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Map of the Estonian Diaspora in the World.svg
Map of the Estonian diaspora
Total population
c. 1.3 million[ citation needed ]
Regions with significant populations
Flag of Estonia.svg  Estonia 914,896 (2021) [1]
Other significant population centers:
Flag of Finland.svg  Finland 49,590–100,000 [lower-alpha 1] [2] [3]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 27,113 [4]
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 25,509 [5]
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 24,000 [6]
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 17,875 [7]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom 10,000-15,000 [8]
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 7,543 [9]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 6,286 [10]
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway 5,092 [11]
Flag of Ukraine.svg  Ukraine 2,868 [12]
Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland 2,560 [13]
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 2,000 [14]
Flag of Latvia.svg  Latvia 1,676 [15]
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark 1,606 [16]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 1,482 [17]
Primarily Estonian
also Võro and Seto
Majority irreligious
Historically Protestant Christian (Lutheranism) [18] [19]
Currently Lutheran and regional Eastern Orthodox (Estonian Apostolic Orthodox) minority
Related ethnic groups
Other Baltic Finns

Estonians (Estonian : eestlased) are a Finnic ethnic group native to Estonia who speak the Estonian language and share a common culture and history.



Prehistoric roots

Estonia was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago, just after the Baltic ice lake had retreated from Estonia. Living in the same area for more than 5,000 years would put the ancestors of Estonians among the oldest permanent inhabitants in Europe. [20] On the other hand, some recent linguistic estimations suggest that Finno-Ugrian language arrived around the Baltic Sea considerably later, perhaps during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BCE). [21] [22] [23]

The oldest known endonym of the Estonians is maarahvas, [24] literally meaning "land people" or "country folk". It was used up until the mid-19th century, when it was gradually replaced by Eesti rahvas "Estonian people" during the Estonian national awakening. [25] [26] Eesti, the modern endonym of Estonia, is thought to be derived from the word Aestii , the name given by the ancient Germanic people to the Baltic people living northeast of the Vistula River. The Roman historian Tacitus in 98 CE was the first to mention the "Aestii" people, and early Scandinavians called the land south of the Gulf of Finland "Eistland" (Eistland is also the current word in Icelandic for Estonia), and the people "eistr". Proto-Estonians (as well as other speakers of the Finnish language group) were also called Chuds (чудь) in Old East Slavic chronicles.

The Estonian language belongs to the Finnic branch of the Uralic family of languages, as does the Finnish language. The branch is a little more than 1000 years old. [27] The first known book in Estonian was printed in 1525, while the oldest known examples of written Estonian originate in 13th-century chronicles.

National consciousness

Estonian national costumes:
1. Kadrina 2. Mihkli 3. Seto 4. Paistu Eesti rahvaroivad-EE 1.jpg
Estonian national costumes:
1. Kadrina 2. Mihkli 3. Seto 4. Paistu
Estonian national costumes:
5. Muhu 6. Karja 7. Tostamaa 8. Parnu-Jaagupi Eesti rahvaroivad-EE 2.jpg
Estonian national costumes:
5. Muhu 6. Karja 7. Tõstamaa 8. Pärnu-Jaagupi

Although Estonian national consciousness spread in the course of the 19th century during the Estonian national awakening, [28] some degree of ethnic awareness preceded this development. [29] By the 18th century the self-denomination eestlane spread among Estonians along with the older maarahvas. [24] Anton thor Helle's translation of the Bible into Estonian appeared in 1739, and the number of books and brochures published in Estonian increased from 18 in the 1750s to 54 in the 1790s. By the end of the century more than a half of adult peasants could read. The first university-educated intellectuals identifying themselves as Estonians, including Friedrich Robert Faehlmann (1798–1850), Kristjan Jaak Peterson (1801–1822) and Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald (1803–1882), appeared in the 1820s. The ruling elites had remained predominantly German in language and culture since the conquest of the early 13th century. Garlieb Merkel (1769–1850), a Baltic-German Estophile, became the first author to treat the Estonians as a nationality equal to others; he became a source of inspiration for the Estonian national movement, modelled on Baltic German cultural world before the middle of the 19th century. However, in the middle of the century, the Estonians became more ambitious and started leaning toward the Finns as a successful model of national movement and, to some extent, toward the neighbouring Latvian national movement. By the end of 1860 the Estonians became unwilling to reconcile with German cultural and political hegemony. Before the attempts at Russification in the 1880s, their view of Imperial Russia remained positive. [29]

Estonians have strong ties to the Nordic countries stemming from important cultural and religious influences gained over centuries during Scandinavian and German rule and settlement. [30] Indeed, Estonians consider themselves Nordic rather than Baltic, [31] [32] in particular because of close ethnic and linguistic affinities with the Finns.

