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.
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).
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.