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History of Finland

This is the history of Finland. See also the history of Sweden, history of Russia, history of Europe, history of the European Union, and history of present-day nations and states.



Archeological evidence for the first settlers, mostly from the south and east, can be traced back to the 8000 BC. After 6500 BC the so called "Suomusjärvi culture", a hunter-gatherer society, spread over most of the country. Around 4200 BC the "Comb ceramic culture", known for their pottery, took over. This marks the beginning of the neolithic for Finland.

It is believed that the proto-Finnish language spread to Finland at this time. Finnish and Sami — the language of Lapland's small indigenous minority — are both Finno-Ugric languages and are in the Uralic rather than the Indo-European family. The closest related language still widely in use is Estonian.

After 2500 BC immigrants from south of the gulf of Finland settled in southern Finland. Their culture differed from the older as they used agriculture and animal husbandry. The neolithic cultures survived for some time. Further inland the societies were less advanced. The Finnish language got an influx from the Indo-European Baltic languages (and vice versa) approximately in the period 3500-1000 BC[1], and the Sami languages diverged from standard Finnish.

The Bronze Age began some time after 1500 BC, this time spreading from the west. After 300 BC the Iron Age began. Findings of imported iron swords and local iron working appears at about the same time.

From 100 BC onwards trade with central Europe increased and many Roman artifacts from this period have been found. The Viking Age began in the 8th century and increased the trade on the Baltic Sea. A number of fortifications were constructed during this time which shows of a more centralised society. Archeologists have found a prehistoric town from the 9th century near current day Hämeenlinna.

During this time the population in Finland can be discerned into different groups: (proper-)Finns, Tavastians, Karelians and Sami. Åland is Swedified during this time.

The origins of the Finnish people are a matter of reinvigorated controversy. Some established scholars contend that "their original home" was in what is now west-central Siberia. New approaches from specialities previously considered ancillary to the question, have produced divergent viewpoints to challenge this accepted view. The ancestors of the Finns arrived at their present territory thousands of years ago, in numerous successive waves of immigration coming from east, south and west, establishing a hunting-farming culture and pushing the indigenous hunting-gathering Sami into the more remote northern regions. Finns were still in late Medieval times known for their slash and burn farming.

A part of Sweden

Contact between Sweden and Finland was remarkable even during pre-Christian times -- the Vikings were known to Finns both due to their participation in commerce and plundering.

Finland's nearly 700-year association with the Kingdom of Sweden is usually said to began in 1154 with the introduction of Christianity by Sweden's King Eric the Saint who came escorted by a group of armed men and Bishop Henry to Finland Proper. Even though Henry was famously martyred by Lalli in 1156, Christianity came to stay.

This traditional account is usually criticised by modern historians. Archeological evidence indicates that Christianity had already spread to Finland before the Swedish crusade and that Finland Proper was Christianised at the beginning of the 11th century. The Orthodox faith had also spread to Karelia by this time from Novgorod.

Christianity spread to Tavastia at the beginning of the 13th century and Birger Jarl conducted a crusade in 1249, maybe to crush a rebellion and stop the Tavastians from reverting back to paganism. This expansion by Sweden was seen as alarming by Novgorod that controlled Karelia.

Savonia and Western Karelia adopted Christianity at the end of the 13th century which coincides with the crusade conducted by Torkel Knutsson in 1293. During this time the Swedes built a fortification that would become the castle of Viipuri. A Novgorodian army tried to attack Viipuri without success in the spring of 1294. A new Swedish offensive in the summer conquered the Novgorodian castle in Käkisalmi, but was retaken by Novgorod the next spring.

An inconclusive Käkisalmi war between Sweden and Novgorod in 1321 and 1322 led to negotiations in Orechovets, located on the inlet of the Neva river in the Ladoga. In the Treaty signed in Orechovets (Schlisselburg) the borders between Sweden and Novgorod were defined for the first time. Sweden got West Karelia and Novgorod got Ingria and Ladoga Karelia or East Karelia. The treaty defined the border in the south in some detail, splitting the Karelian isthmus in half and then continuing up to current day Savonlinna. From there the border continued to the Gulf of Bothnia presumably in present-day Oulainen, north of Raahe.

