During Medieval times this land (including southern Estonia) was called Livonia. In 1201, at the request of Pope Innocent III, German crusaders (knights) conquered large parts of it and founded Riga.
In the late 13th century the Hanseatic League emerged. It was an economic alliance of cities that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe, and the merchant-dominated city of Riga became an important member.
Rome's appointed bishops here were continually charged with expanding the influence of the Catholic church and to protect its interest. Conflicts with German knights who still controlled large portions of the land (apart from the church) continued on into the 16th century.
Poland, Lithuania, Sweden and Russia continued their efforts to control the Baltic lands, and in 1611, after the Polish-Swedish War, parts of Livonia (Latvia) fell under Swedish control.
Russia had long-contested Swedish influence over this land along the Baltic Sea, and from 1700-1721 the Great Northern War raged. In the end Russia was the victor and Latvia, as well as Estonia were now in Russian hands.
The result was a human tragedy for Latvia. The Emperor of Russia's forces quickly destroyed Latvian resources (including food) and a widespread famine soon caused a substantial loss of human life, estimated to be 40% (or more) of the population.
Conditions remained all but unbearable for the workers (peasants) in Latvia on into the early 19th century, but by then, the social structure began to change (albeit slowly) and some basic capitalist freedoms returned.
It was then that nationalism surfaced for the first time, and Latvians began to envision more personal freedoms, and maybe, just maybe, an independent (separate) nation would be possible for them.
In the early 20th century, that Latvian desire for independence was a front-burner issue across the country, and it exploded into a fever during the 1905 Russian Revolution, when a wave of mass political and social unrest spread across the Russian Empire.
Then in 1914, World War I raised its ugly, destructive head across Europe. The war devastated the Baltic countries, but in the end some major participants were politically defeated and ceased to exist; including the German and Russian imperial powers.
For Latvia, this proved an opportunity not to be missed and it proclaimed the independence of their new country in the capital city of Riga on November 18, 1918.
Soon the established map of Europe would be completely redrawn, as a number of smaller states had now surfaced. The League of Nations was formed whose principal mission was to maintain world peace, especially across Europe. The success of their mission would be short-lived.
In 1939, the German-Soviet powerbase (Stalin and Hitler) in an effort to control the European continent, signed a secret agreement that literally divided eastern Europe, and the Soviets had their greedy eye once again on Latvia, as well as Estonia.
In October of that year, Latvia was forced to accept a "mutual assistance" pact with the Soviet Union, granting the Soviets the right to station between 25,000 and 30,000 troops on Latvian territory.
Next came Soviet military bases and a demand for the Latvian government to resign, and it did. Shortly thereafter Soviet troops entered Latvian territory, and no opposition was fronted by the Latvians as they had been previously asked by their government to show friendship.
That was a fatal mistake as the Soviets took over the country, deported or killed any opposition, and then held elections that placed Soviet-leaning candidates into office, including the presidency. Its name was now the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.
At the beginning of World War II, the German's ill-fated plan to invade the Soviet Union began. To help protect the country an estimated 15,000 Latvian men were forcibly drafted into the Soviet Red Army and few of them survived that war.
A few months later, the German Army entered Latvia, and their troops overran most of the country. More than 200,000 Latvian citizens died during the war, including approximately 75,000 Latvian Jews murdered during the German (Nazi) occupation.
In 1944, because of the efforts of the Americans, British and other allied forces, it became clear that Nazi Germany could not win their war in Europe - an effort that in the end would soon be soundly defeated.
Soviet forces began to retake Latvia in late-1944. Citizens desperately wanted to avoid another military and social disaster, so 250,00 Latvians fled the country into both Germany and Sweden.
During the first ten years of occupation the brutal Red Army forcibly deported tens of thousands of Latvians to Siberia labor camps, and that number reached nearly 200,000 by the time of Joseph Stalin's death in 1953.
Deportations and imprisonments continued on and so did the 'Russification' of Latvia. The Soviets flooded the country with huge numbers of non-native Russians to work in new industries, drastically changed the ethnic mix.
In the late 1980's, Soviet President Gorbachev introduced policies in Russia to help reduce the corruption at the top of the Communist Party. That move called 'Glasnost' sparked a passionate desire for freedom across The Soviet Union, and in the end freedom from Communism caused the total collapse of the country in 1991.
Latvia's independence was now possible, and the parliament in Latvia voted on re-establishing de facto independence, restoring Latvia's pre-war status as a sovereign independent country.
In 1994 Russia completed its military withdrawal and Latvia soon began to forge modern relationships with the west by joining NATO and the European Union.
Latvia is a fertile land with a strong dairy industry, and a solid textile, chemical and electronic manufacturing base. Riga, the capital city, is a significant Baltic seaport.
And speaking of Riga, it's a charming ancient city with a stylish 'Old Town.' The city includes numerous art galleries and museums, as well as medieval castles and Baroque palaces.
The resorts along the sandy coastline of Latvia (facing the Baltic) and its interior beauty and history are now growing attractions for tourists from Europe and the Americas.