Tacitus Germania ilustration by J.Bleau 1645
The area of ancient Estland and its people – also known by people as: Aestii, Aestui, Hesti, Heasti, Hestia, Aesti, Aisri, Esti, Estum, Iste, Istum, Aistr, Eistr, Igauni, чуди – was located on the coast of the Baltic sea – also know as: Suebian, Venedi, Varangian sea.
To the North over the Baltic Estland neighboured with ancient Finland (Soome, Lapi), to the West over the Baltic sea with ancient Kven- and Gotland, Suebia (modern Sweden) and Norland (modern Norway).
The seagoing people around Baltic sea were later also called Varangians or Vikings (´vik´ refering to ´bay´), who were traders and seafarers, who inhabited their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland (Americas). But also South Eastwards with people on coasts of the Mediterran sea. They traded with fur, tusks, seal fat, honey, salves and amber etc.
The Vikings military, mercantile and demographic expansion constitutes an important element in the early medieval history of Scandinavia, Estonia, the British Isles, France, Kievan Rus’, Sicily etc.
The Aesti (also Aestii, Astui or Aests) were an ancient people first described by the Roman historian Tacitus in his treatise Germania (circa 98 AD). According to Tacitus, the territory of Aesti was located somewhere east of the Suiones (Swedes) and west of the Sitones (possibly the ancient “Kvens”), on the Suebian (Baltic) Sea. This and other evidence suggests that they lived in or near the present-day Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast (previously East Prussia). The Aestii and the modern ethnonyms of Estonia arephonological similar.
Tacitus’ mention of a cult of the mother of the gods among the Aesti along the eastern Baltic coast applies to the ancient pagan religions – “taarausk”, belief of “Taara” often depicted female or “maausk”, belief in Mother Earth the giver of life.
Tacitus also refers to the Fenni living next to the Aesti — the Fenni being ancestors to the Finns and the Sámi would situate them closest to the Estlandians. Ultimately, Tacitus’ use of Aesti could apply equally well to either a specific people or to a grouping of ethnically diverse peoples across a wider area on the East coast of the Baltic sea.
“Upon the right of the Suebian Sea the Aestian nations reside, who use the same customs and attire with the Suebians (historically settled by Germanic / Gothic people).
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).”
* – Glasum propably refers to Estonian word “klaas”, similar to the estonian word “klaar” (“clear”).
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: “a subject race, likewise hold the shore of Ocean.”