History of Latvia
The territory of the present Latvia has been inhabited since the third millennium BC, and became a centre of the European trade. The amber found in Latvia was as valuable as gold, being the material of precious jewels in the ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. The ancient people of Latvia were farmers and hunters in the inland, many of them became sailors and fishermen along the Baltic Sea.
The territory of Latvia has always been the target of many nations, because of it's strategic location. In the 12th century German traders and preachers established settlements in Latvia. The largest of them, Riga, founded in 1201 became part of the Hanseatic trading alliance. After the arrival of the crusader knights no tribes opposed to Christian faith.
In the following centuries the neighbouring lands occupied Latvia. In the 16th century Latvia became part of the Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, but in the 17th century it came under Swedish rule for a century, often remembered as the golden era compared to other occupiers. In the 18th century Russia was victorious in the northern wars, bringing all of what is now Latvia into Imperial Russia. In the 19th century the Russian reforms dispossessed the peasants of their land, thus the numbers of urban population increased, and Riga became a large industrial centre and one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire. Latvia preserved it's national identity against forced Russification, but the uprising in 1905 was suppressed by the Tsar.
Russian influence weakened after the Grand Revolution, and Latvia retained independence after the First World War in a war against German and Russian forces. The devastated country had a brief period of democracy and economic recovery, but a coup in 1934 established a nationalist dictatorship. The new regime tried to keep it's neutrality and independency in the early years of the Second World War, but it's fate was decided by the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Soviet troops re-occupied Latvia, and remained there until 1994.
Latvia became independent from the collapsing USSR in 1991. The democratic government returned to the old currency, denationalized the state property, liberated the market and successfully reoriented the country to the Western states. Latvia has been a member of the European Union since May 1, 2004, and member of the NATO since April 2, 2004.