Early Finnish wars

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Painting of the death of Olaf II in 1030 who was defeated in Finland in 1008 in the Battle at Herdaler

Early Finnish wars are scattered descriptions of conflicts involving Finnish tribes or Finland prior to the gradual Swedish conquest of Finland in 13th and 14th centuries. Earliest historical accounts of conflicts involving Finnish tribes, such as Tavastians, Karelians, Finns proper and Kvens, has survived in Icelandic sagas and in German, Norwegian, Danish and Russian chronicles as well as in Swedish legends and in Birch bark manuscripts. The most important sources are Novgorod First Chronicle, Primary Chronicle and Eric Chronicles.

Fortifications are known from Finland already from the Stone Age onwards. In Yli-Ii by the Iijoki river is located the Kierikki Stone Age fortress, which was built on piles and fortificated with palisade.[1] Also the approximately 40 Giant's Churches from the Neolithic period (3500-2000 BCE) found from the northwest coast of Finland may have served as fortifications.[2] Bronze Age hillforts have also been found from Finland, such as Hautvuori in Laitila and Vanhalinna in Lieto. In the Merovingian period belligerence and military hierarchy has been emphasized.[3] Hillforts get more common from Iron Age forward.[4] According to the earliest historical documents in the Middle Ages Finnic tribes around the Baltic Sea were often in conflict with each other as well as against other entities in the area.

Oldest historical traces of conflicts in Finland are runestones GS 13 and U 582 which are dated to the early 11th century. Runestones are commemorating Vikings killed in Finland. Runestone G 319, which is dated to the early 13th century, also mentions Viking killed Finland.

Early written sources[edit]

King Erik Bloodaxe is instigated by his wife Gunnhild to kill the Sámi wizards (illustration by Christian Krohg), an incident of doubtful historical validity, but reflecting an early history of prejudice and conflict

Several medieval sagas and other early historical sources mention wars and conflicts related to Finnish tribes and to Finland.

Finland was probably the same as Terra Feminarum which was attacked by Sweden in the 1050s CE, as described in Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church) by Adam of Bremen in 1075.[citation needed] According to the source, the attack ended in the Swedish defeat, and led to the death of the king's son who was in charge of the campaign. Information on the conflict is however convoluted.

Ynglingasaga written in early 13th century describes military expedition to Finland at the end of the 4th century by mythological Swedish king Agne. However, it is disputed whether the Old Norse concept of Finland refers to the present country of Finland; alternatively it could have meant the land of the Sámi.

Legendary Orkneyinga saga written around 1230 tells about Nor who travelled from Kvenland to Norway and took over the entire country. Based on the saga's internal chronologies, the war would have taken place on the 6th or 7th century CE. Another version of the saga, Hversu Noregr byggdist, however omits the Kvenland part completely.

Norna-Gests þáttr saga from the early 14th century tells that Kvens (probably referring to a group of Finns) were raiding in Sweden in the mid-8th century.[5] In the late 9th century, king Eric Anundsson was said to have conquered Finland, with several other eastern countries.[6] However, all other accounts of the king exclude Finland from his conquests. Norwegian Ohthere tells in the Old English Orosius from 890 that Norwegians and Kvens (Qwenas) were in conflict with each other from time to time.[7]

The best-known Swedish war against Finland presumably took place in the 1150s known as the legendary First Swedish Crusade. Whether it ever actually happened, is however not certain as the information is based on the late 13th century legends. Sweden eventually took over Finland during the so-called Second Swedish Crusade around 1249 against Tavastians and the Third Swedish Crusade against Karelians in 1293. By the beginning of the 14th century, records of independent Finnish military activities ceased to surface.

Grand prince Yaroslav who attacked Finland in 1227 according to Novgorod First Chronicle.

