Finno-Ugric tribes arrive from the east and settle along the north Baltic coast, mixing with Neolithic tribes.
Roman historian Tacitus writes of a local tribe called Aestii.
In 1154, Arab cartographer al-Idrisi marks Tallinn on his map as Koluvan, describing it as a seasonal stronghold - the first mention of the city in historic records.
In 1202 the Pope calls for a crusade against the pagans around the Baltic Sea. Bishop Albert founds the Order of the Knights of the Sword. This leads to four decades of bloody battles and shifting alliances among the Germans (based in Riga), Danes, Swedes, Russians, Lithuanians and local tribes. In 1219 King Voldemar II of Denmark takes the stronghold of the north Estonian Rävala people as a base for his forces (hence the name Tallinn: Taani = Danish, linn = city). German merchants settle the town, and in 1248 are granted the right to use Lübeck Law, effectively making Tallinn an autonomous entity. In the 1280s, Tallinn joins the powerful Hanseatic League of trading cities.
Estonian towns become important trading links between East and West and grow in size and strength. Ethnic Estonians, however, remain serfs while German landowners reap the benefits. The bloody St George’s Night Uprising of 1343 convinces the Danish King to sell his provinces to the German Knights two years later.
Estonians suffer another bout of shifting borders and imposed military service during the Livonian War (1558-1583). Ivan the Terrible advances claims on Estonia. Denmark and Poland enter the fray, but Sweden quickly gains control of the territory. Intermittent warfare with Poland lasts into the next century.
The Swedish period in Estonian history is marked by cultural advancement. Tartu University opens in 1632 and by the close of the century nearly every parish has a school. In 1645 Denmark cedes Saaremaa to Sweden, joining Estonia under a single force for the first time.
Sweden battles Russia, Denmark and Poland in the Northern War (1700-1721), losing Estonia to Russia in 1710. During the 200 years of tsarist rule that follow, Estonia’s peasants live in the same conditions of near-slavery as the serfs of Russia. In 1739 the Bible is published in Estonian.
So-called Estophiles study the local language and found consciousness-raising societies. Literacy spreads and Estonian-language periodicals appear. The second half of the century is marked by the National Awakening: the formation of a national consciousness among Estonians and an active period of scholarship and literary creation. The first song festival, held in Tartu in 1869, represents the first public demonstration of Estonian national identity. Tsar Alexander III stifles this when he comes to the throne in 1881, initiating a period of intense Russification.
The first republic
Estonia takes advantage of the chaos in Russia caused by WWI and the Bolshevik Revolution, declaring independence on February 24, 1918. But by the end of February, Germany takes the infant country by force. When Germany capitulates in November Red forces move in. The War for Independence lasts 13 months. In the Tartu Peace Treaty, signed February 2, 1920, Soviet Russia renounces claims to the territory “for all time”. In 1921 the Republic of Estonia is accepted into the League of Nations. Reforms progress quickly and social welfare laws are on a par with those in Europe. A political crisis in the mid-1930s brings the young republic to the verge of authoritarianism. President Konstantin Päts bans political parties and restricts civil rights but maintains popular support.
World War II
On August 23, 1939, the USSR and Germany sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, in which secret protocols carve Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. On June 16, 1940, the USSR accuses the Baltic states of aggression and demands the right to occupy them. ‘Elections’ take place July 14 - 15, with Soviet-approved candidates. The phoney parliament applies for admittance to the USSR, which is granted August 6. WWII continues to rage across Europe and by the end of 1941 the Nazis win Estonia from the Soviets. The German occupation lasts three years. Soviet forces begin air attacks March 15, 1942, and cause serious damage in the infamous attack of March 9, 1944. By September the Germans have fled. Estonia is declared a Republic again on September 18, but Soviet forces reach Tallinn four days later.
In the first years of the renewed Soviet regime, 36,000 Estonians are arrested and accused of aiding the Nazis. At the same time 30,000 - 35,000 people flee to the woods to resist the regime as Forest Brothers. In the years following, Estonia endures political repression and isolation, while Estonians who had fled to the West try to keep their culture alive in exile. During the post-Stalin period, life in Estonia takes on a bureaucratic routine similar to that found elsewhere in the USSR. Over the coming decades, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Russians are sent to live in the Estonian territory. In the 1970s and 80s, Finnish TV broadcasts give Tallinn residents a glimpse of life in the West.
Surviving Estonians who had been deported to Siberia are allowed to return.
February 24 The blue-black-white flag rises illegally over the Vanemuine Theatre in Tartu to mark the 59th anniversary of the first Estonian Republic.
July 19-August 3 Moscow Olympic Games. Tallinn’s Olympic yachting centre, Pirita and Olümpia hotels and airport terminal are built for the occasion.
Road to independence
What had started as a series of environmental protests quickly develops into a new National Awakening as demonstrations against the system become more open.
June 10-14 Over 100,000 people a night pack the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds. The events of the summer are henceforth known as the Singing Revolution.
September 11 More than 300,000 Estonians gather at the Song Grounds and hear Trivimi Velliste make the first public demand for independence.
November 16 In a move known as the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR passes a declaration of sovereignty.
February 24 The Estonian flag is raised over Tallinn, inciting protests and massive strikes.
August 23 Two million people join hands along the 600km road between Tallinn and Vilnius to mark the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.
November 12 The Estonian Supreme Soviet nullifies Estonia’s entry into the USSR.
March 23 The Estonian Communist Party declares independence from the central party.
May 8 The ESSR is officially renamed the Republic of Estonia, despite not yet having declared independence.
March 3 78% of voters cast their vote for independence in a referendum.
August 19 During the failed Moscow coup, additional Soviet military units are moved to Estonia from Pskov, Russia.
August 20 Estonia declares independence.
August 23 Lenin’s statue comes down in Tallinn.
August 24 Russia recognises Estonian independence.
A new republic
After prices rose by 629% in 1991, the government introduces ration coupons.
June 20 The Estonian kroon becomes the first national currency introduced in the former Soviet Union.
September 28 852 people perish when the 15,000-tonne ferry Estonia sinks en route to Stockholm.
November 13 Estonia becomes the 135th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
March 29 Estonia joins NATO.
May 1 Estonia becomes an EU member as the bloc expands to encompass ten new states.
April 26 - 27 Street riots, mainly involving young, ethnic Russians, break out after protests over the relocation of a Soviet Army monument from the city centre.
December 21 Estonia joins Schengen.
June 22 The Freedom Monument is unveiled.
January 1 Estonia joins the common European currency Euro.
May 10 Microsoft agrees to purchase Estonian-founded Skype. The $8.5 billion USD purchase is the largest acquisition in Microsoft history.
January 1 Tallinn becomes the first capital city in the EU to provide its citizens with free public transportation.