Middle Ages

History of Finland between 1150 - 1526

Contact between Sweden and what is now Finland was considerable even during pre-Christian times – the Vikings were known to Finns both due to their participation in commerce and plundering. There is commonly accepted evidence of Viking settlement in the Finnish mainland. The Åland Islands probably had Swedish settlement during the Viking Period. However, some scholars claim that the archipelago was deserted during the 11th century. According to the archaeological finds, Christianity gained a foothold in Finland during the 11th century. According to the very few written documents that have survived, the church in Finland was still in its early development in the 12th century. Later medieval legends describe Swedish attempts to conquer and Christianize Finland sometime in the mid-1150s. In the early 13th century, Bishop Thomas became the first bishop of Finland. There were several secular powers, Sweden, Denmark, the Republic of Novgorod in Northwestern Russia and probably the German crusading orders, who aimed to bring the Finns under their rule. Finns had their own chiefs, but most probably no central authority. Russian chronicles indicate there were conflict between Novgorod and the Finnic tribes from the 11th or 12th century to the early 13th century.

The name "Finland" originally signified only the southwestern province that has been known as "Finland Proper" since the 18th century. Österland (lit. Eastern Land) was the original name for the Swedish realm's eastern part, but already in the 15th century Finland began to be used synonymously with Österland. It was the Swedish regent, Birger Jarl, who established Swedish rule in Finland through the Second Swedish Crusade, most often dated to 1249, which was aimed at Tavastians who had stopped being Christian again. Novgorod gained control in Karelia, the region inhabited by speakers of Eastern Finnish dialects. Sweden however gained the control of Western Karelia with the Third Finnish Crusade in 1293. Western Karelians were from then on viewed as part of the western cultural sphere, while eastern Karelians turned culturally to Russia and Orthodoxy. While eastern Karelians remain linguistically and ethnically closely related to the Finns, they are considered a people of their own by most. Thus, the northern border between Catholic and Orthodox Christendom came to lie at the eastern border of what would become Finland with the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323.

During the 13th century, Finland was integrated into medieval European civilization. The Dominican order arrived in Finland around 1249 and came to exercise huge influence there. In the early 14th century, the first documents of Finnish students at Sorbonne appear. In the south-western part of the country, an urban settlement evolved in Turku. Turku was one of the biggest towns in the Kingdom of Sweden, and its population included German merchants and craftsmen. Otherwise the degree of urbanization was very low in medieval Finland. Southern Finland and the long coastal zone of the Bothnian Gulf had a sparse farming settlement, organized as parishes and castellanies. In the other parts of the country a small population of Sami hunters, fishermen and small-scale farmers lived. These were exploited by the Finnish and Karelian tax collectors. During the 12th and 13th centuries, great numbers of Swedish settlers moved to the southern and north-western coasts of Finland, to the Åland Islands and to the archipelago between Turku and the Åland Islands: in these regions, the Swedish language is widely spoken even today. Swedish came to be the language of the high-status people in many other parts of Finland as well.

During the 13th century, the bishopric of Turku was established. The cathedral of Turku was the center of the cult of Saint Henry, and naturally the cultural center of the bishopric. The bishop had the ecclesiastical authority over much of today's Finland and was usually the most powerful man there. Bishops were often Finns, whereas the commanders in the castles were more often Scandinavian or German noblemen. In 1362, representatives from Finland were called to participate in the elections for king of Sweden. That year is often held to signify the incorporation of Finland into the kingdom of Sweden. As in the Scandinavian part of the kingdom, a gentry or (lower) nobility consisted of magnates and yeomen who could afford armament for a man and a horse. These were concentrated in the southern part of Finland.

The strong fortress of Viborg guarded the eastern border of Finland. Sweden and Novgorod signed the Treaty of Nöteborg in 1323, but that would not last long. For example, in 1348 the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson staged a failed crusade against the Orthodox "heretics", managing only to alienate his supporters and finally losing his crown. The bones of contention between Sweden and Novgorod were the northern coast-line of the Bothnian Gulf and the wilderness regions of Savo in Eastern Finlandied Novgorod considered these as hunting and fishing grounds of its Karelian subjects, protesting against the slow infiltration of Catholic settlers from the West. Occasional raids and clashes between Swedes and Novgorodians occurred during the late 14th and 15th centuries, but for most of the time an uneasy peace prevailed. There existed internal tensions as well. During the 1380s a civil war in the Scandinavian part of Sweden brought unrest to Finland, too. The victor of this struggle was Queen Margaret I of Denmark, who brought the three Scandinavian kingdoms of Sweden, Denmark and Norway under her rule (the "Kalmar Union") in 1389. The next 130 years or so were characterized by attempts of different Swedish factions to break out of the Union. Finland was sometimes involved in these struggles, but in general the 15th century seems to have been a relatively prosperous time, characterized by population growth and economic development. Towards the end of the 20th century, however, the situation on the eastern border was becoming more tense. The Principality of Moscow conquered Novgorod, preparing the way for a unified Russia, and soon tensions arose with Sweden. In 1495–1497, a war between Sweden and Russia was fought. The fortress-town of Viborg stood against a Russian siege: according to a contemporary legend, it was saved by a miracle.

References: Wikipedia

Previous historical period: Iron Age (-500-1149) | Next historical period: Reformation (1527-1610)

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

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Trencín Castle

Trenčín Castle is relatively large renovated castle, towering on a steep limestone cliff directly above the city of Trenčín. It is a dominant feature not only of Trenčín, but also of the entire Považie region. The castle is a national monument.

History of the castle cliff dates back to the Roman Empire, what is proved by the inscription on the castle cliff proclaiming the victory of Roman legion against Germans in the year 179.

Today’s castle was probably built on the hill-fort. The first proven building on the hill was the Great Moravian rotunda from the 9th century and later there was a stone residential tower, which served to protect the Kingdom of Hungary and the western border. In the late 13th century the castle became a property of Palatine Matúš Csák, who became Mr. of Váh and Tatras.

Matúš Csák of Trenčín built a tower, still known as Matthew’s, which is a dominant determinant of the whole building.