Latvia the colonial power

Latvia the colonial power
05 October, 2016

Latvia the colonial power

Latvia is the smallest nation that ever was a colonial power. In the 17th century the legendary Duchy of Courland set up colonies in Tobago and Gambia.

The ancient Baltic tribes (Curonians, Semigallians, Latgalians,  Selonians) were not really peaceful farmers – they were fierce warriors and excellent sailors. Some say they were even more dreaded than the Vikings. In 1558 the Duchy of Courland was established. Although it existed for just a short period – till 1582 – it quickly turned into a modern European state. It was engaged in manufacturing, producing metal, arms, ships and trading with the whole world. Its Duke, Jacob Kettler, turned the Duchy of Courland into a colonial superpower. The small Duchy had only 200,000 inhabitants, but very ambitious plans for expansion. Instead of occupying colonies in neighbouring regions, the Duke set his eyes for exotic lands which could produce valuable imports. He was the godson of James I, the king of England and had a very good education. Also, he travelled a lot through Western Europe, was a gifted politician and a successful merchant.

The primary destination was Africa. In 1651, Duke Jacob Kettler conquered the delta of the Gambia river as a colony of Courland. The Courlanders built a fortress on the island of St. Andrews and acquired gold, fur, spices and ivory which they than shipped to Europe as expensive luxuries. In 1654 followed the Caribbean island of Tobago. The island was conquered with an impressive doubledecker ship which was armed with 45 cannons. The ship carried 25 officials, 124 of Courland’s soldiers and 80 families of colonists. The new colony was named New Courland. Even today, names reminiscent of the previous colonists appear in Tobago, such as Great Courland Bay and James Bay.

The Duke even planned to conquer Australia. A plan that even was blessed by Pope Innocent X. Jacob could convince the Pope that the new continent would be useful for the Catholic Church. Unfortunately for Jacob, Pope Innocent X died in 1654 and his successor, Pope Alexander VII, was not interested in Jacob’s idea.  Courland’s short colonial history ended when the Swedes conquered the rich country in 1655. Courland lost its last colony in 1689, when Friedrich, Duke Jacob’s son, sold Tobago to the English so that he could keep up his expensive party lifestyle.


Matthias Thoeny, currently studying Russian at Liden & Denz in St. Petersburg

Posted by Matthias Thoeny

My name is Matthias Thoeny and I am from Switzerland. I am studying Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen. My mother tongue is German. I started learning Russian three years ago at university and continued self-studying. Last summer I already spent 7 weeks at Liden & Denz in St. Petersburg and I really enjoyed my stay in this beautiful environment. I started my Internship at Liden & Denz in Moscow in September and now I am working in St. Petersburg. I hope you enjoy reading my blog articles.

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