Historical Geography of Estonian Cattle Breeds

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The geographical distribution of cattle breeds is a topic not given much attention by the international research community. While there are some general studies and encyclopaedias that provide general data about the distribution of breeds, no real detailed research exists (see e.g. Frahm 1982). However, during the last decade, much work has been done in the evaluation of the genetic material of cattle herds and the resultant variations within them (Kantanen et al. 2000, Torok 1995, Lenstra 2006). Studying the genetic material of cattle undoubtedly adds a new perspective to the history of European agriculture and sheds light on the geographical distribution of cattle breeds. This article, utilising the methods of historical geography, studies and analyses data from different cattle pedigree books, information about the distribution of cattle, and facts about the historical conditions of cattle breeding in Estonia.

The territory of the present-day Republic of Estonia has been subjected to occupations of several foreign powers throughout its history. Estonians have been ruled by the Danes, the Poles and the Russians; its territory has been divided, sometimes even simultaneously, between the aforementioned nations into several parts (see Pistohlkors 2002, Palmer 2005). The longest rulers though were the Germans, who became local aristocracy over the centuries, even during the reign of other nations over Estonia. This complicated political history has left its mark on the development of administrative areas within the country. Estonia was relatively homogeneous in its population and landscape until its conversion to Christianity at the beginning of the 13th century, at which point it was divided into North-Estonia, which belonged to the Danes, and South-Estonia, that belonged to the Livonian Order (branch of the Teutonic Order) and the Bishop of Riga. This border between North and South was determined by the natural geographical characteristics of Estonian territory--specifically bogs. This border area was, and still is, traversed by an East-West directional zone of bogs (Kulvik et al. 2000). This eventually became a permanent administrative border as knighthoods developed in the region. The German-speaking aristocracy formed one knighthood in North-Estonia (Estonia Province, capital in Tallinn), while South-Estonia together with North-Latvia (Livonia Province, capital in Riga) had their own knighthood. Additionally, Saaremaa had its own knighthood separate from the others (see Figure 1). The governors of these separate provinces had their own privileges, laws, currency and units of measure. Although Estonia became a part of Tsarist a Russia after the Great Northern War (1700-21), its tight connections with Western Europe, the original founders of the northern and southern provinces, were sustained. While formally belonging to the Russian Empire, the Baltic Provinces enjoyed the Baltic Landesstaat (1) and the large population of Baltic Germans that lived in the region kept close contacts with their native land. These close connections facilitated the rapid transfer of cultural and economic developments that were taking place in Western European countries at the time to the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea. Compared to other regions of the Russian Empire, the Baltic Provinces were more advanced in terms of economic and cultural development, including cattle breeding. (2) This historical border and connections with Western Europe would eventually play an important part in the development of cattle breeding in Estonia.

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2. Historical development of Estonian cattle breeds, historiography

While the history of cattle breeding in Estonia has been examined by researchers (e.g., see Keyserling 1894, Stegmann 1923, Kivimae 1994, Kutti et al. 1965, Molder 1949, Pung 1985), the geographical distribution of cattle breeds has been of little interest . Estonia has been an agricultural country throughout its entire history. …