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The Baltic nation of Latvia, formally the Republic of Latvia, has Riga as its capital. It is surrounded by Estonia to the north, Russia to the east, Belarus to the southeast Lithuania to the south, and it shares a maritime border with Sweden to the west. It is a democratic republic, and the official language is Latvian. Ethnic Latvians make up 62% of the population, followed by 25% Russians, and the remainder, approximately 13% of the population, are other ethnicities.

Balkan people first arrived in what is now Latvia in about 2000 BC. First the Vikings, and later, the German and Nordic traders used Latvia's main river, Daugava, which served as a trade route from the Baltic region through Russia, into southern Europe and the Middle East.

It was a tribal region, and in the 10th century, the tribal chiefdoms begcame principalities. Their customs and culture developed in the territory which is now known as Latvia and Lithuania.

In the late 12th century, German traders would come through the region on their way to one place or another, and with those traders came missionaries, bent on converting the Latvians from paganism to Christianity. Most were not interested in the least.

In about 1180, Saint Meinhard, who would become the first Bishop of Livonia in 1188, started his work among the Livonians, a Finnic ethnic group born in northern Latvia and southwestern Estonia. The Livonians were opposed to Christianity, particularly to baptism.

Meinhard started out trying to convert Livonians and other pagans by peaceful means, but under a constant barrage of apostasy and resistance, he decided a crusade would be the way to continue. In 1193, the Pope sanctioned the Livonian Crusade as part of the Northern Crusades. Meinhard died in 1196, before the Crusade began.

In 1198 a large group of crusaders arrived in Latvia along with Meinhard's replacement, Bishop Berthold. They entered the River D√ľna via what is now the Gulf of Riga. Near the mouth of the river, some of the Germans disembarked, but Berthold accompanied the crusaders up the river to Holm, where the Livonians congregated while waiting to attack the fleet. He and the crusaders sailed quite a way down the river, with the Livonians in hot pursuit. Once they caught up with him, they agreed to a truce, but almost immediately, they set upon any Christians who are outside of their homes. And so the hostilities continued. The crusaders won the battle, but Berthold's horse went wild and pushed its way into the crowd of pagans as they left. A Livonian then thrust his sword deep into the bishop's back. Berthold died almost immediately.

Latvia was ruled by Lithuania and Poland, jointly, until the Polish-Swedish War which lasted from 1600 to 1629. Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus founded Dorpat University and subsidized the Latvian translation of the Bible.

The Great Northern War between Russia and Sweden began in 1700 because Peter the Great wanted control of the Baltic Sea. Shortly after the war started, an outbreak of the plague hit the region. It peaked from 1708 to 1712, following the trade routes and troop movement. In 1713, a second plague, more virulent, arrived killing more than 10,000 fatalities.

The Russian army gained control of Livonia as well as Estonia in 1714, and Sweden gave the country up in the 1721 Treaty of Nystad.

Between 1804 and 1861, emancipations of all sorts abounded. Laws were passed to correct the miserable treatment of peasants in Livonia. In 1819, serfs in Courland were emancipated, and the next year, Livonia was. In 1861, Latgale joined them, and other laws regarding religion, the ability for Latvians to choose family names, and freedom to live in the cities and towns were passed.

In December of 1904, the Russian Revolution began after workers in St. Petersburg, Russia went on strike. They were joined by sympathizers, and the number of strikers in that city swelled to 150,000. In the end, more than 1,000 strikers were killed by the Russian army in front of the Winter Palace.

In response to the January 9th St. Petersburg massacre, a general strike was called in Latvia. On January 13, the demonstrators gathered in Riga with strikers protesting not just the czar, but the German barons who had implemented a feudal system in Latvia as well. The Russian troops opened fire on the protestors in Riga, killing 73 and wounding more than 200 others. Throughout 1905, the rage of the people was demonstrated, and by the summer of 1905, the revolutionary events had reached the rural parts of the country.

They attacked the Baltic German nobility, seizing estate property including their weapons and during the nobles' buildings. Approximately 450 German manors were burned. Martial law was declared in August. Peasant homes were burned by the Russian troops, thousands were sent to Siberia, and 1,170 Latvians were executed without trial.



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