A revolt in Käkisalmi in eastern Karelia against the Novgorodian rule broke out in 1337. The next year Sweden sent out raids into Ladoga Karelia. A Swedish army was defeated in Ingria and the war ended with an peace that confirmed the treaty from 1323.

In 1347 the Swedish king Magnus II prepared for war against Novgorod, probably because of Novgorodian raids in the previous year. The war was backed up by the clergy and Saint Birgitta. The next year a Swedish army landed near the river Neva, fought a Novgorodian army and continued to Orechovets which they besieged and occupied. After this, the king returned to Sweden. A Novgorodian army with new Russian contingents arrived too late to relieve the besieged castle. In 1349 the Swedish garrison was starved out. In this year Magnus made another attempt at Orechovets but was unsuccessful. In 1350 a Novgorodian army made an attack against Viipuri which they reached on March 21. The town was burned and the surrounding countryside was ravaged, but castle was not taken.

Finns start to participate in the election of the king of Sweden in year 1362. From this on, an Eastern part of Sweden, that later would become present-day Finland, is counted as integrated.

In 1388 Sweden elected Margaret I of Denmark as regent and in 1397 the Kalmar Union was formed. During this time a number of attacks were made from Swedish Karelia into Ingria and Ladoga Karelia.

When Bo Jonsson Grip , who was one of the richest men in Sweden and held Turku castle as a fief and had other possessions in Finland, died in 1386 he left everything to be held in a trust, only small portion going directly to his widow and his underage son. As a part of the treaty that formed the Union, these possessions were lost to the crown. When Knut came to age in 1395 he travelled to Finland and managed to get something back, such as Turku. As a result Margareta sent an army to Turku which fell in 1398.

In 1411 the hostilities with Novgorod resumed. Until then Sweden had been involved in other wars and Novgorod had concentrated against the Teutonic Order. A Swedish raid was made against Tiurula near the border with an following attack from Novgorod against Viipuri. Smaller raids against Oulu in 1415 and northern Finland in 1431 are mentioned in the chronicles.

Timeline for not yet written history section:

  • 1495-97 War against Russia. During a siege of Viipuri, just as the Russians are about to get over the city walls, St. Andrew's cross appears in the sky and the frightened Russians flee from battle. In reality, what happened was probably an explosion of a gunpowder tower.
  • 1550 Helsinki is founded by Gustav Vasa, but remains little more than a fishing village for more than two centuries.
  • 1595 The Peace of Täyssinä (Teusina); Finland's borders are moved further East and North.
  • 1617 Western Karelia joined to Finland in the Peace of Stolbova ending a hundred years of almost continuous wars with Russia.
  • 1630-48 Finns fight in the Thirty Years War on the European continent. The Finnish cavalry, known as the Hakkapeliitta , spreads fear among the Catholic troops in Germany who are used to more orderly warfare.
  • 1637-40 and 1648-54 Count Per Brahe functions as general governor of Finland. Many and important reforms are made, towns are founded, etc, etc. His period is generally considered very beneficial to the development of Finland.
  • 1642 The whole Bible is finally published on Finnish.

During the ensuing centuries, the eastern half of the Swedish realm (present-day Finland) played an important role in the political life, and Finnish soldiers often predominated in Sweden's armies. Finns also formed a major proportion of the first Swedish settlers in 17th-century America New Sweden. During the early centuries of Swedish rule, successful commerce with the member cities of famous Hanseatic League had been established, resulting in closer contacts to Continental Europe both materially and intellectually.

