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Regions of Latvia

Courland (Latvian Kurzeme ) is next Semgallen (Zemgale) , Central Livonia (Vidzeme) and Latgale (Latgale) one of the four historic landscapes of Latvia .

Courland is located southwest of the Daugava River and describes the western part of the country, surrounded by the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga , around the cities of Liepāja (Libau) and Ventspils (Windau) . The capital of Courland was Jelgava (Mitau) until 1919 . Cape Kolka is the northernmost point of Courland . Courland covers an area of ​​13,628.28 km². With the exception of the hilly area around Talsi (Talsen) in Courland Switzerland, the area is relatively flat. The main river is the Venta (Windau) .


Small coat of arms of the Duchy of Courland under Gotthard Kettler

Kurland is named after the Baltic people of the Kurds . The proper name Kurš goes back to the Indo-European word krs and means "quickly mobile (at sea)".

Early middle ages

The history of the cures can be traced back to around the 7th century. Together with the Prussians , they played a leading role among the Baltic tribes at that time.

As early as the middle of the 7th century, Kurland was affected by a proto -Viking dynamic. Nordic sagas , which were not recorded until the 13th century, describe the deeds of the Swedish legend kings Ivar Vidfamne (Ívarr inn víðfaðmi, 655–695) and Harald Hildenand from the Skjödungar family. Ivar Vidfamne is said to have conquered the Baltic States and the area around Gardarike in Karelia . However, there can be no question of permanent land grabbing , because his empire fell apart with his death. His presumed grandson Harald Hildenand is said to have brought the area back under Swedish rule. Excavations by the Swedish researcher Birger Nerman and the Bildstein von Priediens confirm a Nordic presence in Grobiņa (Seeburg) between 650 and 850. On three Scandinavian-type burial sites, the weapons and jewelry finds indicate twice that Gotland was the region of origin and once that the central Swedish Mälar valley , which is in the Area of Svear lies.

In the first half of the 8th century, Nordic trading branches were established in Suaslaukas in Latvia, Apuole in Lithuania, Wiskiauten in Samland and Truso near Elbing . Scandinavian finds from the period after 800, on the other hand, are rare in the Baltic States. Grobin lasted until around 850. The settlement in the Prussian area, however, yielded later finds. Truso from around 900 and Wiskiauten even into the 11th century. The Anglo-Saxon Wulfstan , who visited the Prussian area between 880 and 890, saw "many cities, each with a king rule".

In his Vita sancti Ansharii from 876, Rimbert , a pupil of Bishop Ansgar von Bremen , mentions the fighting between Danish and Swedish Vikings and the Kurds in 855. When Ansgar visited Sweden for the second time (after 850), the Danes in Courland suffered a devastating one Defeat. Rimbert mentions the Seeburg (Grobiņa) and Apulia (Apuole) and writes about the cures (which he calls Chori) that they were subjugated by the Swedes but had long since shaken off the yoke. The Sveakönig Olof crossed with an army to Kurland. His attack was directed against the Seeburg, which was looted and burned down. When attacking Apulia, however, he encountered considerable resistance. Ultimately, however, the cures submitted and undertook to pay tribute and take hostages. On the battlefield, archaeologists found iron arrowheads, which were common in Scandinavia in the 9th and 10th centuries. Saxo Grammaticus reports attacks on Courland that occurred between 866 and 894. However, the Nordic forays into Courland met with too strong resistance and the Vikings turned to other regions in the period that followed. In Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson describes that the Danish coast later had to be attacked by Kuren, as well as by Slavs, and protected by Swedish Vikings. He lived during the reign of the Danish King Waldemar II (King 1202–1241). In chronicles of the 13th century it is reported that the Kurds plundered areas in Denmark and Sweden several times. Adam von Bremen advised Christians to avoid the coast of Courland.

