Finnish History

Figure 1.--Finland for most of its history was riled by its powerful neighbors, wither the Russians or the Swedes. The collpase of the Tsarist Empire finally afforded the Finns the opportunities to seize their indepedence under the leadership of Field Marshall Mannerheim. They had to first fight the Bolsheviks and then later Stalin's massive Red Army. The odds were stacked against the Finns, but somehow they pulled it off, although losing territory. Here two Finnish girls are helping to clear away the rubble from Martin's Church in Turku. The town was bombed by the Soviet Air Force. Source: Finnish Defense Forces.

The Finns appear for the first time in a written history when Tacitus mentions Fenni in his Germania. It is unclear, however, if the reference was actually to what is now modern Finland. An early Scandinavian documents mentions a "land of the Finns". Trading and raiding contacts between Sweden and what is now Finland was considerable during the pre-Christian times. There does not appear to have been any major Scandinavian settlement. Christianity began to gain a foothold (11th century). Soon afterwards Finland became part of the Swedish realm. Finland was ruled by the Swedes for over 600 years. Russia acquired Finland during the Napoleonic Wars (1809). Finland obtained its independance after the Russian Revolution. The Soviet Union after signing the Non-Agression Pact with the NAZIs attacked Poland (September 1939) and then after demanding bases from the Baltic countries, attacked Finland in the Winter War. They suffered sizeable losses, but eventually prevailed, extracting substantial concessions from the Finns (1940). To regain the lost land, the Finns fought as co-belgerants with the NAZIs after Htler invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). The failure of the NAZIs to defeat the Soviets eventually forced the Finns to seek terms from the Soviets. The Finns managed to maintain their independence and persued neutral policies during the Cold war. The Finns have joined the European Union.

Neolithic Era

Archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation (about 100,000 BC). Little is know about these early humans. All of Finland was, however, was engulfed in the Ice Age advance of glasiation. As the glaciers retreated, northern Europe became inhabital once again. Humans reappared in Finlnd and Scandinvia (about 8,000 BC). We know virtually nothing about these early arrivals. Finnish legend recounted in the Finnish folk epic, the Kalevala, tells us that the Kalevala people, prtrayed as the first Finns, had to fight new arrivals from the mythical land of Pohjola. Anthropologists believe that the ancestors of the Finns migrated westward and northward from their ancestral home within the Volga River basin (second millennium BC). We do not know what set the migration in motion, but pressure fom the Steppe tribes is a possibility. They are believe to have arrived along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea (around the first millennium BC). This would mean the areas around Estonia. The Finns and Estonians are closely related. From the Baltic, folk tradition these people began to move north into what is now Finland (first century AD). Thgey settled along the northern coast of the Gulf of Finland. On going archeological work is coming to the conclusion that the Finns reached the area of moden Finlnd much earlier (perhaps 3,000 BC). This is a matter of ongoing researh. The finnish language is a linguistic isolate, complicating Finnish prehistory. DNA work is, however, helping to build a better picture of Finnish pre-history.

Ancient Finland

The Finns appear for the first time in a written history when Tacitus mentions Fenni in his Germania. It is unclear, however, if the reference was actually to what is now modern Finland. Many historians believe that he was referring to the Lapps. An early Scandinavian documents mentions a 'land of the Finns'. The Scadanavians were the northern German tribes. The Finns were of different, but until recently poorly understood origins. Genetic studies are now providing insights these origins. Finnish researchers in the 1960s began to find indivation that the Scandinavian Germans, Sami, and Finns are all very diffrent peoples. We no know that some 25 percent of the Finnish genetic stock has Siberian and three quarters has European origins. The Sami are of da destinct genetic stock, also a mixture of western and eastern componens. Geneticisys report that the Sami form a separate group unto themselves. The Finns belong to the Uralic group which also have a distinctive genetic profile.

Viking Era

Trading and raiding contacts between Sweden and what is now Finland was considerable during the pre-Christian times. There does not appear to have been any major Scandinavian settlement in what is now modern Finland.