During the Swedish rule the eastern border moved back and forth due to numerous wars. As a whole, however, it firstly was a period of slow expansion which was ended by the Great Northern War. Thereafter, during the 18th century, Finland was several times occupied by the Russians (partly or wholly), and the south-easternmost part came under Russian control during the first half of the century. In retrospect the possession and loss of the south-easternmost part of the country, containing the important commercial and cultural center of (Finnish) Karelia and the city of Viipuri (Viborg), has been deemed most significant for the Finnish nation.

Russian Grand Duchy

(Main article: Grand Duchy of Finland)

In 1808, Finland was again conquered by the armies of Tsar Alexander I. Thereafter Finland remained an autonomous Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire until the end of 1917, with Karelia handed back to Finland in 1812. During the years of Russian rule the degree of autonomy varied. Also periods of censorship, political prosecution, etc. occurred, particularly in the two last decades of Russian control, but the Finnish peasantry remained free unlike their Russian counterparts as the old Swedish law (including the relevant parts from Gustav III's Constitution of 1772) remained effective. The old four-chamber Diet was re-activated in the 1860s agreeing to supplementary new legislation concerning internal affairs. Industrialisation begun during the 19th century from forestry industry, mining and machinery and laid the foundation of Finland's current day prosperity, even though agriculture employed a relatively large part of the population until the post-WWII era.


Particularly following Finland's incorporation into Swedish central administration during 16th and 17th centuries, Swedish had been the dominant language in administration and education. Before that, in medieval semi-anarchy, German, Latin and Swedish were important languages beside native-spolen Finnish. Finnish recovered its predominance after a 19th-century resurgence of Finnish Nationalism - also Russian controllers working to separate Finns from Sweden and to ensure of the Finns' higher loyalty.

The publication in 1835 of the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala, a collection of traditional myths and legends, the folklore of the Karelian people (the Finnic Russian Orthodox people who inhabit the Lake Ladoga-region of eastern Finland and present-day NW Russia), first stirred the nationalism that later led to Finland's independence from Russia. The Finnish national awakening in the mid-nineteenth century was the result of members of the Swedish-speaking upper classes deliberately choosing to promote Finnish culture and language as a means of nation building, i.e. to establish a feeling of unity between the people in Finland including, and not the least important, between the ruling elite and the ruled peasantry.

In 1863, Finnish got a position in administration, and 1892 Finnish finally became an equal official language and gained a status comparable to that of Swedish, and within a generation Finnish clearly dominated in government and society.

(See also: Finland's language strife)


See: Russification of Finland

In 1906, as a means to improve the Russo-Finnish relations, the old four-chamber Diet was replaced by a unicameral Parliament (the "Eduskunta"), which was elected by universal suffrage, with Finnish women being the first in Europe to be given the vote.

Independence and Civil War

In the aftermath of the February Revolution in Russia, Finland received a new Senate, a coalition-Cabinet with the same power structure as the Finnish Parliament. Based on the general election in 1916, the Social Democrats had a small majority, and the Social Democrat Oskari Tokoi became Prime Minister. The new Senate was willing to cooperate with revolutionary government of Russia, but no agreement was reached. The Finns' view was, basically, that the personal union with Russia was finished after the Tsar was dethroned. They expected the Czar's authority to be transferred to Finland's Parliament, which the provisional government of Russia couldn't accept. For the Finnish Social Democrats it seemed as the Russian Bourgeoisie was an obstacle on Finland's road to independence as well as on the Proletariat's road to justice. The non-Socialists in Tokoi's Senate were however more confident. They, and most of the non-Socialists in the Parliament, rejected the Social Democrats' proposal on Parliamentarism (the so-called "Power Act") as being too far-reaching and provocative. The act restricted Russia's influence on domestic Finnish matters, but didn't touch the Russian government's power on matters of defence and foreign affairs. For the Russian Provisional government this was however far too radical. As the Parliament had exceeded its authority, it was dissolved.

