Esthonia (Ger. Esthland; Esth. Wiroma), a government of European Russia, bounded N. by the gulf of Finland, E. by the government of St. Petersburg, S. by Livonia, and W. by the Baltic, in which lie Dago and some smaller islands belonging to it; area, 7,611 sq. m.; pop. in 1867, 322,668. The inhabitants of the towns and the nobility are chiefly Germans, and the German language is predominant in the administration and in the schools and churches; but the rural population, who constitute a great majority of the people, are Esthonians. The surface is generally low, sandy, rocky, or marshy, and is interspersed with more than 200 lakes, but produces abundantly grains, flax, and pulse. There are many extensive forests of firs and birches. The climate is moist, cold, and salubrious; the winter continues for eight months, and the transition to summer is sudden. The fisheries are productive; agriculture receives great attention, and the rearing of cattle, and particularly of sheep of the merino and Saxon breeds, is an important interest. Lu-theranism is the prevalent religion, but there are also many adherents of the Greek church.
The government of Esthonia is divided into the districts of Revel, Hapsal, Weissenstein, and Wesenberg. Capital Revel. Its governor is under the orders of a governor general who resides at Riga, and who has authority also over Livonia and Courland. - The Esthonians, who are also numerous in Livonia and other neighboring governments, are of Finnish descent, of slight stature, daring and vindictive. They embraced Christianity about the beginning of the 13th century, and fell successively under the power of the merchants of Bremen, the Danes, the Teutonic knights, the knights sword-bearers or Livonian knights, and the bishops of Riga and Semgallia. Threatened in 1555 with conquest by Russia, they preferred to recognize the authority of Eric XIV., king of Sweden, whose successors gave legal sanction to the rights of the Esthonians by various treaties, especially by that of Oliva in 1660. In 1710 the country was conquered by Peter the Great, and was definitely confirmed to Russia by the treaty of Nystadt in 1721. It received the title of grand duchy. There are Esthonian popular songs, naive and melancholy, versified in the Finnish manner, that is, metrically and alliteratively.
The oldest of these is a song of the peasants of the canton of Revel, which has been sung from the time of the introduction of Christianity.