Christianity (12th centry)

Russia and Finland's Nordic neighbors to the west played a major role in introducing Christianity. All three Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) had all become Christianized centuris before Finland. The first missionary appeared in the Nordic region (7th century). This was a missionary from far away Anglo-Saxon England. [Pirinen] Other sourcdes report other misionaries missionaries came to the Nordic countries from both the British Isles and continental Europe. [Heininen and Heikkil] The Emperor Charlemagne built a huge empire which extended all the way north to Denmark [9th century] Charelemagne's son Louis I (the Pious) of Aquitaine disptched a monk named Ansgar to Birka, Sweden (829). Ansgar later became the archbishop of the diocese of Hamburg. [Pirinen, p. 20.] The process of Chritianization commonly began with the elites, not uncommonly the ruler himself. Rulers fond the new religion to be useful in firmly establishing their rule. Chritianizing the masses often proved more difficult. The three Scandinavian countries all had martyr kings. St. Olaf Haraldson of Norway was killed in the battle of Stiklestad (1030). St. Knut of Denmark was murdered in Odense (1160). St. Eric of Sweden was slain in Uppsala (1160). [Heininen and Heikkil, p. 14.] Several missionaries reached in Russia (Novgorod) before Princess Olga converted to Christianity (955). It was Grand Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided that Russia needed a common religion. He considered the alternatives. Finally negotiations with Byzantium, Vladimir was baptised (988). This proved to be the principal step in the Christinization of the Slavs. [Pirinen, p. 18.] The lites lived in the city, but Chritianity slowly spread into the countryside. Vladimir's son Jaroslav the Wise made Christianity the official state religion of Novgorod. The bishop of Novgorod became an archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church. [Pirinen, p. 18.] Russia became an important cultural and religious center, a solid Christian rock against Muslim central Asia. Pagan Finlnd found itself between the Romn Catholic Scandinavian countrue and Orthodox Russia. The country became a kind of religious battleground when the Eastern and Western churches split. Doctrinal disputes between the Western Roman Catholic Church And Eastern Greek Catholic church resulted in mutual excommunication (1054). Both churches sent missionaries into the remaining pagan areas. Christianity began to gain a foothold (11th century). The Christianization of Finland is generally dated with the arrival of St. Henry (1155). He became the patron saint of Finland.

Swedish Era (12th-19th century)

Finland for much of its history was ruled by Sweden. Soon afterwards Christianity began to spread, Finland became part of the Swedish realm. The Swedes conquered Finland (12th century). The Swedish conquest and Christinization were part of the Northern Crusades which was also conducted against the Balts to the south. The conquest of Finland began in the south. King Erik of Sweden and the English-born Bishop Henry (Henrik) led the First Crusade in south-western Finland (1150s). This brought the Baltic coastal areas under Swedish control. Birger, Earl of Sweden, led the Second Crusade, attacking the interior province of Tavastia (Häme, Tavastland) (1238-49). Tyrgils Knutsson led Sweden's Third Crusade against Finland (1293). This brought Karelia or eastern Finland ybder Swedish control. The Swedish conquest of Finland established the northern boundary between the Catholic west and the Orthodox east. The Swedes to secure their Finnish territory built fortified castles at Turku (Åbo), Häme (Tavastehus) and Viipuri (Viborg) (late 13th century). The Finns managed to gain a level of autonomy when Finland was made a grand duchy (16th century). Finland was ruled by the Swedes for over 600 years. The Fiinish medieval experience both before and during the Swedish era was different than Russia to the east and Germany and Poland to the south. The peasantry in Scandanavia (Sweden and Norway) was not enserfed. The Finnish peasantry remained a free peasantry. And this did nor change even when Tsarist Russia seized Finland.


Finland was a Roman Catholic country for some fivce centuries wen the Reformation began in Germany (16th centry). The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the established state church; an overwhelming majority of the population belongs to it.

Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815)

Tsar Alexander I Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte meet on the River Navra to avoid war (1807). Alexander agrees to join in to Napoleon's Continental System and blockade Britain. As part of this arrangement, Alexander commits to convincing Sweden to join the embrgo. This requires military action. Thr Tsarist Army defeats Sweden in the Finnish War (1808-09). As a result, Sweden loses Finland. This is confirmed at the Congress of Vienna,

Russian Era (1809-1918)

