The History of Latvia began around 9000 BC with the end of the last glacial period in northern Europe. Ancient Baltic peoples appeared during the second millennium BC, and four distinct tribal realms in Latvia's territories were identifiable towards the end of the first millennium AD. Latvia's principal river, the Daugava River, was at the head of an important mainland route from the Baltic region through Russia into southern Europe and the Middle East that was used by the Vikings and later Nordic and German traders.
In the early medieval period, the region's peoples resisted Christianisation and became subject to attack in the Northern Crusades. Today's capital, Riga, founded in 1201 by Teutonic colonists at the mouth of the Daugava, became a strategic base in a papally-sanctioned conquest of the area by the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. It was to be the first major city of the southern Baltic and, after 1282, a principal trading centre in the Hanseatic League. By the 16th century, Germanic dominance in the region was increasingly challenged by other powers.
Due to Latvia's strategic location and prosperous city of Riga, its territories were a frequent focal point for conflict and conquest between at least four major powers: the State of the Teutonic Order (later Germany), the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden and Russia. The longest period of external hegemony in the modern period began in 1710, when control over Riga switched from Sweden to Russia during the Great Northern War. Under Russian control, Latvia was in the vanguard of industrialisation and the abolition of serfdom, so that by the end of the 19th century, it had become one of the most developed parts of the Russian Empire. The increasing social problems and rising discontent that this brought meant that Riga also played a leading role in the 1905 Russian Revolution.
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