Vikings In Finland

Were there ever Vikings in Finland or Finnish Vikings?

Vikings, the enigmatic seafaring warriors that roamed northern Europe from approximately 800 to 1050 AD, continue to interest people to this day. Vikings are often portrayed as ruthless pirates, but their long and varied history reveals them to be versatile characters. Today, we’re going to ask if there were ever Vikings in Finland or indeed, Finnish Vikings.

While most people associate Vikings with countries like Norway and Sweden, the role of Finland in the history of the Vikings is unclear to many. Were there Vikings in Finland? Or, better yet, did Finnish Vikings ever exist? The answers to these questions might not be as clear-cut as one would imagine.

During the Viking Age, Finland was located in the path of many trade routes to and from Russia, and thus served as a pivotal midway point between Norway and Sweden and Russia. The southernmost areas of Finland were largely inhabited by settlers from other Nordic countries at the time, perhaps due to Finland’s location between the two areas.

Since the Vikings were known to voyage to areas much further than Scandinavia, it is no surprise that they spent a considerable amount of time in Finland and other surroundings areas. The history of early Finland undoubtedly features the Vikings heavily, but just how heavily?

Who were the Vikings?

The beginning of the roam of the Vikings, and thus the time period that is referred to in Nordic countries as the Viking Age, began in the late 700s and continued to the year 1066. The Vikings descended from the areas that are today known as Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, and were mostly pagans.

Old Norse was the prevalent language in the area at the time, and the term Viking comes from the Old Norse word vikingr, which could be translated as “to pirate”. Before they became known as Vikings, most were known as Norsemen.

However, Vikings should not be considered a race or ethnicity; since they hailed from various countries, they are considered simply a people.

Although opinions vary, most experts agree that the first Viking raids were done as a response to the overpopulation of their living areas and to fight Christian persecution. The first Viking raid, which took place on a monastery on an island off the coast of England, established the Vikings’ reputation as one of savagery and senselessness.

As the Vikings continued to attack coastal towns and cities, their reputation proceeded them and residents of vulnerable areas began to take precaution by building walls and harbours to prevent the Vikings from reaching shore.

The Vikings travelled on the iconic Viking longships, which were built with meticulous care and detail. Being a Viking was a thing of honor: in their home lives, the Vikings were struggling farmers, but as Vikings, they were feared and in control. Raiding towns allowed the Vikings to be as uncivilized and wild as they wanted, which was a stark contrast from the righteous, devout Christians they were expected to be at home.

The Vikings continued their attacks and voyages around Europe and neighboring areas for centuries, and their impact on the history of Europe is widespread and deep. Did you know that the name of the Normandy area in France, for example, comes from the words “land of the Norsemen”?

Vikings In Finland

Finland during the Viking Age

The Viking Age in Finland is often overlooked by Finnish history experts, as it falls between the Stone Age and the Middle Ages, both of which have a much more detailed history in Finland.

The beginnings of the Finnish language and culture, which of course are of deep interest to researchers, are found in the Stone Age, and the Middle Ages have been more widely documented. The Viking Age remains somewhat mysterious, likely due to the relatively small amount of concrete evidence of Vikings in Finland.

When Vikings began their journeys throughout Europe, Finland was largely inhabited by the ancestors of who would eventually be known as sámi people. Some experts suggest that the Vikings may have feared Finns and thought of them as witches or otherwise supernatural or even devilish people.

However, the Viking Age graves that have been discovered in Finland have contained more weaponry than on average in other Nordic countries, suggesting a heavy Viking and overall warrior presence in Finland during those times. Very little evidence exists of Finnish warriors in other countries, however, meaning that Finnish warriors and possible Finnish Vikings stayed mostly in the Finland area.

During the Viking Age, many areas in Finland were incredibly active as a result of its location on the path of many trade routes. Slavs and Scandinavians mixed with Finns from all around the country, resulting in a lively mix of cultures.

The Vikings who were passing through or settled in Finland likely turned to Finns for advice on how to approach Russia and other neighboring areas that Finns were more familiar with.

One might wonder why the Vikings never took over Finland like they did in so many other areas — although the thought of heroic early Finns defending their country is a pleasant one, the real reason is likely the fact that Finland at the time was too poor and cold to interest the Vikings enough to take over.

Furs were abundant in Finland, but otherwise the area offered little natural resources to entice the Vikings.

Did Vikings ever go to Finland?

Yes, definitely. Even if experts at times differ in their opinions on how widespread the Vikings’ travels in Finland were, the consensus is that Vikings certainly travelled through the area and some even settled for longer periods of times.

The story of Olaf Haraldsson, who would later become the King of Norway and was by then known as Saint Olaf, is one of the best known tales that tie the Vikings to Finland. Olaf, who was a Viking in his youth, travelled with his fellow Vikings to Finland in the early 1000s and took part in the battle of Herdaler in southern Finland.

The battle ended poorly for Olaf, whose troops were ambushed by Finns and largely killed. Olaf spent approximately a decade in Finland and returned to Norway in 1015, defeated.

Viking runestones, which were used as memorials for fallen comrades, also shed some light on Vikings’ times in Finland. A runestone found in Sweden memorializes a Viking called Egil who, according to the inscription on the stone, was killed in a battle in Finland, as was a Viking called Auðvaldr, whose runestone was found in Gotland.

A third Viking killed in Finland, Ótryggr, was memorialized in Sweden by his parents in what is likely the earliest mention of Finland in Viking runestones, but the stone has since been misplaced.

Vikings In Finland

Were Finns Vikings? Are Finns descended from Vikings?

Since Vikings descended from Norsemen, who would today be considered mostly Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, Finns are not considered to have been Vikings at any point. That is not to say, however, that Finns did not partake in Viking quests or worked with Vikings throughout the Viking Age.

