The great famine

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The crop failure began in 1694, when the weather did not favour the growing. The next summer was even worse, because it rained a lot and and weather stayed cold. The rye did not grow and hay could not be made. Moreover, the autumn chills destroyed the summer crops, so not even seed could be recovered. The spring of 1696 was very cold and the peasants started dying of hunger. Again, it rained a lot during the summer and the crop failure grew even greater than that of the previous year. The spring of 1697 revealed the terrifying extent of the famine, when bodies started to thaw from under the snow.
It was certain death for the orphans and elderly. As a last resort, people living in the rural areas tried to escape to the towns, but there was not enough food either. A chronicler wrote: "Night and day, in towns and in villages, on the roads and in the streets, the wails of the hungry were such that even the rocks had to have been screaming." Finland an Sweden were suffering the same ill and instead of saving the Estonians and Livonians, grain was hauled out of the kingdom's "grain stores". A few merchants and nobles made huge profits.
The toll was greatest on the Central Estonia, where the soil had been more fertile and where more people had settled down. The death toll was 70,000 - 75,000 people, or one in every five. Many were buried where they lie, also in mass graves outside the cemeteries. The famine did not end before 1698.

Image: O. Kangilaski "Handing out bread to starving children."

Source: Ain Mäesalu, Tõnis Lukas, Mati Laur, Tõnu Tannberg. Eesti ajalugu I. Avita, Tallinn 1995
Image source: Ain Mäesalu and others. Eesti ajalugu I. Avita. Tallinn, 1995. Lk. 116

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