List of subjects |  Sources |  Feedback 

Share |

Discover in a free
daily email today's famous
history and birthdays

Enjoy the Famous Daily

Northern hunters: from 10,000 BC

During the most recent glacial period (see Ice Ages) the entire Scandinavian peninsula is under a sheet of ice. As the ice cap begins to withdraw, about 12,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers move north in pursuit of reindeer.

The living survivors of the hunter-gatherers in these regions are the Lapps (or the Samit, their own name for themselves), who today herd rather than hunt reindeer. Their language (in the Finno-Ugric family of the Ural-Altaic group) is related to that of the Finns who cross the Baltic in about AD 100 and push the Lapps north towards the Arctic. The Lapps are subject to the same pressure in Norway and Sweden, but there the tribes displacing them are Indo-Europeans speaking the Germanic group of languages.

Finno-Ugric settlers: 1st century AD

By the 1st century AD tribes speaking Finno-Ugric languages are farming the coastal regions on the east of the Baltic. Some of them move north at this period into the region later known as Finland. These include the Finns themselves and two closely related groups, the Tavastians and the Karelians.

Other tribes remain in the region now known as Estonia. Today, two millennia later, Finland and Estonia are two of the three main enclaves within Europe of Finno-Ugric peoples. The third is Hungary.

The Swedish neighbour: 12th - 17th century

By the 12th century the pagan inhabitants of Finland are the target of missionary activity from neighbouring Sweden. Henry, an English bishop of Uppsala, dies a martyr's death in Finland in about 1155. Thomas, another English bishop of Uppsala, converts the Tavastians in the 13th century. In the 14th century Roman Catholics from Sweden go to war against Russian Orthodox from Novgorod for the soul of the Karelians.

Territory is captured along with souls. A treaty of 1323 divides Karelia between Sweden and Novgorod. By that time the rest of Finland has been attached to the Swedish kingdom.

Finland remains a separate territory, albeit increasingly absorbed within the stronger and more sophisticated Swedish culture. Its separate dignity is acknowledged in 1581, when the Swedish king accords Finland the status of a grand duchy.

In the next century this distinction is removed. Under Gustavus II Adolphus the entire region becomes integrated in the rapidly enlarging Swedish kingdom. But the majority of Finns, handicapped by their separate language, have a second-class status within Sweden (any educated Finn by now must speak Swedish). And the territory is under constant threat from an increasingly powerful neighbour in Russia.

The Russian neighbour: 18th century

Finland is a buffer zone in a succession of wars between Russia and Sweden during the 18th century. Russia is desperate to establish a presence in the Baltic, which in the 17th century has been virtually a Swedish lake. Russians occupy Finland for eight years during the Northern War of 1700-21, and in successive treaties later in the century areas of Finland are ceded to the Russian empire. The Finns resent Sweden's inability to protect them. Meanwhile Russian emperors make tempting suggestions of Finnish independence under Russian protection.

In the event this is what happens after a final Russian invasion in 1808.

The Russian neighbour: 1809-1919

Sweden cedes Finland to Russia in 1809 in the treaty of Hamina (or, in its Swedish name, Fredrikshamn). Finland's autonomy as a grand duchy under Russian protection has been guaranteed earlier in the year by the tsar, Alexander I, who assures the Finnish diet that he will respect the constitution and the civil and religious rights already established under Swedish rule. In 1811 the parts of Finland absorbed by Russia during the 18th century are restored to the grand duchy.

Throughout the 19th century Finland thrives in partnership with Russia. The Finnish language is encouraged in schools and in government offices. From 1878 the grand duchy even has its own army.

But in the early 20th century there are attempts by the Russian government to tie Finland more closely into the empire, merging Finnish units within the Russian army and imposing Russian as the official language.

The degree to which any of this is acceptable becomes the main issue of Finnish politics, with resistance extending to national strikes and acts of terrorism. With the outbreak of World War I, Finnish resistance groups turn to Germany for help against a common enemy. After the communist revolution in Russia in 1917, a new element of right and left enters the conflict alongside the main issue of Finn versus Russian.

The result is an immensely bitter and complex war fought in Finland during the early part of 1918. It is a war of independence and at the same time a civil war of 'white' versus 'red'. Meanwhile an army of 12,000 Germans on Finnish soil adds yet another dimension - as part of the wider World War I confrontation between Germany and Russia.

By the middle of May the Russians are out of the country, fulfilling terms already agreed in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918). A constitution of June 1919 transforms Finland into a republic. In the following year the newly independent country becomes a member of the League of Nations.

This History is as yet incomplete.