The minority of the Parliament, and of the Senate, were content. New elections promised a chance to gain majority, which they were convinced would improve the chances to reach an understanding with Russia. The non-Socialists were inclined to cooperate with the Provisional government also because they feared the Socialists' power would grow, resulting in radical reforms, such as equal suffrage in municipal elections, or a land reform. The majority had, of course, the squarely opposite opinion. They didn't accept the provisional government's right to dissolve the Parliament.

The Social Democrats held on to the Power Act and opposed the publication of the decree of dissolution of the Parliament, whereas the non-Socialists voted for publishing it. The disagreement over the Power Act led to the Social Democrats leaving the Senate. When the Parliament met again after the summer recess in August 1917, only the groups supporting the Power Act were present. Russian troops took possession of the chamber, the Parliament was dissolved, and new elections were carried out. The result was a (small) bourgeois majority and a purely non-Socialist Senate. The abolishment of the Power Act, and the cooperation between Finnish bourgeois forces and the oppressive Russia, provoked great bitterness among the Socialists, and dozens of politically motivated terror assaults, including murders.

Successful independence

The Bolshevik Revolution turned Finnish politics upside down. Now the new non-Socialist majority of the Parliament felt a great urge for total independence, and the Socialists came gradually to view Russia as an example to follow. On November 15, 1917, the Bolsheviks had declared a general right of self-determination, including the right of complete secession, "for the Peoples of Russia".

Worried by the development in Russia, and Finland, the non-Socialist Senate proposed for the parliament to declare Finland's independence, which was agreed on in the parliament on December 6, 1917. According to the Bolshevists' declared adherence to the principle of self-determination, Finland's independence could be expected to get accepted by Russia's revolutionary government, but it came to last almost a month until the independence was acknowledged by Russia (on January 4, 1918). Germany and the Scandinavian countries followed without delay.

In 1918, Finland experienced the brief but bitter Civil War of Finland that colored domestic politics and the foreign relations of Finland for many years. Finland's government defeated a socialist rebellion with support from Imperial Germany; and only Germany's defeat in World War I saved Finland from becoming a German satellite state. The neighbor-country Sweden was in the midsth of her own process of democatization, with socialists in government for the first time. For many decades, Finns on both sides remained bitter over Sweden's reluctance to mix in the Civil War.

During the Civil War, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed between the Central Powers and Bolshevist Russia, regarding Finland stating:

Germany and Austria-Hungary purpose to determine the future status of these territories in agreement with their population.
Finland and the Åland Islands will immediately be cleared of Russian troops and the Russian Red Guard, and the Finnish ports of the Russian fleet and of the Russian naval forces. So long as the ice prevents the transfer of warships into Russian ports, only limited forces will remain on board the warships. Russia is to put an end to all agitation or propaganda against the Government or the public institutions of Finland.
The fortresses built on the Åland Islands are to be removed as soon as possible. As regards the permanent non-fortification of these islands as well as their further treatment in respect to military technical navigation matters, a special agreement is to be concluded between Germany, Finland, Russia, and Sweden; there exists an understanding to the effect that, upon Germany's desire, still other countries bordering upon the Baltic Sea would be consulted in this matter.

Finland in the inter-war era

Despite of the Declaration of Independence calling Finland a Republic, initially, Finland was to be a constitutional monarchy. A German prince, Frederick of Hesse was elected King, with the name Väinö I of Finland, with Pehr Evind Svinhufvud and General Mannerheim serving as Regents. However, Germany's defeat in World War I, meant that the idea was abandoned. Finland instead became a republic, with Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg elected as its first President, in 1919.

The new republic faced a dispute over the Åland Islands, which were overwhelmingly Swedish-speaking and sought retrocession to Sweden. However, as Finland was not willing to cede the islands, they were offered an autonomous status. Nevertheless, the residents did not approve the offer, and the dispute over the islands was submitted to the League of Nations. The League decided that Finland should retain sovereignty over the Åland Islands, but they should be made an autonomous province. Thus Finland was under an obligation to ensure the residents of the Åland Islands a right to maintain the Swedish language, as well as their own culture and local traditions. At the same time, an international treaty was concluded on the neutral status of Åland, under which it was prohibited to place military headquarters or forces on the islands.

