Sources

The first decades of the 13th century are quite well known because of the Chronicle of Henry of Livonia (Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae); and also the 15th–16th centuries when the amount of written administrative records increased considerably, thus offering more information about many events and processes. The second half of the 13th century and the whole of the 14th century, on the other hand, provide us with far less sources.

Hence the history of the Estonian Middle Ages largely concerns the imposition of western Catholicism and administrative system, i.e. the history of alien rulers. The surviving original sources are fragmentary and uneven: various separate phenomena or a whole period have been depicted remarkably colourfully and as especially eventful, whereas other events or phenomena have not been mentioned at all. At the same time we do not know whether the less documented periods were really duller and lacking in events, or whether the sources proving otherwise have simply not survived.

The period from the start of Christianisation until the Livonian War, i.e. from the early 13th century until the second half of the 16th century, can be considered the Estonian Middle Ages. In Western Europe this period is known as the High and Late Middle Ages. Estonian history is regularly reflected in written sources from the early 13th century. Besides pre-conquest semi-feudal relations and pagan beliefs, the most significant features that shaped the European Middle Ages — the Catholic church and fixed feudal relations — were brought to Estonia by foreign colonists.

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