Decorative needles, fibulae and swords from the 10th century prove that Curonian weapons and jewelery reached Denmark and Gotland. Utensils were found like those around Klaipeda and Kretinga on the Gotland coast. The grave in Hugleifs documents the presence of cures on the island. These findings indicate trade relations with the Baltic in the 10th and 11th centuries. A fragment of a silver neck ring with a saddle-shaped end, a type of jewelry that was widespread in the central and eastern parts of Lithuania and Latvia, was found on Gotland near Boters near Gerum - together with Arabic, Byzantine, Anglo-Saxon and German coins. Another neck ring of the same type was discovered on Öland. The Icelandic Egil saga contains a description of the standard of living of the Kurland at the beginning of the 10th century when the Vikings Thorolf and Egil devastated Kurland around 925. In the 10th and 11th centuries, trade relations were maintained unless they were interrupted by Scandinavian Vikings' pirate trips.

A festival with the neighboring village became the center of the tribal area. In the records of the 9th century there are five districts in Courland , at the beginning of the 13th century there were eight. The division into Gaue applied to the entire Baltic region. Powerful feudal lords extended their sphere of influence to several districts over the course of time. This feudal social structure could be maintained as long as the Balts were surrounded by neighbors who had a similar social structure. The situation changed when the knights of the order appeared on the western border between 1226 and 1230, a powerful opponent supported by Christian Europe.

Courland in the order state

The Teutonic Order state around 1260

Towards the end of the 12th century, Low German merchants and missionaries had established trade and mission stations on the Daugava. At the beginning of the 13th century, Kurland was then subjected to the Order of the Brothers of the Swords; German cities were founded, but the cures continued to settle in the country, now under German aristocratic rule.

At the same time, the Teutonic Knights began from Kulm in 1231 with the conquest of the Prussian territory, which had been given to the order by Frederick II in the Golden Bull of Rimini in 1226 and was formally subordinate to the Pope in 1234. In 1237 the weakened Order of the Brothers of the Swords was merged into the Order of Teutonic Knights. The Teutonic Order conquered Pomerania from Poland in 1309 and thus shared a border with the Holy Roman Empire .

After the region was forcibly subjugated by Brothers of the Sword and Knights of the Teutonic Knights, the Southern Kurds in the Prussians and the Žemaites , Samogites, Samaites and Niederlitauern , the Northern Kurds in the Latvians, went up . The Kuren people originally settled the entire Curonian Spit , parts of the mainland on the Curonian Lagoon , the Memelland north of the Minge ( Lamotina and Pilsaten landscapes ) and large parts of today's North Žemaiten ( Ceclis landscape ). On the coast lie the Curonian landscapes of Pilsaten ( Klaipėda region ), Megowen ( Palanga region ), Duvzare and Piemare ( Liepāja region ), Windau ( Ventspils region ).

In addition to Kuren, Latvians and the almost extinct Liven on the northern tip around Domesnäs / Cape Kolka, Germans and Swedes lived in Kurland since the Middle Ages, and Russians later joined them. Large landowners and townspeople, pastors, doctors (i.e. the educated classes) and also master craftsmen were mostly Baltic Germans from the Middle Ages until well into the 20th century . The German language was the language of the upper class, the Latvian language that of the rural population.

The Polish-Lithuanian Union in 1386 gave the Teutonic Order an overpowering opponent for the first time. After the 2nd Peace of Thorn in 1466 , the religious state was divided. The eastern part of the order country remained in the hands of the order, the order state became a feudal state towards Poland . Pomerania, the Kulmerland and other parts of the former Prussian area were combined to form a secular " Prussian Royal Share ", which was linked in personal union with Poland (later mostly West Prussia province ). Danzig, Thorn and Elblag became "free" cities under the rule of the King of Poland ("Polish Crown"). The northern areas of Courland and Livonia with the capital Riga initially remained independent under the direction of a Landmaster of the order, but aroused the desires of Sweden and Russia .

The first Russian advance was repulsed in 1502 by Landmeister Wolter von Plettenberg . A second advance in 1558 by Ivan the Terrible opened the Livonian War (1558–1582). In 1561, represented by their knights, Courland and Livonia submitted to Polish sovereignty in order to protect themselves against the Russian threat. Poland came into conflict with Russia and Sweden and was also drawn into the war.