Directly after the Civil War there were many incidents along the border between Finland and Soviet Russia, such as the Aunus expedition and the Pork mutiny. Relations with the Soviets were improved after the Treaty of Tartu in 1920, in which Finland gained Petsamo, but gave up the claims on East Karelia.

Finland in World War II

During World War II, Finland fought the Soviet Union twice: in the Winter War of 1939-1940 (with limited but crucial support from Sweden), resulting in the loss of Finnish Karelia, and again in the Continuation War of 1941-1944 (with considerable support from Nazi Germany), leading also to the loss of Finland's only ice-free winter harbour Petsamo. This was followed by the Lapland War of 1944-1945, when Finland fought against the Germans to force them to withdraw their forces from northern Finland.

Finland managed to maintain its independence and democratic constitution, contrary to most other countries proximate to the Soviet Union, but was punished far more than other German allies and cobelligerents, having to pay onerous reparations, resettle an eighth of its population, and lose a eighth of its territory, including its industrial heartland and second city Viipuri. After war, Soviet Union settled those occupied territories with its own people from eg. Ukraine.

Anti-Communist sentiments had, following the Civil War, been even more pronounced in Finland than in most other West European societies. The propaganda war between Bolshevist Russia (the Soviet Union) and her western neighbours had been harsh and intense. The Finns were also better informed of the Great Purge than more distant nations. Hence, at the eve of the World War, the Finns had very concrete fears for their survival as a people - let alone as a nation state. The Finns perceived the defence against the Soviet Union as literally a fight on life and death — and during the Winter War, this perception was also shared by the spectator nations in the West.

During and immediately after the wars, approximately 80,000 children were evacuated from Karelia and from cities harshely hit by Soviet bombing. 5% to Norway, 10% to Denmark, and the rest to Sweden. Most of them were sent back in 1948, but 15-20% remained abroad. In retrospect, the separation from their parents, siblings and language, and then later again a repeat of the separation, this time from their foster homes, has proved to be an often forgotten tragedy.

Finland's friendship with the Soviet Union

Finland retained the democratic constitution and free economical structure during the Cold War era. Treaties signed in 1947 and 1948 with the Soviet Union included obligations and restraints on Finland, as well as territorial concessions. Both treaties have been abrogated by Finland since the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, however leaving the borders untouched. Even though being a neighbour to mighty Soviet Union sometimes resulted in overmuch caution concerning foreign politics ("Finlandization"), Finland developed closer cooperation with the other Nordic countries and declared her neutrality in regard to superpower politics.

In 1952, Finland and the other countries of the Nordic Council entered into a passport union, allowing their citizens to cross borders without passports and to apply for jobs and claim social security benefits in the other countries. Many from Finland used this opportunity to get better paid jobs in Sweden in the 1950s and 1960s, dominating Sweden's first wave of post-war labor immigration. Although Finnish wages or standard of living could not compete with wealthy Sweden until the 1980s, the Finnish economy rose remarkably well from the ashes of World War II, resulting in the buildup of another Nordic-style welfare state.

Finland became an associate member of the European Free Trade Association in 1961 and a full member in 1986. A trade agreement with the EEC was complemented by another with the Soviet Bloc. The first Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), that started the development leading to OSCE, was held in Finland 1972-1973. In Finland, CSCE was widely considered as a possibility of reducing the tensions of the Cold War, and a personal triumph for president Kekkonen.

Finland in the post-Soviet era

On January 1st 1995 Finland joined the European Union along with Austria and Sweden. Before the parliamentary decision to join EU, a consultative referendum had been held April 16th 1994. 56.9% of the votes were in favour of joining. Leading Finland into the EU is held as the main achievement of the Agrarian government of Esko Aho then in power.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45