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A narrative Finnish history (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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A narrative Finnish history

 

4.3.3 Viking times and before that

Finland as an entity did hardly exist before the 14th century. The ancestors of nowaday Finns consisted different tribes like Karelians, Tavastians and Finns. At that time, only the most South-Western part of the country was known as "Finland" and its inhabitants as Finns. These names came to be used of the entire country and the population at the beginning of the modern era. In the middle ages, the whole Finland was commonly called Österlandet. (The South-Western part is now called as Finland proper, Varsinais-Suomi, and its inhabitants as Proper Finns.) ,

Speakers of an early form of Finnish (of Finno-Ugric languages in any case) are believed to have lived in Finland for 6.000 years. Earlier settlers are of unknown descent. This was also the time when Finnish and Hungarian lost contact with each other. Archaeological finds of wood objects (as runners - jalas /medar) made of pine from east of the Ural mountains indicate how these people must have belonged to a hunting culture moving over very wide areas.

Historical linguists believe that a major portion of Germanic loan words were injected into the Finnish vocabulary approximately 500 B.C. Before this, the Sámis and the Finns had split to constitute separate cultures.

The Sámis and Finns probably split into distinct cultures already 6,000 years ago, when the Baltic Indo-European immigrants settled the coast and merged into the native Comb-Ceramic culture. Thus the coast became a separate ("Finnish") cultural zone with elements of both cultures, whereas the hunter-gatherers of the inland continued the traditional lifestyle and seem to have developed to the Sámi culture.

4,500 years ago animal husbandry was introduced by Baltic immigrants. (The first agriculture in Finland may also have been introduced by them, although no definite proof exists as of yet.)

2,000 years ago the southern and western coasts were inhabited by people in close cultural contact with Scandinavia. The inland kept the contacts to the east. The similarity of the coastal bronze culture with that of Scandinavia is easily explained with cultural diffusion; there are no evidence of a conquest, and though much is similar, there are notable differences too. The continuity of culture from the neolithic (Kiukainen culture) is best shown in ceramics and stone tools, as well as some aspects of burial.

During the "Roman Iron Age" (A.D. 1-400) evidences are convincing for a Baltic sea-farer culture connecting estuaries at Elbe (west for Jutland) and Vistula (at Gdansk) with Finland, Estonia and Sweden. People began to bury deceased in rich graveyards. The culture spread inland to Tavastia and Ostrobothnia. Fur trading peaked, wealth increased and maybe a new surge of immigrants arrived. In any case: Åland was colonized by Germanics from Sweden and has remained (culturally) Swedish ever since. The Åland population stood in close contact with the people along the Finnish coast from Ostrobothnia in north to Hanko in east.

Later during the first millennium the West-Finnish culture spread to Karelia, around Lake Ladoga, where an independent culture arose.

At Viking age three distinct Finnish cultures can be identified: In Karelia, in Tavastia and in Varsinais-Suomi ("Finland proper" i.e. later Turku fief). In these three provinces there is believed to have existed regents or governors comparable to those among Germanic tribes; leading cult, big game hunting, defense and military expeditions. Finns are not believed to have launched Viking raids outside the Baltic. But nothing certain is known.

Southern Ostrobothnia was inhabited by people in close contact with the Scandinavians. The culture of Southern Ostrobothnia certainly had strong Scandinavian flavor, but there are no graves of Swedish types such as one finds on Åland, nor has Swedish ceramics been found. It's rather obvious that the "Scandinavization" of Southern Ostrobothnia in the migration period is due to trade contacts - the inhabitants were Finns (possibly the Kvæns mentioned in the sagas). The area becomes depopulated by 800 A.D., probably because of changes in trade routes (the eastern trade being now conducted through the Gulf of Finland).

The northern shores of the Gulf of Finland were for unknown reasons uninhabited - at least no archaeological traces have been found. The Vikings did not like to lose the sight of land while sailing, and used to camp each night, why one must assume that the Gulf's shores were (at least) free from enemies of the Vikings.