Russia acquired Finland during the Napoleonic Wars (1809). Sweden was forced to cede Finland to Russia. The Russians as they did in the southern Baltic area, accepted the existing constitutional arrangements. Thus conntinued to be a Grand Duchy with its own constitution and parliament. This made Finland an anomally within the absolutist Russian Empire. These arrangements were confirmed in the first meeting of a separate Diet. Finland under the Russians were thus able to retain its own legal code and its social order. This including the free status of the peasantry. At the time Russia's rural society was still based on serfdom. The Finns wre also allowed to retain their Protestant (Lutheran) religion. The Russians join "Old Finland" to the Grand Duchy (1812). The Russians also desinate Helsinki (Helsingfors) as the capital. Finland's universityb is movced from Turku to Helsinki (1828). Finland like the rest of Europe was affected by the French Revolution and Napoleon. One of the impcts was the risng force of nationalism. Elias Lönnrot published the first edition of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic (1835). The Tsarist goverment as part of its general Russification throughout the Empire effort moved to gain greater control over Finland and supress Finnish ntioinalism (1890s).

World War I (1914-18)

Finland was still part of the Russian Empire at the time of World War I. Thus Finns fought with the Tsarist Army when war broke out (August 1914). The most noted Finnish soldier involved in the War was Gustaf Mannerheim. He had been promoted to Major General before the War (1911). He was the commander of the Emperor's Uhlans of the Guard which was deployed in Warsaw. Perhaps because he was not Russian he had good relations with the Poles. He was thus in Poland when World War broke out. He fought against the Austrians, first as a brigade commander and then as the commander of the 12th Cavalry Division. He was awarded the the Cross of St. George, the highest Tsarist military decoration (1914). He was promoted to Lieutenant-General and and commanded the 6th Cavalry Corps deployed on the southern front facing the Austrians.

Russian Revolution (1917)

The Revolution of 1905 following the disastrous Russo-Japanese War had shaken the Tsarist Empire to the core. Tsar Nicholas had been forced to grant a constitution. This created a duma or parliament. The Tsar was back in control (1907). The Tsarist state was irevocably weakened. The shooting of striking gold miners at the Lena field in Siberia resulted in a new wave of unrest (1912). Thus Tsarist Russia was in no condition to enter a general European war (1914). The War was a disaster for Russia. The country was unprepared and the result was huge casualties. Russia suffered more casualties than any other country. Dusruptions in the economy and the advance of German forces resulted in shortages including severe shortages and bread lines in the major cities. As a result, the Tsarist Government collapsed with relatively little resistance when riots broke out in St. Persburg. Army revolts forced the Tsar to abdicate. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, 1917, in favor of his brother Michael. No fool, Michael renounced his claim the next day. The abdication of the Tsar left the Duma in control of Russia. The Duma was dominated by liberal politicans. Defense Minister Alexander Kerensky formnmed a provisional government. The Provisional Government, however, was hampered by thev Petrograd Council (Soviet) of Soldiers and Workers's Deputies. And here radical elements including the Bolshevils had considerable influence. The Provisional Government also honored commitments to the Allies. Kerensky tried to keep Russia in the War. He gave Brusilov command of another offensive against the German Southern Army in Galicia. This time Brusilov made little progress. He drove through mutinous Austrian units, but was stopped at great cost by German units commanded by Hoffman and Hutier. The Germans after stopping the Russians, launched a major offensive. This was the stroke that shattered the Russian Army. It's collapse paved the way for the Bolsheviks to seize power. The first Communist state was of course the Soviet Union. The Revolution was a reaction to the huge losses, government incompetence, and privations of World War I (1914-18), in which the Russian people, suffered greviously. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious against a democratic Provisional Government (1917). The Russian Revolution is often described as a result of social forces that had been developing for centuries. A strong case can be made for the Revolution as a coupd'état that may have never occurred without the leadership of Lenin. [Pipes] The Germans allowed Lenin who was in Switzerland to cross their territory in a sealed railway car. He arrived in Petrograd (April 1917). His demands for 'peace, land, and bread' resonated with the Russian people, especially the Petrograd Soviet with was not faorably disposed toward the liberal duma and Kerensky Government. Lenin and his allies demanded "all power to the Soviets". As the situation in Petrograd deteriorated, General Kornilov attempted to seize power. This backfired when his troops mutinied. The Bolsheviks then moved on the Provisional Government (November 7). They arrested members of the Provisional Government they could find and seized power in the name of the Soviets.

