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The Aesti (or Aestii) were a people described by the Roman historian Tacitus in his treatise Germania (ca. 98 CE). According to this account, the Aestii lived on the shore of the Suebian Sea (Baltic Seamarker), eastward of the Suiones (Scandinavians) and westward of the Sitones. They were a population of Suebia. Tacitus did not know whether to assign the nearby Fenni to Germania or Sarmatia (which extended as far west as the Vistula in places).

Historical sources


The ancient writers, beginning with Tacitus, who was the first Roman author to mention them in his Germania, provide very little information on the Aestii. Although Tacitus never travelled to Magna Germania himself and only recorded information he had obtained from others, the short ethnographic excursus below is the most detailed ancient account of the Aestii that we have:

"Upon the right of the Suebian Sea the Aestian nations reside, who use the same customs and attire with the Suebians; their language more resembles that of Britain. They worship the Mother of the Gods. As the characteristic of their national superstition, they wear the images of wild boars. This alone serves them for arms, this is the safeguard of all, and by this every worshipper of the Goddess is secured even amidst his foes. Rare amongst them is the use of weapons of iron, but frequent that of clubs. In producing of grain and the other fruits of the earth, they labour with more assiduity and patience than is suitable to the usual laziness of Germans. Nay, they even search the deep, and of all the rest are the only people who gather amber. They call it glesum, and find it amongst the shallows and upon the very shore. But, according to the ordinary incuriosity and ignorance of Barbarians, they have neither learnt, nor do they inquire, what is its nature, or from what cause it is produced. In truth it lay long neglected amongst the other gross discharges of the sea; till from our luxury, it gained a name and value. To themselves it is of no use: they gather it rough, they expose it in pieces coarse and unpolished, and for it receive a price with wonder."Germania, chapter XLV.

Apart from describing their idiom as closer to the British language than — as must be inferred — to the language of the Suebi, Tacitus mentions their term for amber in an apparently Latinised form, glesum (cf. Latvian glīsas). This is the only word of their language recorded from antiquity, but seems to be Germanic in origin (from Gothic glas). In spite of these points, the Aestii are generally considered the ancestors of the later Baltic peoples.

The placement of the Tacitean Aestii is based primarily on their association with amber, a popular luxury item during the life of Tacitus, with known sources at the southeastern coast of the Baltic Seamarker. The Baltic amber trade, which appears to have extended to the Mediterranean Seamarker, has been traced by archaeologists back to the Nordic Bronze Age; its major center was located in the region of Sambiamarker.


Sixth Century historian Jordanes makes two references the Aesti in his book "The Origins and the Deeds of the Goths", which was a treatment of Cassiodorus' longer book (which no longer survives) on the history of the Goths. The first quote places the Aestii beyond the Vidivarii, on the shore of the Baltic:
"But on the shore of Ocean, where the floods of the river Vistula empty from three mouths, the Vidivarii dwell, a people gathered out of various tribes. Beyond them the Aesti, a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean."
The next quote concerns the subjugation of the Aesti by Hermanaric, king of the Gothic Greuthungi:
"This ruler also subdued by his wisdom and might the race of the Aesti, who dwell on the farthest shore of the German Ocean"

Alfred the Great

In a 11th century manuscript of King Alfred's account of the voyage from Hedebymarker to Trusomarker by Wulfstan, held by the British Museummarker, includes ethnographic information on the medieval Aestii. That Wulfstan's Aestii probably were not identical with the modern-day Estonians derives from the locatisaton near the Vistula. In the text, a summary description of the country and its riches is followed by a very detailed account of the people's funeral customs.[102298]

Archaeological sources

Later uses of the name

It is speculated that name survived as specifically Estonians and is the origin of the modern national name of Estoniamarker: Eesti in Estonian, Eistland in ancient Scandinavian sagas, and Estia, Hestia and Estonia in early Latin sources. Estonians, however, are not Balts.


See also


  • Deutschler, Yorck: "Die Aestii - Bezeichnung für die heutigen Esten Estlands oder die untergegangenen Pruzzen Ostpreußens" , in: Deutschler, Yorck, "Die Singende Revolution" - Chronik der Estnischen Freiheitsbewegung (1987-1991) , pp. 196-198. Ingelheim, March 1998/June 2000. ISBN 3-88758-077-X
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