After the Treaty of Tartu (1920) recognised Estonia's 1918 independence from Russia, ethnic Estonians residing in Russia gained the option of opting for Estonian citizenship (those who opted were called optandid - 'optants') and returning to their fatherland. An estimated 40,000 Estonians lived in Russia in 1920. In sum, 37,578 people moved from Soviet Russia to Estonia (1920–1923). [33] [ failed verification ]


During World War II, when Estonia was invaded by the Soviet Army in 1944, large numbers of Estonians fled their homeland on ships or smaller boats over the Baltic Sea. Many refugees who survived the risky sea voyage to Sweden or Germany later moved from there to Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States or Australia. [34] Some of these refugees and their descendants returned to Estonia after the nation regained its independence in 1991.

Over the years of independence, increasing numbers of Estonians have chosen to work abroad, primarily in Finland, but also in other European countries (mostly in the UK, Benelux, Sweden, and Germany), making Estonia the country with the highest emigration rate in Europe. [35] This is at least partly due to the easy access to oscillating migration to Finland.

Recognising the problems arising from both low birth rate and high emigration, the country has launched various measures to both increase the birth rate and to lure migrant Estonians back to Estonia. Former president Toomas Hendrik Ilves has lent his support to the campaign Talendid koju! ("Bringing talents home!") [36] which aims to coordinate and promote the return of Estonians who have particular skills needed in Estonia.

Estonians in Canada

One of the largest permanent Estonian community outside Estonia is in Canada with about 24,000 people [6] (according to some sources up to 50,000 people). [37] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 17,000 arrived in Canada, initially to Montreal. [38] Toronto is currently the city with the largest population of Estonians outside of Estonia. The first Estonian World Festival was held in Toronto in 1972. Some notable Estonian Canadians include Endel Tulving, Elmar Tampõld, Alison Pill, Uno Prii, Kalle Lasn, and Andreas Vaikla.


Estonians have 49.5% Western Hunter-Gatherer dna [39] and 34% haplogroup N1c. [40]

See also


  1. Statistics Finland does not record ethnicity and instead categorizes the population by their native language; in 2017, Estonian was spoken as a mother tongue by 49,590 people, not all of whom may be ethnic Estonians. [2]

Related Research Articles

Demographics of Estonia Overview of the demographics of Estonia

The demographics of Estonia in the twenty-first century result from historical trends over more than a thousand years, as with most European countries, but have been disproportionately influenced by events in the last half of the twentieth century. The rise and fall of the Soviet Union, including the annexation and eventual independence of Estonia, has had a major effect on Estonia's ethnic makeup and educational achievement.

Estonian language Uralic language

Estonian is a Uralic language of the Finnic branch spoken in Estonia. It is the official language of Estonia, spoken natively by about 1.1 million people; 922,000 people in Estonia and 160,000 outside Estonia. It is a Southern Finnic language and is the second-most-spoken language among all the Finnic languages.

Finno-Ugric languages Disputed grouping of Uralic languages

Finno-Ugric or Finno-Ugrian (Fenno-Ugrian), is a traditional grouping of all languages in the Uralic language family except the Samoyedic languages. Its formerly commonly accepted status as a subfamily of Uralic is based on criteria formulated in the 19th century and is criticized by some contemporary linguists such as Tapani Salminen and Ante Aikio as inaccurate and misleading. The three most-spoken Uralic languages, Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian, are all included in Finno-Ugric, although linguistic roots common to both branches of the traditional Finno-Ugric language tree are distant.

Uralic languages Language family of northern and western Eurasia

The Uralic languages form a language family of 38 languages spoken by approximately 25 million people, predominantly in Northern Eurasia. The Uralic languages with the most native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian; while other significant languages are Erzya, Moksha, Mari, Udmurt, Sami, and Komi, spoken in northern regions of Scandinavia and the Russian Federation.

Latvians Ethnic group

Latvians are a Baltic ethnic group and nation native to Latvia and the immediate geographical region, the Baltics. They are occasionally also referred to as Letts, although this term is becoming obsolete. Latvians share a common Latvian language, culture and history.

Finns Baltic Finnic ethnic group indigenous to Finland

Finns or Finnish people are a Baltic Finnic ethnic group native to Finland.

Finnic languages Language family of north-eastern Europe

The Finnic (Fennic) or more precisely Balto-Finnic languages, are a branch of the Uralic language family spoken around the Baltic Sea by the Baltic Finnic peoples. There are around 7 million speakers who live mainly in Finland and Estonia.