Struggle for Independence (1917-18)

The Russian Revolution provided the Finns the opportunity to achieve independence after centuries of foreign rule (Sweeden and Russia). The vast power of Tsarist Russia had been weakened by World war I and then the Revolution. With the ongoing collapse of the Tsarist Army and the Bolshevick Revolution (October 1917), Mannerheim made his way back to Finland (December 1917). Finland had already declared its independence. The result was chaos. There were 40,000 Russian soldiers in Finland and the Bolsheviks were trying to use them to contest the streets with the new Government. Mannerheim had been the highest ranking Finnish officer in the Tsarist Army. The new Finnish Senate assigned him the responsibility of forming a Finnish national army and establishing order. The Reds were dominated by industrial and agrarian workers and supported by the new Russian Soviet Republic. The Whites were dominated by peasants and middle- and upper-class elements and received military assistance from the still undefeated German Empire. The Reds were primarily based in the towns and industrial centres of southern Finland. The more numerous Whites controlled rural areas and northern Finland. Mannerheim used his troops to first solidify cotrol of the north, disarming the Russian garrisons. When the revolutionary Red Guards attempted to seized Helsinki in an effort to gain power, full-scale civil war broke out. We have a biography of one of the Red Guard commanders, Aatto Koivunen (1874-1924). The Reds with all the Russian troops in Finland would seem to have had a major advantage which Lenin attempted to use. As a reslt of the disaterous fighting with the Germans, however, the Russians were demoralized and wanted nothing more than to return home. As aeult only a few foughtin a meaningful way. Than the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (march 1918) restricted Russian support for the Fnnish Reds. Fighting lasted 3 months. Mannerheim's White Army emerged victorious (May 1918). After this achievement, Mannerheim's relations with the Senate soured. The primary issue was the Senate's generally pro-German policy. Germany's defeat of the Russians in the East had made Finnish independence possible. And the Germans played a major role in the Civil war. Mannerheim believed that a strident pro-German policy left Finland vulnerable if Germany lost the War in the West, which of course is precisely what transpired. Mannerheim resigned and left Finland. He was able to influence Allied policy toward Finland dspite its pro-German orientation. When Germany capitulated (November 1918), the political situation shifted in Finland. The Finnish Government called him back (December 1918). The Government appointed regent. (Finland was still theoretically a monarchy with the Tsar as head of state.)

Inter-War Era (1920s-30s)

The Finns established a republic (1919). Finland's held its first presidential election (Summer 1919). Mannerheim was defeated by K.J. Ståhlberg. Mannerheim participated in creating the constitution of the Republic of Finland (July 1919). Mannerheim wanted Finland to fight the Bolshevicks in the Russian Civil War. He failed in this effort and retired to private life. He worked with charities, including the Red Cross. He founded the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare (1920). An extensive land reform program broke up the large estates and made 90 opercent of the farmers who had been tennant farmers land owners. Finland joined the League of Nations. The Government gave little attention to the military. The country, despite the huge military being built by Stalin, maintained only a small army and did not have modern airplanes or tanks. Of course a small country like Finland, still largely agricultural, could not afford massive military expenditures. Th Finns, however, were generally negligent with even basic military preparations.

Winter War (1939-40)

The Soviet Union after signing the Non-Agression Pact with the NAZIs as they attacked Poland and launched World War II (September 1939). Finland desired nothing more than to avoid World War II and declared itself neutral when Hitler and stlin lunched the war by invading Poiland. The Soviets allacked from the east afew days later. After seizing eastern Poland, Stalin looked north and demanded the demilitarization of Finnish fortifications facing Lenningrad (Mannerheim Line) and the cession of military bases. The Sovierts were making similar demands on the Baltic Republics which in a secret codicil of the NAI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact (1939) had been relegated to Soviet control. The Finn's refused the Soviet demand and the Siviets invaded. Stalin was stunned at Finnish resistance in the Winter War (1939-40). The Red Army sufferd heavy losses, but eventually prevailed. A peace treaty transferred sections of the Karelian Penninsula, Vyborg, and border territories to the Soviets (March 1940). Hitler noted the poor performance of the Red Army in the War.

