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Lettish tribes first appear in what is now Latvia during the 9th century. Since the 13th century it has been successively dominated by Germany, Sweden, Poland, and Russia. The German Teutonic Knights, crusading to establish Christianity, conquered the area comprising modern Latvia and founded Livonia, which lasted for over three centuries, 1237-1561. Then Poland gained control and partitioned the area, absorbing Latgale and Vidzeme in the north and east while granting Kurzeme and Zemgale to the south and west status as the independent Duchy of Kurland (Courland) under Polish suzerainty. Sweden conquered Vidzeme and the city of Riga in 1629. It lost these to Russia in 1721 when Peter the Great was victorious over the Swedes. Russia annexed the territory of Latgale in 1772 and the Duchy of Kurland in 1795. In all the provinces except for Latgale, the descendants of the Teutonic Order, the Baltic Germans or Ritterschaften, were granted considerable economic and cultural autonomy. Latgale was absorbed by the province of Vitebsk where Russian and Polish nobility ruled the peasantry.
During the latter half of the 19th century, the privileges of the Baltic nobility gradually waned, and Latvians were permitted to own land. Industrialization encouraged the peasantry to move into urban areas and an indigenous middle class emerged. As a result of these economic and social changes, a Latvian nationalist movement developed in the 1860s which promoted Latvian language and culture. By the early 1900s national-cultural groups developed into a political movement and advocated either territorial autonomy or independence for Latvia. In October 1917 the representatives of many Latvian political groups united into the Riga Democratic Bloc. With the collapse of the Russian Empire during World War I, Latvia proclaimed independence on November 18, 1918. Bolshevik troops captured Riga but were expelled by Allied troops in 1920 and restored Latvia’s independence.
Latvia remained independent until 1939. At the beginning of World War II it was absorbed temporarily by the Soviet Union but overrun by the German army. Retaken in 1945 by the Soviet army it was incorporated into the Soviet Union and remained a Soviet republic for forty-five years. It declared independence and received international recognition in August-September 1991.
- The Story of Latvia
- European Kingdoms Northern Europe
- History of Latvia
- National History Museum of Latvia
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Latvia,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1995-2002.