Heimosodat Conflicts in Baltic Finnish territory, early 1900s

The term in Finnish historiography heimosodat, has been translated literally into English as "Kindred Nations Wars", "Wars for kindred peoples", "Kinfolk Wars", or "Kinship Wars," specifically Finnic kinship. It is sometimes erroneously translated as "Tribal Wars". It refers to conflicts in territories inhabited by other Baltic Finns, often in Russia or in borders of Russia. Finnish volunteers took part in these conflicts either to assert Finnish control over the areas inhabited by related Baltic Finns or to help them to gain their independence. Many of the volunteer soldiers were inspired by the idea of Greater Finland. Some of the conflicts were incursions from Finland and some were local uprisings, where volunteers wanted either to help the people in their fight for independence or to annex the areas to Finland. According to Roselius, about 10,000 volunteers from Finland took part in the armed conflicts mentioned below.

Estonian national awakening

The Estonian Age of Awakening is a period in history where Estonians came to acknowledge themselves as a nation deserving the right to govern themselves. This period is considered to begin in the 1850s with greater rights being granted to commoners and to end with the declaration of the Republic of Estonia in 1918. The term is sometimes also applied to the period around 1987 and 1988.

The official language of Estonia is Estonian, a Uralic language of the Finnic branch, which is related to Finnish. It is unrelated to the bordering Russian and Latvian languages, both of which are Indo-European.

South Estonian

South Estonian is spoken in south-eastern Estonia, encompassing the Tartu, Mulgi, Võro and Seto varieties. There is no academic consensus on its status, as some linguists consider South Estonian a dialect of Estonian whereas other linguists consider South Estonian an independent Finnic language. Diachronically speaking, North and South Estonian are separate branches of the Finnic languages.

Estonian Students Society Estonian youth organization

The Estonian Students' Society is the largest and oldest all-male academical student society in Estonia, and is similar to the Baltic German student organizations known as corporations. It was founded in 1870 at Tartu. It has over 900 members in Estonia and abroad.

Baltic Finnic peoples Finno-Ulgric peoples inhabiting the Baltic Sea region of Northern and Eastern Europe

The Baltic Finnic or Balto-Finnic peoples, also referred to as the Baltic Sea Finns, Baltic Finns, sometimes Western Finns and often simply as the Finnic peoples, are the peoples inhabiting the Baltic Sea region in Northern and Eastern Europe who speak Balto-Finnic languages. They include the Finns, Estonians, Karelians, Veps, Izhorians, Votes, and Livonians. In some cases the Kvens, Ingrians, Tornedalians and speakers of Meänkieli are considered separate from the Finns.

Estonia–India relations Bilateral relations of Estonia and India

Estonia–India relations refers to the bilateral diplomatic relations between Estonia and India. India first recognised Estonia on 22 September 1921 when the former had just acquired membership in the League of Nations. India re-recognised Estonia on 9 September 1991 and diplomatic relations were established on 2 December of the same year in Helsinki. Estonia is represented in India by its embassy in New Delhi and its honorary consulate in Mumbai. India is represented in Estonia through its embassy in Helsinki (Finland) and through an honorary consulate in Tallinn.

Name of Estonia Name of Estonia

The name of Estonia has complicated origins. It has been connected to Aesti, first mentioned by Tacitus around AD 98. The name's modern geographical meaning comes from Eistland, Estia and Hestia in the medieval Scandinavian sources. Estonians adopted it as endonym in the mid-19th century, previously referring themselves generally as maarahvas, meaning "land people" or "country folk".

Estonia Country in Northern Europe

Estonia, officially the Republic of Estonia, is a country in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland across from Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea across from Sweden, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia. The territory of Estonia consists of the mainland and of 2,222 islands on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea, covering a total area of 45,339 km2 (17,505 sq mi), the land area is 43,432 km², and is influenced by a humid continental climate. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, and Tartu are the largest cities and urban areas in the country. Other notable cities include Narva, Pärnu, Kohtla-Järve and Viljandi. The official language of the country, Estonian, is the second-most-spoken Finnic language, part of the wider family of Uralic languages.

Proto-Uralic homeland

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Nordic identity in Estonia Overview of nordic identity in Estonia

Nordic identity in Estonia refers to opinions that Estonia is one of the Nordic countries or that it should/will be considered as such in the future. The current mainstream view outside of Estonia does not usually include it among them, but categorizing Estonia as a Nordic country is very common in Estonia.


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Further reading