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History of Finland

Early History

According to archaeological evidence, the area now composing Finland was settled at the latest, around 8500 BC during the Stone Age as the ice shield of the last ice age receded. The artifacts the first settlers left behind present characteristics that are shared with those found in for example Estonia, Russia and Norway. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, using stone tools. There is also evidence of carved stone animal heads. The first pottery appeared in 3000 BC when settlers from the East brought in the Comb Ceramic culture. The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in southern coastal Finland between 3,000-2,500 BC coincided with the start of agriculture. Even with the introduction of agriculture, hunting and fishing continued to be important parts of the subsistence economy, especially in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

The Bronze Age (1500–500 BC) and Iron Age (500 BC-1200 AD) were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions. There is no consensus on when Finno-Ugric languages and Indo-European languages were first spoken in the area of contemporary Finland. The first verifiable written documents appeared in the 12th century.

Middle Ages

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 no commonly accepted evidence of Viking settlement in the Finnish mainland, although some finds in Southern Ostrobothnia have caused controversy. The Åland Islands probably had Swedish settlement during the Viking Period. However, some scholars claim that the archipelago was deserted during the 11th century. Åland was then re-settled by Swedes during the 12th 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 Christianise Finland sometime in the mid-1150s. In the early 13th century, the missionary Bishop Thomas apparently managed to bring some stability and order. There were several secular powers who aimed to bring the Finns under their rule. These were Sweden, Denmark, the Republic of Novgorod in Northwestern Russia and probably the German crusading orders as well. Finns had their own chiefs, but most probably no central authority. Russian chronicles however indicate ability to raise armies large enough to challenge Novgorod in the vicinity of Finland.

The name "Finland" originally signified only the southwestern province that has been known as "Finland Proper" since the 18th century. Österland 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. The concept of a Finnish "country" in the modern sense developed only slowly during the period of the 15th-18th centuries. This development was chiefly promoted by the unifying effect of the Catholic Church that considered the populated parts of present-day Finland to be one Episcopal See and took it for granted that the Christians of that See would consider themselves as kinsmen.

It was the Swedish regent, Birger Jarl, who managed to stabilise Swedish rule in Finland through the so-called Second Swedish Crusade, most often dated to 1249, which was aimed at Tavastians who had turned heathen 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 in medieval European civilisation. 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 urbanisation was very low in medieval Finland. Southern Finland and the long coastal zone of the Bothnian Gulf had a sparse farming settlement, organised 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.

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