The Duchy of Courland and Zemgale in the second half of the 16th and 17th centuries

Small coat of arms of the Duchy of Courland and Zemgale
Poland-Lithuania around 1618 (in combination with today's state borders)
  • Kingdom of Poland
  • Grand Duchy of Lithuania
  • Duchy of Livonia
  • Duchy of Prussia , Polish fiefdom
  • Duchy of Courland , joint fiefdom
  • Swedish and Danish Livonia
  • Under the influence of the war, Gotthard Kettler , the last landmaster of Livonia, was able to found his own secular duchy under Polish-Lithuanian sovereignty in Courland and Zemgale , but without the areas of the Courland diocese , which fell to the Polish-Lithuanian part of Livonia. After his death in 1596 , his sons Wilhelm Kettler and Friedrich Kettler divided the duchy into western Kurland and eastern Zemgale . Wilhelm fell out with the landed gentry, who were supported by the Polish overlords, and finally had to leave the country. In 1616 Friedrich was able to unite both parts of the country. Due to the Polish-Swedish war 1600–1629 for supremacy in the Baltic States, Kurland was less affected as a result. In 1629 Sweden conquered Livonia , Courland remained an independent duchy under Polish suzerainty. The southeastern part of Livonia around Daugavpils also remained Polish.

    Under Duke Jakob Kettler , Kurland reached its highest economic boom. The cosmopolitan duke was a supporter of mercantile ideas and sought trade relationships not only with his direct neighbors, but also with England, France, Portugal and others. Shipbuilding and metal processing were promoted. The Courland port cities of Windau (today Ventspils ) and Libau (today Liepāja ) became home ports of one of the largest European merchant fleets. Kettler tried several times to build colonies in Tobago and the Gambia region . This led to conflicts with other colonial powers and locals, which the little Kurland only managed with difficulty. The end of Courland colonialism came with the Second Swedish-Polish War: in 1655 the Swedish army invaded the rich Courland, in 1658 the Duke was captured by the Swedish. The colonies fell to the Netherlands and England, and the merchant fleet was largely destroyed. After the peace treaty Tobago could be regained, but Courland's economic power was destroyed.

    The son of Duke Jakob, Friedrich Kasimir Kettler , ran an expensive court, while the economy continued to deteriorate. To finance it, he sold Tobago to British colonists. (For more information on the history of Europe's smallest colonial power, see Kurländische Kolonialgeschichte and James Island .) Under Friedrich Kasimir's son Friedrich Wilhelm Kettler ( reigned 1698–1711), who ruled under the tutelage of his uncle Ferdinand and his mother, had the country during the Nordic period War suffered badly as a result of the invasion of the Swedes (1700–1703 and 1704–1709) and was even administered by a Swedish governor.

    Between Poland and Russia

    "The Duchies of Curland and Liefland ...", around 1749, copperplate engraving by Johann George Schreiber

    The young duke, who was brought up in Germany in the meantime, had barely got his land back when he died in 1711 immediately after his marriage to the Russian princess Anna Ivanovna . The widowed Duchess Anna took her widow's seat at Mitau under the protection of Peter the Great , her uncle.

    Now her husband's uncle, Duke Ferdinand Kettler , took office, but lived continuously abroad. When the ducal chamber wanted to confiscate a pledged property and the pledge holder was shot, the aristocracy in Warsaw complained, and the Polish Oberlehnshof ordered a state administration, the ultimate purpose of which was to formally include Kurland as an opened fiefdom after the death of the childless Ferdinand Unite Poland. To prevent this, the Courland estates elected the son of the King of Poland, Count Moritz von Sachsen , as duke in 1726 . Ousted by Russian influence, Moritz left the country again in 1729.

    In 1731 August II of Poland finally allowed himself to enfeoff Ferdinand Kettler with Kurland. When he died in 1737 and the ducal house of Kettler went out with him, Anna, who had in the meantime ascended the Russian throne, pushed through the election of her favorite, Count Ernst Johann von Biron , by the Courland estates as duke. However, after the death of his protector (1740) during the reign of the underage Emperor Ivan , for whom he reigned, he was arrested by Münnich and exiled to Siberia.

