[ End of article ]

When Did Our Ancestors Come From Sweden to Finland?

Pär-Erik Levlin

The question most genealogists get, even in Finland, is: When did our ancestors come from Sweden to Finland? We have to begin with the Swedish language. It belongs to a group of languages called Indo-European languages. In this group there are not only Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German and English, but also Latin and its daughters Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and languages as Greek, the Slavic languages, the Celtic languages, Hindi and its oldest form Sanskrit spoken in India. All these languages are related to each other - they have the same origin. Where did we once have this origin?

Through comparative philology the philologists have tried to find words in the oldest known forms of these languages that are most like each other. These words must come from the original language and by collecting them, they give a picture of the people who used them and their surroundings.

Archaeologists can also tell us about an early time of migration in Europe 4,000 years ago. This migration started from the grasslands in South Russia, south of the Ural Mountains and north and east of the Caspian Sea. Tribes of people lived there who were in accordance with the picture of the early Indo-Europeans. Part of them began to move in small tribes, some south down into the Indian peninsula, some west to Europe. They settled all over Europe.

From these tribes we best know of the Greeks and the Romans. But as we know how they grew from small tribes surrounded by people speaking other non Indo-European languages, we can understand what happened to those who went north. Northern Europe was not empty when the immigrants arrived. Five thousand years earlier the first people were following the ice inland as it was melting. They were hunting and fishing. Agriculture was brought into Sweden 1,000 years earlier but there were only small groups of farmers in Skåne, Västergötland and Åland; places where it was easy to farm.

In this part of Europe, new people were moving in. They were called the "boat axe people" because a special stone axe was found in their graves. The ax was an exact copy of a cast bronze axe so the people had seen bronze axes but could not afford them as they were costly. The boat axes were used as battle axes and mostly as status symbols.

At this time the same people also moved into Finland. They came along the east side of the Baltic sea and they went to Sweden over Denmark, but also from Finland and the Åland islands. The same boat axes were found in Finland. From skeletons it was learned they were rather tall, with high foreheads and very narrow craniums. They were cattle breeders, had cows, horses and wagons. At that time the climate in Sweden and Finland was much warmer, the winters were short so cattle could find food all through the year.

There was not much fighting between the new and old people as there was no competition for food. The country was very sparsely populated in Finland with some hunters; in Sweden also some farmers. The farmers soon had to submit to the boat-axe people and pay tribute or continue farming as their slaves. In the long run the people mixed with each other.

As these people with cattle herds came up to the Baltic Sea they learned to build boats rowed with up to 30 pairs of oars. They built up a trade based on export of slaves, amber and furs to countries around the Mediterranean Sea and they soon erected a bronze age culture here in the north that was not much like the Greek culture. Pictures from their religious life can be seen in many places in Sweden carved on stone slabs.

In the bronze age 1,600 to 500 years before Christ most parts of Sweden up to present day Skellefteå were populated. In Finland the coasts of the Finnish Gulf and the Gulf of Bothnia were populated up to Karleby. In the inland region they settled along the Kumo River up around the lakes where Tammerfors is today.

This rich time in our prehistory ended about 400 years before Christ. It ended because of a change in the climate to much colder and longer winters. For the primitive farmers the crops failed and before the people had learned to take winter food for the cattle in the summer, a big part of the cattle starved. The memory of this hard time is preserved in the folklore as the saga of the Fimbulwinter, the long hard winter.

The good days were over. People starved and many moved south. The population went down and they who were left were much poorer. In Finland they still speak about an empty land, but lack of finds doesn't prove lack of people.

Even if it is hard to prove what language a people spoke long ago, we often have something that proves that a certain language has been spoken in a place. This is names of places, rivers, seas, etc. There are plenty of such ancient Nordic names in Finland. As examples here are river names from today unchanged through time, or with the Finnish "joki" meaning river, added to the old name:
NisajokiIn Norway there is river Nisa
VirojokiIn Sweden there is river Vira
KutajokiFrom Guda; a Finn can't say "g" so he says "k" and for "d" he says "t"
VirmaIn Norway there is Verma
Vandanear Helsingfors, means water river
Aura & Eurafrom aur - meaning gravel
Raumatown by Räma river. Same river name in Norway and Iceland
Kumåby Björneborg; means river is navigable
Kyråcow river
KelviåIn Sweden there is lake Kälven
SikajokiIn Norway there is river Sika

This shows that we have and have had, on both sides of the Gulf of Bothnia, people speaking the same language. The Roman write Tacitus, who in the year 98 after Christ wrote the history of the Nordic people, also tells us that. He said, "On the east side of the gulf lives the Sitones and they are all like the Svions (svearna), they are ruled by a queen". Siton or Sidon comes from skia - the side of the water and a village there still has the name Sideby, perhaps from Sidonby.

How and when did the Finnish people come into the picture. Tribes speaking the Finnish-Ugrian language lived in the woods in northern Russia and Siberia from the Bering Sea to Ladoga. The Russian people were then, in the 6th to 10th century, built up by mixing Finns from the north, Slavic people from the west, and Tatars from the south. With them the Nordian Viking Rurik founded the Russian state in the 10th century.

