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The territory of Estonia has been inhabited since at least 9,000 B. Ancient Estonians were some of the last European pagans to be Christianized, following the Livonian Crusade in the 13th century.
After centuries of successive rule by Germans, Danes, Swedes, Poles and Russians, a distinct Estonian national identity began to emerge in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
This culminated in independence from Russia in 1920 after a brief War of Independence at the end of World War I.
Around the 11th century, the Scandinavian Viking era around the Baltic Sea was succeeded by the Baltic Viking era, with seaborne raids by Curonians and by Estonians from the island of Saaremaa, known as Oeselians.Several Scandinavian sagas referred to major confrontations with Estonians, notably when "Estonian Vikings" defeated and killed the Swedish king Ingvar.Similar threats appeared in the east, where Russian principalities were expanding westward.A parish was led by elders and centred around a hill fort; in some rare cases a parish had multiple forts.By the 13th century Estonia consisted of eight major counties: Harjumaa, Järvamaa, Läänemaa, Revala, Saaremaa, Sakala, Ugandi, and Virumaa; and six minor, single-parish counties: Alempois, Jogentagana, Mõhu, Nurmekund, Soopoolitse, and Vaiga.
In 1987 the peaceful Singing Revolution began against Soviet rule, resulting in the restoration of de facto independence on 20 August 1991.