The Vikings are known for their assimilation in the cultures along their trading routes. It's probable that Vikings settled also at Finnish shores and estuaries, married Finns, learned the language, and got Finnish children who after a few generations had no affiliation what-so-ever with their outlandish heritage.

Particularly in Karelia it is known (or sooner: believed) to have existed Viking trading posts, which became assimilated or alienated to the original Viking culture in Novgorod, Uppland, Gotland or wherever they had come from. The town of Staraja Ladoga was a Viking stronghold, for instance. A Viking type (but Tavastian) trade station has in recent years been excavated in the heart of Tavastia, in Varikkoniemi.

Finland's trade with the Vikings have left evidences as rich findings of Arabic silver coins, indicating Finland to have prospered as much as Scandinavia from the eastern trade.

Linguistic similarities suggest that Gotland is the Germanic province which have been the greatest contributor to Swedish settlements in Finland, and Gotland is also the province were two thirds of Sweden's Viking time coins have been found; but no written sources support this theory. (Except for the Visby-bishops' great interest in supporting the Finnish colleagues against pagans and Russians in the 12th and 13th century.)

In early medieval time the eastern Christian Church extended its influence to Novgorod, Karelia and Tavastia. The energetic bishop Thomas (1220-45) extended the Finnish Catholic diocese to Tavastia, probably with armed assistance in the 1230s from the German Brethren of the Sword. His death was followed by a pagan rebellion in Tavastia.

With Earl Birger (Birger Jarl), Sweden's virtual leader 1248-66, the Tavastian rebellion was defeated, the Finnish bishopric was put under Sweden, and the German presence in Finland limited to Hanseatic merchants. A strong castle was built in Tavastia; And Uusimaa /Nyland along the Gulf of Finland was colonized by Swedish "crusaders".

At the end of the 13th century the Catholic Church's control in the Baltic sea region had increased, as Danes and Germans occupied the Baltic countries and Swedish magnates extended the Swedish realm along the Gulf of Finland to Viipuri /Viborg.

The Finns are sometimes pictured as weak victims of foreign coercion. This is not entirely true. The Finns were expanding tribes who extended their areas continuously by clearing of woods, and sometimes by colonization of rich soil far away, as in Karelia and along the Kemi and Tornio rivers. These areas weren't uninhabited, but in fact belonged to the Sámi, whom the Finns (pirkkalaiset /birkarlar) taxed most brutally.

Finns were successful in colonizing the inland (inland rivers, inland sea shores and inland woods), but maybe less interested in long journeys in big boats. Is it a coincidence that Finns still today are less of flock followers than our neighbor Germanics?

 

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4.3.4 Finland in the Swedish realm

[ see also the sections 7.3.3 - 7.3.5 in the Swedish part of the faq. ]


During early medieval time fief after fief in Finland came to be governed by Swedish magnates. First around Turku /Åbo, then farther and farther into the country. The peasantry seems to have had a judicial organization with "Things" similar to that in the rest of Norden. It is unclear if the Thing also had pre-Christian religious functions.

Sweden's colonization of Finland is often connected to "the First Crusade" (1155) led by the English bishop Henry and the Swedish king Erik. By this time Finland was, however, already mostly Christian so the real motivations of the "crusade" are obscure. SW Finland appears to have been allied with central Sweden already in the Viking age, so it has been hypothesized that the campaign was a punitive expedition against an ally that had become unreliable, perhaps because of the influence of Greek Orthodox missionaries. It's also disputed if the First Crusade really was a historical event. In due time, Finland becomes an integral part of the kingdom of Sweden.

Year 1323 Finland's border is for the first time fixed in the peace in Pähkinäsaari at lake Ladoga. The Swedish government supported the Church, and tithes were enforced. On February 15th, 1362, the provinces in Finland can be said to have been officially acknowledged as equal parts of the realm under Swedish crown as the national law now was enforced in all parts of the realm, and Finland was represented at the election of king. (King Håkon of Norway was elected king also of Sweden.)

