Estonia, officially the Republic of Estonia (Estonian: Eesti or Eesti Vabariik), is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by the Russian Federation (338,6 km). The territory of Estonia covers 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi) and is influenced by a temperate seasonal climate.
The Estonians are descendants of Baltic Finns, the Estonian language sharing many similarities with Finnish. The modern name of Estonia is thought to originate from the Roman historian Tacitus, who in his book Germania (ca. AD 98) described a people called the Aestii. 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, In spite of this point, the Aestii are generally considered the ancestors of the later Baltic peoples. Similarly, ancient Scandinavian sagas refer to a land called Eistland, close to the Danish, German, Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian term Estland for the country. Early Latin and other ancient versions of the name are Estia and Hestia. Until the late 1930s, the name was often written as Esthonia in most English speaking countries.
Estonia is a democratic parliamentary republic and is divided into fifteen counties. The capital and largest city is Tallinn. With a population of only 1.4 million, Estonia is one of the least-populous members of the European Union. Estonia was a member of the League of Nations from 22 September 1921, has been a member of the United Nations since 17 September 1991, of the European Union since 1 May 2004 and of NATO since 29 March 2004. Estonia has also signed the Kyoto protocol.
The settlement of modern day Estonia began around 8500 BC, immediately after the Ice Age. Over the centuries, the Estonians were subjected to Danish, Teutonic, Swedish and Russian rule. Foreign rule in Estonia began in 1227. In the aftermath of the Livonian Crusade the area was conquered by Danes and Germans. From 1228–1562, parts or most of Estonia were incorporated into a crusader state Terra Mariana, that became part of the Ordensstaat, and after its decline was formed the Livonian Confederation. During the era economic activities centered around the Hanseatic League. In the 1500s Estonia passed to Swedish rule, under which it remained until 1721, when it was ceded to the Russian Empire. The Estophile Enlightenment Period (1750–1840) led to a national awakening in the mid-19th century. In 1918 the Estonian Declaration of Independence was issued, to be followed by the Estonian War of Independence (1918–1920), which resulted in the Tartu Peace Treaty recognizing Estonian independence in perpetuity. During World War II, Estonia was occupied and annexed first by the Soviet Union and subsequently by the Third Reich, only to be re-occupied by the Soviet Union in 1944.
Estonia regained its independence on 20 August 1991. It has since embarked on a rapid programme of social and economic reform. Today, the country has gained recognition for its economic freedom, its adaptation of new technologies and was one of the world's fastest growing economies for several years. However, Estonia's economy was second worst hit of all 27 European Union members in the 2008–2009 economic crisis, contracting sharply in the first quarter of 2009.