Saga of Olaf Haraldson tells how the Saint Olaf himself, the King of Norway, plundered in Finland around 1008 and almost got killed at the Battle at Herdaler.[8] Vague chronicle entries briefly mention Danish expeditions to Finland in the 1190s and 1202.[9] Nothing is known about their results except what can be read from a papal letter[10] from 1209 to the Archbishop of Lund which lets the reader understand the church in Finland be at least partly established by Danish efforts. According to Icelandic chronicles, Kvens were raiding in northern Norway in 1271.[11]

Most of the historical sources mentioning Finns are the Finnish-Novogorodian wars described mainly in Novgorod First Chronicle and in the Primary Chronicle. Some of these conflicts are also described in Sofia First Chronicle, Nikon Chronicle and in Laurentian Codex.[12] Finnic groups and the Republic of Novgorod waged a series of wars between the 11th and 14th centuries. They probably contributed to the Finns' eventual subjugation to the Catholic Church and the Kingdom of Sweden.

List of early Finnish wars and conflicts[edit]

Year Conflict Summary
Conflicts before the 11th century
4th century Mythological king Agne makes expedition to Finland Ynglingan saga tells of a campaign by the mythical Swedish king Agne to Finland. The Finnish army was led by a person whose name in the saga is translated to Froste.[13]
7th century Finns as mercanaries in Scandinavia Finnish warriors served in the courts of Denmark and Uppland.[14]
9th century Kvens raid Sweden Story of Norna-Gest tells of raids done by Kvens to Sweden.[15] Ohthere of Hålogaland tells of skirmishes between Finns and Norwegians.[16]
9th century Mythological king Eric Anundsson makes campaigns to East Heimskringla written in c. 1230 describes Eric Anundsson conquering for himself "Finland, Kirjalaland, Courland, Esthonia, and the eastern countries".[6]
c. 818 Finnish king Matul supports Bjarms against Danish king Ragnar Lodbrok According to Saxo Grammaticus in Gesta Danorum Finnish king Matul supported Bjarms against Danish king Ragnar.[17] Suomen kronikka dates the event to c. 818.[18]
11th century
11th century Viking raid to Finland Runestone Gs 13 in Gävle describes the death of a Viking named Egil on a campaign to Tavastia lead by Freygeirr sometime in the early 11th century.
1008 Battle at Herdaler Olaf II of Norway is defeated by Finns somewhere in Uusimaa.[19]
c.1030-1050 Viking raid to Finland Runestone U 582 describes Viking named Ótrygg killed in Finland. According to historian Unto Salo the raid was done between 1030-1050.[20]
1042 Vladimir Yaroslavich makes expedition against Finns The prince of Novgorod Vladimir Yaroslavich makes a campaign against Finns.[21]
c.1060-1080 Lithuanians make campaign against Karelians. Birchbark manuscript 590 describes Lithuanians making a campaign against Karelians.[22][23]
12th century
1123 Vsevolod of Pskov makes capaign against Finns The prince of Novgorod Vsevolod of Pskov makes a campaign in spring during the fasting against Finns.[21]
1142 Finns make campaign against Novgorod Finns make a campaign against Novgorod and Ladoga and are defeated.[24]
1143 Karelians make campaign against Tavastians Karelians attack against Tavastians via sea, but escape after losing two ships.[24]
1149 Finns make campaign against Votes Finns make campaign with few thousand men against Votes who are supported by Novgorod with 500 men.[24]
1149 Karelians support Novgorod against Suzdalians Karelians make a campaign with Novgorod and Pskovians against Suzdalians.[25]
c.1155 First Swedish crusade Swedish king Eric IX and English clergyman Henry make possibly the first Swedish crusade to Finland against Finns proper.[24]