World War II (1941-45)

Finland in an attempt to recover the territory the Soviets seized in the Winter war, joined in the NAZI invasion of the Soviet Union (June 1941). To regain the lost land, the Finns fought as co-belgerants with the NAZIs after Htler invaded the Soviet Union (June 1941). The Finns limited their operations to recovering the lost territory--the Continution War. Some 70,000 cholren were evauated.. The limited Finnish participation in the NAZI war with the Soviets were a key factor in the Soviet success in stopping the Wehrmacht at Lenningrad. When the resurgence of the Red Army, Finland was forced to capituale again to Soviet forces. The Soviets required the Finns in addition to the territories ceeded in 1940 to cede Petsamo and lease Porkkala area. They also had to expel German forces fighting in northern Finland which resulted in coinsiderable destruction. Finland was left devestated by the War, but unlike the rest of Easten Rurope was left still independent and spared the horrors of Stalism and NKVD terror.

Cold War

Finlandlandization became a Cold War term for a country beutralied bythe Soviet Union, but a;;pwe toretain a emocratic government. Less discussed t the time was how forcedSoviet economic poiies meant economic stagmation and poverty, the same failures that would eventually lead to the collpse ofthe Soviet Empire andthe Soviet Union itelf. Stalin after signing the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler first invaded Poland (September 1939). His next target was Finland (November 1939). The Finns contrary to Stalin's expectations fought and proved a tough adversary. In the end the Soviets annexed Finnish borderlands, but the Finns remaiined independent. They joined the NAZIs in the invasion of the Soviet Union, but restricted their participation to recovering Finnish territory. They eventually withfrew from the alliance with the NAZIs and had to turn more territory over to the Soviets. The Finns managed to maintain their independence The Finns managed to maintain their independence. Stalin demaned a high price, including more territory. Probably because of his World War II alliance with the West and post-War image decided to permit independence. The process becme known as Finlandization. Finland was allowed a free hand in its domestic policies as long as it did not ally with the West or critisize Soviet conduct in internatiinal fora. As a resilt, Finland persued neutral policies during the Cold war. The process became known as Finlandization. The Finns were allowed to control their domestic policies as long as they essentially accepted Soviet influence if not control of their foreign policy. The Finns thus did not paricipate in the Marshal Plan or join NATO (1948-49). They benefited, however, because of NATO blockading furher Soviet control in Europe. This left space for both Austrian, Finnish and Swedish neutrality. Of the three, the Soviets exercized more contol over Finland. Finland did not at first pThis meant that for nearly two decades, the Finns did not participate in the American-led post-War European economic recovery. Finland declined to participate in the American Marshal Plan, fearing Soviet reaction. This was part of what became known as 'Finlandization', but the Finns manged to retain their democracy. The Soviet Union offered an alternative to the Marshall plan--the Molotov Plan. The Soviets claimed to offer subsidies and trade preferences. It eventually evolved into the COMECON. In actuality the Soviet economic relationship developed into subsidies to the Soviets. The Finns had to export to the Soviets what might have earned them valuble hard currency in the West. In return they got low-quality, high cost Soviet manufactured goods. The result was that the Swedish and Finnish economies that had become cloesly linked developed very differently. Sweden like the rest of Western Europe boomed. Finns endured low wages and high unemploymnt (1950s-60s). The kinds of control the Soviets maintained in Fnland are similar to what Russia today is seeking to acheve in Ukraine, although they tolerated Finnish democracy. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union was Finland able to join the European Union (1995).


Heininen, Simo and Markku Heikkil. Suomen kirkkohistoria

Pirinen, Kauko. Suomen kirkon historia.


Related Chronolgy Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[The 1880s] [The 1890s]
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1930s] [The 1940s] [The 1950s]
[The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s]

Related Style Pages in the Boys' Historical Web Site
[Return to the Main European history page]
[Long pants suits] [Knicker suits] [Short pants suits] [Socks] [Eton suits] [Jacket and trousers]
[Blazer] [School sandals] [School smocks] [Sailor suits] [Pinafores] [Long stockings]

Navigate the Children in Hisory Website
[Return to the Main Finnish page]
[Introduction] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Climatology] [Clothing] [Disease and Health] [Economics] [Geography] [History] [Human Nature] [Law]
[Nationalism] [Presidents] [Religion] [Royalty] [Science] [Social Class]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Children in History Home]

Created: 5:04 PM 11/21/2007
Last updated: 11:06 PM 5/9/2016