    The Courland estates then elected Prince Charles of Saxony as Duke in 1758 , in whose favor the Empress renounced all demands on Courland. After the accession to the throne of Peter III. Biron was given his freedom again, and when Catherine the Great came to power, Biron was reinstated as Duke of Courland in 1763 - under the protection of 15,000 Russian soldiers. Biron died in 1772 after ceding the government to his son Peter in 1769 .

    Russian rule

    The Courland Governorate as the southernmost of the Baltic Sea provinces

    In 1795, Courland came to the Russian Empire in the course of the Third Partition of Poland . In terms of form, the Courland Parliament decided to subject the country to the Russian scepter. This decision was communicated to Duke Peter and confirmed by him with a deed of assignment. In 1795 the entire Baltic region was under Russian rule. The Governorate of Courland became the third of the Russian Baltic Governments , which were administered autonomously by the Baltic-German nobility , alongside the then existing governorates of Estonia (today's northern part of the Republic of Estonia) and Livonia . The privileges granted to the Baltic cities and knighthoods by Peter the Great after the acquisition of the northern Baltic region in the Peace of Nystad in 1721 were initially also applied in Courland and enabled autonomous self-government. So could z. B. by resolution of the Baltic knighthoods 1816–1819, serfdom in Courland, Estonia and Livonia was lifted, although it existed in Russia for another 40 years.

    Courland during and after the two world wars

    During the First World War , Kurland was occupied by the German army in 1915. In the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk , Courland and Lithuania were separated from the Russian state union. The Central Powers wanted to determine what the future state organization of these regions should look like in consultation with the population. In addition, Russia had to admit that Estonia and Livonia would also remain occupied by a German police force until their own state order and national institutions that could ensure security were established there.

    When the Latvian People's Council proclaimed the independent Republic of Latvia in November 1918 , it also referred to Courland. After the proclamation of a Latvian Soviet Republic in December 1918, Bolshevik-Latvian troops and units of the Red Army advanced as far as the Venta River in Courland in January 1919 . In March 1919 there was a counter-offensive by German and national-Latvian troops. The first Republic of Latvia existed until 1940.

    After setting up several bases in Courland as early as 1939, the whole of Latvia was occupied by the Red Army on June 17, 1940 after the threat of violence . Against the protest of the ambassadors of the Western powers, the Soviet government proclaimed the establishment of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic on July 21, 1940 and asked it to join the USSR , which took place on August 5, 1940. After the German-Soviet non-aggression pact and the subsequent resettlement treaty between the German Reich and Latvia, the Baltic Germans had already been resettled in the so-called " Reichsgau Wartheland " in November / December 1939 , from where they were expelled again after the end of the war in 1945.

    Cemetery for Latvian SS legionaries in Lestene

    After the start of the German-Soviet War (1941), Latvian territory was occupied by German troops from summer 1944 until it was gradually reconquered by the Red Army and assigned to the Reich Commissariat Ostland . The general d. R. Oskars Dankers formed a collaborative puppet administration in 1942, while the communist Arturs Sprogis led Latvian partisan units against Latvian SS units . In February 1945, the former German Army Group North, now Army Group Courland , formed a puppet republic of Courland. In the six loss-making "Courland Battles" from October 1944 to March 1945, the Wehrmacht units enclosed in the Kurland pocket , supported by Latvian units, fought off all Soviet offensives. Up until May 9, 1945, refugees, wounded and army units were evacuated via the ports of Windau and Libau . About 200,000 Germans and Latvians went into Soviet captivity on May 10, 1945 after the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht . War and the consequences of war (flight and deportations) led to considerable population losses in Courland as well.

    Kurland belonged to the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic until 1991 . In particular, forced industrialization was associated with the settlement of many members of other ethnic groups from the USSR, among which the Russians dominated. On May 4, 1990, Latvia declared its independence, which was recognized by the Soviet Union on August 21, 1991 and, after the end of the USSR, also by Russia.


    See also

    Web links

    Individual evidence

    1. Jan von Flocken: Catherine II Tsarina of Russia. Biography . Verlag Neues Leben, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-355-01215-7 , p. 126.