1171 or 1172 Gravis Admodum Pope Alexander III calls for capturing the possible fortifications of Finns proper in Gravis Admodum on 9. September, since every time they are not threatened by enemies they renounce Catholic Faith and return to Finnish Paganism.[26]
1186 Vyshata Vasilevits makes campaign against Finns Vyshata Vasilevits from Novgorod makes a campaign against Finns.[24]
1187 Pillage of Sigtuna Karelians (or Estonians or Curonians) pillage the city on 12 July. The Bishop of Uppsala and the Yarl are killed.[27][28]
1191 Novgorod and Karelians campaign against Tavastians Novgorod and Karelians make a campaign against Tavastians with ships.[12]
1191 Danish crusade to Finland Danes make a crusade to Finland.[29]
13th century
1202 Danish crusade to Finland Danes make a crusade to Finland which is led by the Arcbishop of Lund Anders Sunesen and his Brother.
1221 The bishop of Finland attends to embargo against Novgorod Pope Honorius III recommends on 13. January that the bishop of Finland, most likely Thomas, to organize embargo against Novgorod eventough it is unpleasant measure to Gotland and Hanseatic League.[30]
1227 Yaroslav II makes campaign against Finns Prince of Novgorod Yaroslav II makes a campaign against Finns.[24]
1228 Finns make campaign against Novgorod Finns make a campaign to ladoga with over 2000 men.[24]
1229 Finns proper fight to eradicate Christianity from their lands Pope Gregory IX condemns Gotland in his letter on 16. February for providing Finns proper with weapons, horses, ships and supplies which they use in their battle to eradicate Christian faith from their lands.[31]
1237 Häme insurrection Pope Gregory IX urge Catholic men to fight against Tavastians who have returned from Catholism to Finnish paganism in his letter on 9. December.[32]
1240 Battle of the Neva Swedes, Norwegians, Finns proper and Tavastians makes a campaign against Novgorod.[24]
1249-1250 Second Swedish crusade Second Swedish crusade to Finland against Tavastians.
1253 Karelians make a raid against Germans Karelians raid against Germans in the area of Narva.[12]
1256 Alexander Nevskiy makes a campaign to Finland Alexander Nevskiy makes a campaign to Finland after unsuccessful campaign of Finns proper, Tavastians and Swedes to Narva.[24]
1257 Karelians make expedition to Sweden Karelians make a devastating campaign to Sweden which lead King Valdemar to request Pope Alexander IV to commence a crusade against them.[12]
1271 Karelians and Kvens make campaign to Norway. Karelians and Kvens attack Hålogaland in Norway.[11]
1278 Dmitry Alexandrovich makes campaign to Karelia Prince of Novgorod Dmitry Alexandrovich decide to punish Karelians by conquering them.[24]
1283 Finns and Swedes make campaign to Neva and Ladoga. Swedes and Finns make a campaign to Neva and Ladoga area.
1284 Germans make campaign to Karelia German warlord Trunda makes campaign by boats and ships to Karelia via river Neva. His goal was the taxation of Karelians. Trunda and his men are defeated at the mouth of the river by Novgorodians with the men of Staraya Ladoga on the 9th of September.[33][21]
1292 Novgorod makes a campaign to Finland Novgorod makes a campaign to Finland.
1293 Third Swedish crusade Third Swedish crusade to Finland against Karelians.
14th century
1318 Novgorod makes campaign to Finland Novgorod makes campaign to Finland proper and burns the town of Turku.[34]
1323 Treaty of Nöteborg The Treaty of Nöteborg is signed 12 August. It divides Karelia between kingdom of Sweden and Novgorod.
1337 The Revolt of Käkisalmi Karelians revolt against Novgorod in Käkisalmi due to heavy taxation by Lithuanian Narimantas whom Novgorod had assigned to rule Karelia.


