Estonians or Estonian people (Estonian: eestlased) are a Baltic Finnic ethnic group who speak the Estonian language. Their nation state is Estonia.

Countries with significant Estonian population and descendants.
Total population
c. 1.1 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Estonia 925,892 (2023)[2]
Other significant population centers:
 United States29,128[5]
 United Kingdom10,000–15,000[8]
Primarily Estonian
also Võro and Seto
Majority irreligious
Historically Protestant Christian (Lutheranism)[19][20]
Currently Lutheran and regional Eastern Orthodox (Estonian Apostolic Orthodox) minority
Related ethnic groups
Other Baltic Finns
Especially Livonians, Setos, Võros, and Votians

The Estonian language is spoken as the first language by the vast majority of Estonians; it is closely related to other Finnic languages, e.g. Finnish, Karelian and Livonian. The Finnic languages are a subgroup of the larger Uralic family of languages, which also includes e.g. the Sami languages. These languages are markedly different from most other native languages spoken in Europe, most of which have been assigned to the Indo-European family of languages. Estonians can also be classified into subgroups according to dialects (e.g. Võros, Setos), although such divisions have become less pronounced due to internal migration and rapid urbanisation in Estonia in the 20th century.

There are approximately 1 million ethnic Estonians worldwide, with the vast majority of them residing in their native Estonia. Estonian diaspora communities formed primarily in Finland, the United States, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom and other European Union member states.



Prehistoric roots


Estonia was first inhabited about 10,000 years ago, soon after the ice from the Baltic Ice Lake had melted. Living in the same area for more than 5,000 years would put the ancestors of Estonians among the oldest permanent inhabitants in Europe.[21] On the other hand, some recent linguistic estimations suggest that Finno-Ugric language speakers arrived around the Baltic Sea considerably later, perhaps during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1800 BCE).[22][23] It has also been argued that Western Uralic tribes reached Fennoscandia first, leading into the development of Sami people, and arrived to the Baltic region later during the Bronze Age[24] or its transition to Iron Age at the latest,[25] which lead into the formation of Baltic Finnic population who would later become such groups as Estonians and Finns.[24]

The oldest known endonym of the Estonians is maarahvas,[26] literally meaning "land people" or "country folk". It was used until the mid-19th century, when it was gradually replaced by Eesti rahvas "Estonian people" during the Estonian national awakening.[27][28] Eesti, the modern endonym of Estonia, is thought to have similar origins to Aestii, the name used by the ancient Germanic tribes for the neighbouring people living northeast of the mouth of the river Vistula. The Roman historian Tacitus in 98 CE was the first to mention the "Aestii" people in writing. In Old Norse the land south of the Gulf of Finland was called Eistland and the people eistr. The first known book in the Estonian language was printed in 1525, while the oldest known examples of written Estonian originate in 13th-century chronicles.

National consciousness


Although Estonian national consciousness spread in the course of the 19th century during the Estonian national awakening,[29] some degree of ethnic awareness preceded this development.[30] By the 18th century the self-denomination eestlane spread among Estonians along with the older maarahvas.[26] 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.[30]

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.[31] According to a poll done in 2013, about half of the young Estonians considered themselves Nordic, and about the same number viewed Baltic identity as important. The Nordic identity among Estonians can ovelap with other identities, as it is associated with being Finno-Ugric and their close relationship with the Finnish people and does not exclude being Baltic.[32] In Estonian foreign ministry reports from the early 2000s Nordic identity was preferred over Baltic one.[33][34]

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).[35][failed verification]



After the occupation of Estonian lands by Tsarist Russia, some Estonians either were deported or moved to various places within the Russian Empire, including the annexed lands of other nations. According to the 1897 census, 6,852 native Estonian-speakers lived in the Russian Partition of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, now divided between Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine with small portions in Moldova and Russia, of which over 4,360 lived in territories of today's Poland.[36][37][38][39][40][41][42][43][44][45]

At that time, 4,281 native Estonian-speakers lived in the Caucasus region in territories of modern-day Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and southern Russia,[46] 4,202 lived in Siberia,[47] and 440 lived in Central Asia in territories of modern-day Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.[48]

Within reborn Poland in the interwar period, the largest Estonian populations of 31 and 19, were based in Warsaw and Łódź, respectively, with few in other locations, according to the 1921 Polish census.[49][50]

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.[51] 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.[52] 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 both to 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!")[53] 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 communities outside Estonia is in Canada, with about 24,000 people[7] (according to some sources up to 50,000 people).[54] In the late 1940s and early 1950s, about 17,000 arrived in Canada, initially in Montreal.[55] 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 are Endel Tulving, Elmar Tampõld, Alison Pill, Uno Prii, Kalle Lasn, and Andreas Vaikla.





Y-chromosome haplogroups among Estonians include N1c (35.7%),[56] R1a (33.5%)[57] and I1 (15%).[56] R1a, common in Eastern Europe,[58] was the dominant Y-DNA haplogroup among the pre-Uralic inhabitants of Estonia, as it is the only one found in the local samples from the time of the Corded Ware culture and Bronze Age. Appearance of N1c is linked to the arrival of Uralic-speakers.[25] It originated in East Eurasia[59] and is commonly carried by modern Uralic-speaking groups but also other North Eurasians, including Estonians' Baltic-speaking neighbors Latvians and Lithuanians.[56] Compared to the Balts, Estonians have been noticed to have differences in allelic variances of N1c haplotypes, showing more similarity with other Finno-Ugric-speakers.[60][61]

When looking at maternal lineages, nearly half (45.8%) of the Estonians have the haplogroup H . About one in four (24.3%) carry the haplogroup U, and the majority of them belong to its subclade U5.[62]

Autosomal DNA

A PCA of several European populations.[63]
Regional population structure of Estonians.[64]

Autosomally Estonians are close with Latvians and Lithuanians.[65][66] However, they are shifted towards the Finns, who are isolated from most European populations.[67][68][69] Northeastern Estonians are particularly close to Finns, while Southeastern Estonians are close to the Balts; other Estonians plot between these two extremes.[64]

Estonians have high steppe-like admixture, and less farmer-related and more hunter-gatherer-related admixture than Western and Central Europeans. The same pattern is found also in the Balts, Finns and Mordvins, for example.[70] Uralic peoples typically carry a Siberian-related component, which is also present in Estonians and makes up about five percent of their ancestry on average. Although they have a smaller share of it than other Balto-Finns, it is one factor that distinguishes them from the Balts.[59] Estonians can also be modelled to have considerably more Finnish-like ancestry than Baltic-speakers.[69][60]

Estonians have a high sharing of IBD (identity-by-descent) segments with other studied Balto-Finnic groups (Finns, Karelians and Vepsians) and the Sami people, as well as with the Polish people.[66]

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.[3]


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Further reading