It has been estimated by archaeologists, that the genetical and cultural ancestors of Finns have lived in Fennoscandian peninsula for some 12- 10 000 years. (Double the age of the earth if compared to the genealogies of the Bible.) First historical comment is from Cornelius Tacitus 97 AD whose account does not even make it very clear if he is actually talking about Finns, or our close relatives the Saami, or the Estonians. Or if, actually the Sithones whose lifestyle closest resembles, the one we now know from archaeology, our ancestors had, is a description about our ancestors, or some of our Swedish neighbours (whose lifestyle choises may have been rather similar to our ancestors).

The Swedes and other Scandinavians reappear to the pages of history, since their disappearance from record with the downfall of the Western Roman empire, when their neighbours the French and the Britons re-learn to write historical annals again. And the early descriptions from the 8th century are of norther barbarians coming with their boats to plunder and pillage. Today still those barbarians are called the Vikings. But despite Finland is one of the Nordic countries, it is not part of geographical Scandinavia. Most of the Finns are not ethnic Scandinavians (though some are) and the Finnish language is not a germanic language as the Scandinavian languages. Thus the Finns were not Vikings. Not as such.

When the Vikings were assimilated to the Christendom in the 11th century and they in their turn learned to write historical annals and chronicles, they also describe northern barbarians coming to raid and pillage. And those barbarians were called the Finns. Presumably this raiding had been going on for centuries before, but it only ended up in historical sources when the people subjected to this horror first could make historical sources of their predicament.

One of the ancient Norse Sagas tells us of the Norvegian king Olaf, who tried to Christen the Norwegians but failed and was martyred in the process and subsequently was also proclaimed a saint. This saga also tells us how he as a young man and a “sea king” raided Finland but was defeated by the tribal army of the Finns and barely succeeded in escaping the storm conjured by the Finnish witches. Now, even though we do not take it at face value that Finns actually managed to conjure a storm by magic, it is interresting, that the saga describes both Finnish witches summoning the storm and the subsequent weather conditions very much like the ones we specifically often get in our sea areas today.

Both Swedish and Russian early chronicles tell tales of the Finns attacking on their territory and coming with fleets of ships to raid. The Novgorodian chronicles tell how the “Sum” (the Finns Proper) and “Jem” (the Central Finns) made repeated attacks against territories taxed by the city of Novgorod and how the merchant princes decendants of mighty Variagi Norhtmen drove these raiders from their lands.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

A tribal Finnish warrior armed with a spear, sword and a wooden leather covered shield whith a wooden boss. He wears a fur hat, a cloack that is bound by a fibula from his hip, leaving his right hand free to act, a kneelength woollen tunic, linen underwear, woollen hose, leg wrappings and leather shoes. He does not carry his bow nor arrows and has for some reason stepped down from his skis into the snow.

The Swedish chronicles tell how one of the mythical early kings of Sweden – Erik the Holy – took to arms to stop the Finns raiding on the Swedish shores and archipelago. His attempt to pacify the Finns was called the first crusade in these stories. According to this legend he took with him a Gaelic Bishop called Henrik and sailed to Finland where he asked the Finns to accept the Christian faith, but they made mockery of him. Then  the Finns gave him battle, but lost. Then the king returned to Sweden and left his bishop to rule in Finland in his stead. The legend also tells us how one of the Finnish chieftains rebelled and made a martyr of the said bishop.

The so called first crusade has no surviving contemporary sources and alltough king Erik who led the warparty is a historical character and confirmed so by some contemporaries, his ally the Bishop Henrik has regrettably left no contemporary sources of himself. But the legend was written down after a shorter a while – only some 150 years – than it took the Islanders to write down their sagas telling tales from the Viking age. So, we have every reason to believe that the descriptions of the legend of the first crusade to Finland are based on actual events, though we do not know wether how accurate the description of events is. Certainly we do not think that the mythical parts about the rebel Chieftain Lalli loosing all of his hair by miraculous revenge for him killing a bishop is very accurate. Or do we?

It is surmissable, that the reason why the legend describes a divine revenge as the fate of chieftain Lalli, is because the Swedish rule was not really established in Finland at the time and no actual revenge for killing the Bishop could be achieved. The kingdom of Sweden was only in the process of forming and internal strife was constant. Hence, the Swedish kings were busy fighting for their position, and alltough a crusade/raid/counterstrike/pre-emptive strike against the Finns Proper may have been a good propaganda stunt for a contestant to the throne initially a continous war beyond the sea against foreign barbarians would have been expensive and futile, while there were other contestants to the throne.

It has been presented that Christianity came to Finland peacefully through the work of missionaries and merchantmen, but I believe this view is strongly informed by an ideal vision of what Christians of our day would see their religion as. A religion of love and peace and a very model of humanist ideals of secular society. But there are no historical nor sociological reasons or evidence to assume that the early Finns turned from their own religious and spiritual traditions into other sort of religion any more peacefully than any of our neighbouring nations and infact there are an abundance of evidence to the countrary. A nother religion is assumed by a tribe or a nation only when their leading figures assume it for military/political/economical reasons. Or when such leadership is overthrown by a new group of leaders who receive military/political/economical support from the new religion.

The way Finns are depicted in the early chronicles by our neighbouring Scandinavians and Russians is as a horde of pillaging pagan raiders moving rapidly by boats and armed by spears, bows, shields, axes and swords. A picture confirmed by the abundant archeological evidence from the era. The Finns do not equal in fame or achievement of their neigbbours the Vikings as fierce barbarians. But according to the archaeological evidence some of them did travelled whith the Scandinavians all the way to Byzantium and perhaps beyond.

Advertisements