Baltic Germans

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German (Low German)

Lutheranism (majority)
Catholicism, Russian Orthodox Church (minority)

Germans, Latvians, Lietuvininks

The Baltic Germans (German: Deutsch-Balten, or Baltendeutsche) were mostly ethnically German inhabitants of the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea, which today form the countries of Estonia and Latvia. The Baltic German population never made up more than 10% of the total.[1] They formed the social, commercial, political and cultural élite in that region for several centuries. Some of them also took high positions in the military and civilian life of the Russian Empire, particularly in Saint Petersburg.

In 1881, there were approximately 46,700 Germans in Estonia (5.3% of the population).[2] According to the Russian Empire Census of 1897, there were 120,191 Germans in Latvia, or 6.2% of the population.[3]

Danes began arriving in the Baltic territories just prior to the Northern Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries[citation needed], followed almost universally by Germans, both colonists (see Ostsiedlung) and crusaders.[4] After the Livonian Crusades they quickly came to control all the administrations of government, politics, economics, education and culture of these areas for over 700 years until 1918, despite remaining a minority ethnic group. Whilst the vast majority of urban lands were colonised by traders, rural estates were soon formed by crusaders and their descendants. Examples of the latter are the crusader castle at Kokenhusen in Livonia, and Schloss Doblen (ruinous by the 19th century when a new country house, 'Villa Todleben', was constructed) and the mansion of 'Postenden', both in Courland. With the decline of Latin, German quickly became the language of all official documents, commerce and government business for hundreds of years until 1919.

Despite being politically subordinate to the rule of the monarchs of Swedish empire until 1710, and the tsars of the Russian Empire until 1917, both successive ruling kingdoms guaranteed the continuation of Baltic Germans' special class privileges and administration rights when they incorporated the provinces into their respective empires.

In contrast to the Baltic Germans, the ethnic majority of Estonians and Latvians had restricted rights and privileges and resided mostly in rural areas as serfs, tradesmen, or as servants in urban homes. This was in keeping with the social scheme of things in Imperial Russia, and lasted well into the 19th century, when emancipation from serfdom brought those inhabitants increased political rights and freedoms.

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