During the following Kalmar Union, Finland plays a rather independent role. Viipuri fief became increasingly important as the Muscovite realm expanded. The clergy, including the bishops, has Finnish names and the magnates with estates in southern Finland come to play a strong part in the power-play between the Danish Union-king and the Swedish State Council. The most important positions - such as those of governors - were often held by men from the highest nobility, with its roots and base in Svealand (or Götaland).

After Novgorod had been conquered by Moscow 1471 the situation became worse with skirmishes, sieges and small wars.

At Gustav Vasa's rebellion in Svealand it was unclear whether the provinces in Finland would remain in the Union or not. The Union-king's connection with Moscow was probably the crucial reason to why the nobility in Finland took Gustav Vasa's side.

All of the 16th century was marked by continuous conflicts with Moscow. But Finland thereby also became a prioritized part of the realm. The Vasa princes were taught Finnish, prince Johan was given an enlarged Turku fief as duchy, and the Finnish nobility made careers in the civil service - and in the wars with Russia. Viipuri was established as Finland's second bishopric beside Turku.

In the national conflicts and civil wars the Finnish nobility supported the legal kings (Erik XIV & Sigismund), and not the opponents duke Johan & duke Karl, with the consequence that many lost their lands and/or their heads when duke Karl had become king Karl IX.

The civil war between duke Karl and king Sigismund led to a peasant rebellion in central Finland, the so called Cudgel War. Manipulated by the usurper duke Karl, Finnish peasantry uprises, prompted by the worsened living conditions. After short-lived success, the poorly armed peasants are brutally defeated by the troops of Klaus Fleming, a Finnish aristocrat, regent of Finland and the commander-in-chief (riksmarsk) for Sweden, who opted for an extended union with Poland and Livonia.

During the 17th century the nobility in Finland accepts the succeeding Swedish king Gustav II Adolf. Karelia (Kexholm's län) is now incorporated as another Finnish province. The followers of Russian Orthodox faith in the occupied Karelia and Ingria are persecuted, and many flee to the Russian side of the border. After that (during internal turbulence in Russia), peace is to prevail at Finland's borders until year 1700.

The 17th century is therefore remembered as a good time for Finland. 1637-54 count Per Brahe worked as governor for the Finnish provinces taking initiative to many important improvements and reliefs for the war-pestered land, and Finnish troops became feared in the 30 Years' War. Lots of new baronies were granted in reward (to be retracted anew in 1680).

But the 17th century was also the era when Sweden directed its interest to the south. Gotland and the Scanian provinces were conquered, as were also large areas on the European continent.

1696-98 the crops failed and the population was reduced by a third. Then followed Karl XII's failed war with Russian occupation, much suffering and loss of southern Karelia with Viipuri and the Karelian isthmus. At the Gulf of Finland, in the conquered Ingria, a new town was founded and made capital for all of Russia - St. Petersburg.


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The 18th century meant both repeated wars with Russia and a marked increase of population. Politicians from Finland often played a leading role during the Parliamentarian times: [ Anders Chydenius is also dedicated a www-server at <http://www.chyden.net/> honoring his publication National Profit & Loss from the year 1765. This book is a perfect example of how "new" ideas often get discovered independently by several persons at the same time. Adam Smith did not read Swedish, and could not know of Chydenius' work as he eleven years later wrote The Wealth of Nations with by and large the same content. ]

The Finnish language, which had been neglected during the 17th century, now begins to gain ground (very slowly!) in the "official" sphere. The parliament grants tax reliefs to the Finnish provinces pestered by the wars with Russia.

The opinion among the educated classes in Finland shifts slowly toward a pro-Russian stand, which ultimately results in distrust for the kings Gustav III and Gustav IV Adolf. The upper class is mentally well prepared for an annexion to Russia at the Russian attack in February 1809. However, the peasantry is not, and the distrust between the commoners and the masters aggravates.



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