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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.

Table of contents
1 Pre-history
2 A part of Sweden
3 Russian Grand Duchy
4 Independence and Civil War
5 Finland in the inter-war era
6 Finland in World War II
7 Finland's friendship with the Soviet Union
8 Finland in the post-Soviet era


Archeological evidence for the first settelers, 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 Sámi (Saami) — 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 Saami languages diverged from standard Finnish.

The Bronze Age began some time after 1500 BC, this time speading 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. Archeologist have found a pre-historic 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 Saami. 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 Sámis (Lapps) 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 Erik the holy 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 which controlled Karelia.

Savonia and 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 Vyborg. A Novgorodian army tried to attack Vyborg without success in the spring of 1294. A new Swedish offensive in the summer conquered the Novgorodian castle in Kexholm, but was retaken by Novgorod the next spring.

An inconclusive war between Sweden and Novgorod in 1321 and 1322 led to negotiations in Nöteborg, located on the inlet of the Neva river in the Ladoga. In the treaty of Nöteborg 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.

A revolt in Kexholm 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 III 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 Nöteborg 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 Nöteborg but was unsuccessful. In 1350 a Novgorodian army made an attack against Vyborg which they reached on March 21. The town was burned and the surrounding countryside was ravaged, but castle was not taken.

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 his son Knut. 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 these back. 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 agains the Teutonic order. A Swedish raid was made agains Tiurula near the border with an following attack from Novgorod against Vyborg. Smaller raids against Oulu in 1415 and northern Finland in 1431 are mentioned in the chronicles.

During the ensuing centuries, the eastern half of the Swedish realm (present-day Finland) played an important role in the political life realm, 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 were established, resulting in closer contacts to Continental Europe both materially and spiritually.

During the Swedish rule the eastern border moved back and forth due to numerous wars. As a whole, however, it was a period of slow expansion which was ended by The Great Northern War. Thereafter, during the period 1700-1808, Finland was several times occupied by the Russians (partly or wholy), and the south-easternmost part came under Russian control in the early 18th century. In retrospect the possession and loss of the south-easternmost part of the country, containing the important commercial and cultural center of Karelia and the city of Viipuri/Wyborg, has been deemed most significant for the Finnish nation.

Russian Grand Duchy

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, 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 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.


Following Finland's incorporation into Sweden in the 12th century, Swedish had been the dominant language in administration and education, although Finnish recovered its predominance after a 19th-century resurgence of Finnish Nationalism (also working to ensure Russia of the Finns' 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 deliberatly 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 1892 Finnish became an 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
(not yet written)

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 squarly 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 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 December 6, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Finland declared its independence. The independence was acknoledged by Russia's Bolshevik government on January 4, 1918, followed by Germany and the Scandinavian countries.

In 1918, the country experienced the brief but bitter Civil War of Finland that colored domestic politics and the foreign relations of Finland for many years.

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

Initially, Finland was to be a constitutional monarchy. A German prince, Frederik of Hesse was elected King, with the title Väinö I of Finland, with Pehr_Evind_Svinhufvud and General Carl Gustaf 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 overwelmingly Swedish-speaking and sought retrocession to Sweden. However, as Finland was not willing to cede the islands, they were offered an autonomous status. The residents did nevertheless 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.

(not yet written)

Finland in World War II

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 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 tenth of its territory, including its industrial heartland and second city Viipuri.

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.