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1150-1809 - Swedish Rule

During the Viking Age (c. A.D. 800-1050), Swedish Vikings came into contact with the Finns in the course of their expeditions eastward, which were aimed at establishing, via Russia, trade ties with the Arab world, although they built no permanent settlements in Finland. The Finns' name for the Swedes, Rus, was derived from the Finnish word for Sweden, Ruotsi, and is believed to be the origin of the name Russia.

Swedish influence in Finland grew at approximately the close of the Viking Age, when the Swedes were converted to Christianity by the Roman Catholic Church and soon afterward began missionary activities in Finland. . The process was initiated in the 1150s, when armed troops from Sweden referring to themselves as “Catholic crusaders” sailed into Turku and declared the coastal districts to be subject to the Swedish crown. The story goes that the Swedes were tired of the Finns raiding their settlements and came in a body led by the bishop and the military commander to conquer them and absorb them into their own sphere of influence. The Finns were not enthusiastic about this, and legend has it that a sturdy-built peasant by the name of Lalli killed the Swedish bishop Henrik while he was crossing a frozen lake and cast his body into the black, icy water.

Most Finns were converted to the Roman Catholic Church about the mid-twelfth century, during the wave of crusades that began in 1095. A quasi-historical legend maintains that in 1157 a crusade was led against the polytheistic Finns by the Swedish King Erik IX and the English monk Henry, who had been appointed archbishop of Uppsala. According to tradition, Henry was martyred in Finland and was subsequently recognized as the country's patron saint. The success of the crusade was supposed to have given Sweden and Latin Christianity a solid foothold in Finland. There is no evidence of the crusade and Henry's role in it, however, and there are indications that Christian communities existed in Finland at an earlier date.

Meanwhile, the Russians, partly on religious grounds, also sought control of Finland. They had been converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and subsequently tried to convert the Finns to this religion. Finnic peoples in eastern Karelia were converted to Orthodoxy and were thereby drawn into a different religious and cultural orbit from Swedish-ruled, Roman Catholic Finns in the west. v About 1240, Rome sanctioned two crusades in an effort to push the frontier of Latin Christianity eastward. Swedish crusaders first invaded Russia along the northern shore of the Gulf of Finland, but they were halted in 1240 on the banks of the Neva River by Prince Alexander of Novgorod, who thereby earned the name Alexander Nevsky ("of the Neva"). The second crusade, spearheaded by the Teutonic Knights, followed the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland and was defeated by Alexander Nevsky in 1242 on the ice of Lake Peipus. The Swedes initiated a final attempt to wrest eastern Karelia from the Russians in 1293, but the thirty years of war that followed failed to dislodge the Russians from the region. The Peace of Pahkinasaari (Swedish, Nöteborg) in 1323, which ended this war, established the border between Finland and Russia that was maintained for nearly three hundred years.

Sweden consolidated its control over Finland gradually, in a process that was facilitated by the introduction of Swedish settlers along the southern and the western coasts of Finland. The settlers, most of whom remained in the coastal region, became a ruling class within Finland, and Finland was politically integrated into the Swedish realm.

The late medieval period was marked by the expansion of settlements along the coast and into the interior. The Finns gradually conquered the wilderness to the north, moved into it, cleared the forest, and established agricultural communities. This settling of the wilderness caused conflict between the Finnish farmers and the Lapp reindeer herdsmen, forcing the Lapps slowly northward. By the end of the fifteenth century, the line of settlement was about 200 kilometers north of the Gulf of Finland, and it ran along most of the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, though less than 100 kilometers inland. The population of Finland likewise had grown slowly in this difficult environment; it numbered about 400,000 by the end of the Middle Ages.

The economy of medieval Finland was based on agriculture, but the brevity of the growing season, coupled with the paucity of good soil, required that farming be supplemented by hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering. All but a small portion of the Finnish population earned their livelihood in this way.

Although the European institution of serfdom never existed in Finland, and although most of the farmers were freemen, they had little political power. Society and politics were dominated by a largely Swedish-speaking nobility. Finland was represented, however, in the Swedish Diet of the Four Estates (Riksdag)-- clergy, nobility, burghers, and farmers--that had advisory powers in relation to the king. The Finns also had some responsibility for matters of local justice and administration.

Catholicism was deeply rooted in medieval Finnish society. The church parishes doubled as units of local administration, and the church played the leading role in fostering an educated Finnish leadership and the development of the Finnish language. For example, the general requirement that parish priests use the indigenous language helped to maintain the speaking of Finnish. Turku (Swedish, Abo), encompassing the whole country, was the was diocese, and the bishop of Turku was the head of the Finnish church. In 1291 the first Finn was named bishop, and thereafter all incumbents were native-born.

The southwestern seaport city of Turku, the seat of the bishopric, became the administrative capital of Finland. Turku was also the center of Finland's mercantile life, which was dominated by German merchants of the Hanseatic League. Finland's main exports at this time were various furs; the trade in naval stores was just beginning. The only other city of importance at this time was Viipuri (Swedish, Vyborg), which was significant both as a Hanseatic trade center and as a military bastion that anchored Finland's eastern defenses against the Russians.

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Page last modified: 25-09-2019 18:57:37 ZULU