documents that included social security numbers, salary and tax information for government and private sector employees all over the country. The leader who called himself Neo was later apprehended after he had published the exorbitant salaries received by political favourites who had been installed in government firms. He is considered to be a hero by many Latvians.
June 15 - KNAB, the independent anti-corruption agency, raids the government-owned electricity monopoly Latvenergo seizing documents and arresting some of its most prominent officers on corruption, bribery and money laundering charges.
October 2 - The Vienotība or Unity coalition of progressive parties win the most votes in Latvian parliamentary elections gaining 33 seats in the Saeima.
January 1 - VAT is raised (again) from 21% to 22%.
June 2 - Ex-banker Andris Bērziņš is elected president by the Latvian parliament gaining 53 of a possible 100 votes. The voting was surrounded in scandal and protesters picketed the building in support of former president Zatlers who announced his intention to sack the current parliament when it refused to approve a bill that would remove immunity from criminal prosecution for parliamentarians.
November 22 - It becomes clear that yet another Latvian bank, Latvijas Krājbanka, the nation’s 10th largest financial institution, has to cease operations due to a lack of funds. Owned by Snoras, which was nationalised by the Lithuanian government on November 16, the bank was not as large as the benighted Parex, which was bailed out by the Latvian taxpayer in 2008. Deposits were insured by the government, so funds under €100,000 had to be reimbursed.
February 18 – In a controversial referendum an overwhelming majority of Latvian citizens, roughly 75%, vote against a planned amendment to the Latvian constitution that would make Russian an official language of Latvia.
September - Bloomberg reports that Latvian banks are becoming a safe haven for billionaires from the former Soviet Union who have already deposited some US$10bn in local banks accounting for roughly half of the nation's deposits.
March 21 - Latvia marks the longest period of independence in its short existence since rising from the ashes of WWI.
June 21 - Riga Castle is engulfed by a ruinous fire during renovations. Parts of the top floor are destroyed and precious artefacts suffer water damage.
August 30 - Valdis Dombrovskis of the Vienotība party becomes the longest 'reigning' prime minister in Latvian history having spent 1633 days in office.
November 21 - 54 people are killed when the roof of a Maxima supermarket in the Zolitūde neighbourhood of Riga collapses. Three of the dead are firefighters who were searching for survivors. Dozens of other shoppers were injured.
November 27 - Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis resigns in the wake of the Maxima tragedy.
January 1 - Latvia joins the Eurozone.
January 17 - Riga celebrates the beginning of its status as Culture Capital of Europe for the year 2014.
January 22 - Laimdota Straujuma becomes Latvia's first female prime minister.
October 4 - After parliamentary elections Laimdota Straujuma is once again entrusted with the task of creating a new coalition government comprised of the three main Latvian parties - Unity (V), Greens & Farmers (ZZS) and the National Union (NA).
January 1 - Latvia begins its six-month term as President of the Council of the European Union.
June 3 - Raimonds Vējonis is elected President of Latvia by parliament. A member of the Greens & Farmers Party (ZZS), he had previously served in a number of different ministerial posts including, most recently, Minister of Defence.
December 7 - Laimdota Straujuma of the Unity (V) party resigns as Prime Minister of Latvia.
February 11 - Māris Kučinskis of the Greens & Farmers (ZZS) party becomes Prime Minister of Latvia.
June 10 - Health Minister Guntis Belēvičs of the Greens & Farmers Party (ZZS) resigns amid a scandal that he allegedly used his position to cut a National Health Service queue to receive a minor operation.