  1. ^ Georg Haggrén, Petri Halinen, Mika Lavento, Sami Raninen, Anna Wessman (2015). Muinaisuutemme jäljet. Gaudeamus. p. 79. 
  2. ^ Georg Haggrén, Petri Halinen, Mika Lavento, Sami Raninen, Anna Wessman (2015). Muinaisuutemme jäljet. Gaudeamus. p. 116. 
  3. ^ Georg Haggrén, Petri Halinen, Mika Lavento, Sami Raninen, Anna Wessman (2015). Muinaisuutemme jäljet. Gaudeamus. p. 275. 
  4. ^ Taavitsainen, J-P (1990). Ancient Hill-forts of Finland. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistyksen aikakauskirja 94. 
  5. ^ Norna-Gests þáttr, chapter 7. See also the English translation Archived May 14, 2006, at the Wayback Machine..
  6. ^ a b Saga of Olaf Haraldson. See chapter 81. THORGNY'S SPEECH.
  7. ^ Ottar's description of Kvenland.
  8. ^ http://omacl.org/Heimskringla/haraldson1.html Saga of Olaf Haraldson. See chapter 8: The Third Battle.
  9. ^ Excerpts from different Danish chronicles mentioning Finland. In Latin. Hosted by the National Archive of Finland. See "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-05-29.  and Diplomatarium Fennicum from the menu.
  10. ^ Letter "Ex Tuarum" Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine.. In Latin.
  11. ^ a b Íslenzkir annáler sive Annales Islandici ab anno Christi 809 ad annum 1430, pp. 140–141. Translation provided here is by the author of the article.
  12. ^ a b c d Edited by Martti Linna (1989). Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä. Historian Aitta. 
  13. ^ "OMACL: Heimskringla: The Ynglinga Saga". omacl.org. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  14. ^ Nielsen, K. H. "Euran miekka skandinaavisesta näkökulmasta". Viikinkejä Eurassa? Pohjoismaisia näkökulmia Suomen esihistoriaan. 2001. ISBN 9789529135615. 
  15. ^ "Fornaldarsögur Norðurlanda". www.germanicmythology.com. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  16. ^ "Ohthere's First Voyage (paragraph 5)". web.uvic.ca. Retrieved 2016-08-06. 
  17. ^ "The Testament of Cresseid". omacl.org. Retrieved 2017-08-07. 
  18. ^ Latinan kielestä suomentaneet Martti Linna, Jorma Lagerstedt, Erkki Palmen (1988). Johannes Messenius. Suomen, Liivinmaan ja Kuurinmaan vaiheita sekä tuntemattoman tekijän Suomen kronikka. Helsinki: Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seura. p. 40. ISBN 951-717-495-0. 
  19. ^ Edited by Joonas Ahola & Frog with Clive Tolley (2014). Fibula, Fabula, Fact: The Viking Age in Finland. Studia Fennica. p. 422. 
  20. ^ Peltovirta, Jukka (2000). Hämeen käräjät osa 1. Hämeen heimoliitto. p. 156. 
  21. ^ a b c "The Chronicle of Novgorod" (PDF). London Offices of the Society, 1914. Retrieved 1 February 2017. 
  22. ^ Uino, Pirjo (1997). Ancient Karelia. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistyksen aikakausikirja 104. pp. 194–195. 
  23. ^ "Древнерусские берестяные грамоты. Грамота №590". gramoty.ru (in Russian). Retrieved 2017-02-04. 
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  25. ^ Uino, Pirjo (1997). Ancient Karelia. Helsinki: Suomen muinaismuistoyhdistyksen aikakausikirja 104. p. 192. 
  26. ^ Edited by Martti Linna (1989). Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä. Historian Aitta. p. 24. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. 
  27. ^ Line, Philip (2007). Kingship and State Formation in Sweden, 1130-1290. BRILL. p. 333. ISBN 9004155783. 
  28. ^ Enn Tarvel (2007). Sigtuna hukkumine. Haridus, 2007 (7-8), p 38–41
  29. ^ Georg Haggren, Petri Halinen, Mika Lavento, Sami Raninen ja Anna Wessman (2015). Muinaisuutemme jäljet. Helsinki: Gaudeamus. p. 380. 
  30. ^ Tarkiainen, Kari (2010). Ruotsin itämaa. Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland. p. 94. ISBN 978-951-583-212-2. 
  31. ^ Edited by Martti Linna (1989). Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä. Historian aitta. p. 44. ISBN 9519600612. 
  32. ^ Edited by Martti Linna (1989). Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä. Historian aitta. p. 64. ISBN 9519600612. 
  33. ^ Edited by Martti Linna (1989). Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä. Historian aitta. p. 138. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. 
  34. ^ Tarkiainen, Kari (2010). Ruotsin itämaa. Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland. p. 93. ISBN 978-951-583-212-2. 

See also[edit]