The eastern part of Europe had for 1,000 years been a well-known outlying land for the people from Sweden and Finland. They found their way along the rivers to Miklagard - Istanbul and found laborers there. They did not take as many Slavic as they did Finnish and soon found that the Finnish were good workers. Only the coast was populated with the inland mostly empty, populated by furred animals. The merchants wanted to sell furs, but the animals had to be hunted first so the Finns were told to move in. Those who controlled the estuaries controlled the trade and fixed the price. Finns settled in Finland and spread there from west to east. In the Icelandic sagas we learned that a big farmer gave land to good workers he could trust. As in Finland the land was sparsely populated. Perhaps this was how many Finns got their own farms and thus the Finnish language came into Finland.

In Kaland there were so many Finnish-speaking people that in the long run the Finnish language took over, perhaps because it is easier for a Swede to learn Finnish than for a Finn to learn Swedish. There are many sounds in Swedish that are hard for a Finn to pronounce and even hear, since they are not found in the Finnish language. There is not one sound in Finnish that isn't found in Swedish. The biggest differences between the languages are the language melody, the accent and different words.

Even the words were not so different during early times. There are thousands of words from the old Nordic language preserved in Finnish, so Finnish is one of the main sources for researchers of ancient Swedish. That proves the close contact between Finns and Swedes. The official history in Finland still mentions about Finns moving into an empty land and that the Swedes came to Finland in 1157 with the crusade of Holy Erik. The monks wrote about him in a legend as they wanted to get him canonized as a saint for Sweden. They wrote that he led a crusade to Finland, Christianized the Finns and occupied the land with Swedish men. In early times all historians believed that, as they believed all that was written. Now they look more critically at all the sources: why was it written and why did they write?

The monks wanted to get a Swedish saint as they thought it could be easier to keep the Swedish people Christians if they had their own saint to pray to. But it had to be a man they knew about, preferably a king. The problem was that the kings from that time were no saints. The fact is, they made up the story about the crusade. It is very unlikely he led it as he was not a king of Sweden.

When then was Finland connected to Sweden? At the time of Tacitus 100 years after Christ, Sweden was divided into many small parts, so small that in Svealand between Stockholm and Uppsala there were three of them. Biggest was Tihundaland, a kingdom of ten hundare of what we now call parishes. We don't know how many kingdoms there were in Finland, but we know it was divided in hundare as the Finnish word "kunta" comes from hundare. In the old Kaland there were about 100 hundares as the Finnish name is "satakunta", meaning 100 hundares..

The connection to Sweden must have been long and rather strong as the oldest laws were almost the same. We know they fought, too, as the different kingdoms in Sweden also did. In Sweden they moved toward a united kingdom in the 6th century. I think there was a gradual development of the connection between Finland and Sweden, and it grew stronger as Finland needed help against the Russians or Novgorod. Novgorod tried to find a free route to the west and to Sweden; Finland tried to keep a hand in this route to profit on trade to Russia. For this they fought from time to time until Czar Peter founded St. Petersburg, now Leningrad, in the beginning of the 18th century.

There is no anthropological difference between Finns and Swedes in Finland and Swedes in Sweden. Professor Nevanlinna of the University of Helsingfors has estimated the Finns' eastern roots to be between one-fourth to one-third and that will also be the Swedes' eastern roots. Laborers for Sweden were also brought in from the east. There was no segregation in the old Nordic society. The oldest law said that if one of the parents of a child was a slave, the child was a slave. In the middle of the 12th century this was changed so that if one of the parents was free the child was free. From this time on, the law also said that no one could sell his child or himself into slavery. In the middle of the 13th century slavery was first forbidden in Sweden. There is no doubt that the Finns are one of the Scandinavian peoples not only geographically but also anthropologically.

The word "Finn" is an old word that originally had nothing to do with a certain people. From very old times there is the name "Finnveden" south of Stockholm. It is the combination with "veden" instead of "skog" for wood that shows it is very old. From Swedish "finne" comes the verb "finna, to find" and means a person so poor or living at such a low development phase that he lives on what he can find. In olden times people in Sweden called everyone living on the east side of the gulf "Finns" regardless of what language they spoke. At the time the use of slang words of abuse was very common. Today the word "Finn" is accepted as the name of the Finnish-speaking people.

No one can estimate the proportion of Finnish and Swedish-speaking people in Finland in olden times. We can't find any sign of a movement from Sweden to Finland in the 12th and 13th centuries, but in the 14th century we know that many Swedish-speaking people moved from Finland to Sweden. In Sweden that is called "västfinska invandringen", the Westfinn immigration. From the beginning of the 17th century we can approximate the population of Finland at 350,000 people. Of them about 80,000 were Swedish-speaking or 23 %. Today this total is about 6-7 % and the population 4,900,000.

Text from a speech given at a reunion in Metropolitan, Michigan, July 4, 1987.

Published by SFHS Newsletter 1993, Vol. 2, No. 4

© Pär-Erik Levlin

[ Beginning of article ]