Since Vikings had to pass through Finland to get to Russian territories, they spent considerable time among Finns and historical evidence shows that Finns and Vikings worked closely together.

Millions of Viking descendants exist in the modern world today, many of them unaware of their genetic background. For example, experts say that anyone with a surname ending in “sen” or “son” (such names as Thompson or Watson) is likely a descendant of Vikings.

Since Viking settlements exist throughout Europe, residents of countries outside Scandinavia could easily be Viking descendants. What about Finns, then, since they are also a Nordic country?

Finns from the western areas of the country, near the Norwegian and Swedish borders, have the most in common genetically with Scandinavians, and this lineage likely goes back to Viking times.

During the Viking Age, there was migration from Sweden and Norway to Finland, which would explain the mixture of Finnish and Scandinavian heritage in the western areas.

Although there is only a little bit of Viking blood in Finns, experts agree that some Finns joined the Vikings and took part in their voyages around Europe.

Finnish warriors

Even if Finns were not Vikings per se, Finland at the time had no lack of warriors. Archaeological excavations in Finland have uncovered weaponry from the Viking Age, which in those times meant mostly spears, shields, and axes.

The battle-ax that was most popular at the time, tappara, lives on in Finnish culture: a popular local hockey team takes its name from the weapon. As mentioned, some Finnish warriors joined the Vikings on their quests.

One of the most notable ancient remnant areas in Finland can be found in Luistari, western Finland, and was originally discovered in 1969. Some of the findings included a mass grave featuring the bodies of more than 1,300 warriors.

One of the bodies was found wrapped in luxurious fabrics and decorated with weapons, which could indicate that the deceased was a notable warrior; some experts have even deemed him to have been a Finnish Viking.

Vikings In Finland

Vikings in popular culture today

Nearly a thousand years after the Viking Age, Vikings continue to fascinate people. Their reputation as wild savages may be somewhat warranted, but Vikings were not only wild seamen: their harsh living conditions had undoubtedly rubbed off on them, but Vikings upheld a well-functioning society that had room for poetry, storytelling, sports, and music.

The impact of the Viking Age was perhaps more widespread than today’s Europeans even realize — many traditions and even names have descended from Viking times throughout the years.

Some remnants of the Viking Age may be surprising: according to experts, the spread of multiple sclerosis disease in Europe was put in motion by the Vikings. The Finnish names for weekdays also derive from their Viking equivalents.

The popular TV show Vikings ran from 2013 to 2020 and was inspired by the stories about Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the most notable Viking heroes.

If Finns found a way to integrate themselves in the Viking culture during the Viking Age, they did not fall short in the fictional depiction either: Finnish actors Jasper Pääkkönen and Peter Franzén had main roles in the series.

Franzén played the character of King Harald Fairhair, who was based on the namesake first king of Norway. Pääkkönen portrayed the fictional character Halfdan the Black, who was based on both the Viking chieftain Hastein and Halfdan the Black, who was the father of Harald Fairhair.

Of course, Thor, whom Vikings considered their god, is also a popular character. Although the mythical creature Thor existed well before the Viking Age, Thor gained popularity among Vikings and was considered their mightiest leader.

Thor’s famous hammer is depicted in several Viking runestones that can be found in Sweden and Denmark.

Spots to see Viking history in Finland

If you are interested in the Vikings and are taking a trip to Finland, you are in luck! Remnants of the Viking Age and celebrations of the culture can be found all over the country.

Here are some of the most notable spots for Viking history in Finland:

Rosala Viking Center

The Rosala Viking Center is located in the Kemiönsaari island in the archipelago in the south of Finland. Hiittinen and Rosala, the two archipelago villages, welcome visitors from May to September to sightsee and enjoy the beautiful nature, but the Viking Center is perhaps the largest attraction in the area.

The chieftain hall, Rodeborg, where large Viking feasts took place, is the main building in the village. The dwelling house, Farmansgården, is where the Vikings rested. There is even a Viking ship, the Hogland, on the grounds!

The Rosala center also offers a glimpse into a lesser-known part of the Viking culture: the women. When the men fought in battles, the women maintained the premises and kept everything running smoothly for when the men would return, weary and hungry.

Exhibitions in the center feature a weapon museum, crafts and instruments, and an herb garden that emulates the ones that the Viking women maintained in the village.

Saltvik Viking Fair

The Saltvik Viking Fair is hosted every July in the Åland Islands, which is an autonomous territory of Finland off the coast of Turku. Saltvik is one of the oldest areas of the islands, with a history dating back to the Viking Age — in fact, so far the only Viking rune stone that has been found in Finland was dug up on these islands.

The fair, which draws more than 10,000 visitors each year, turns the area into a replica Viking village, complete with musical performances, craftsmen working with leather and silver, and food stands serving Viking style dishes.

Have you always dreamed of hopping on a Viking ship? At the fair, even that is possible! The construction of the Borge Swyn ship was one of the largest endeavors of the Saltvik Viking association, and today, the ship is available for short and long trips in the area.

Some of the other highlights of the fair are the Viking battle performances, played by actors in full costume.

Härkänummi Viking Age Village

The Viking Age Village in Härkänummi, western Finland, comes to life around Midsummer each year. The popular weekend event imitates a Viking Age fair, complete with a blacksmith, an herbal expert, a hunter, a storyteller, a jewelry maker, and a bread maker.

Food, performances, and archery are also available to visitors.

Museums

Several museums in Finland feature Viking Age findings in their permanent collections. The Naurava Lohikäärme (Laughing Dragon) Information Center of Prehistory in Eura, western Finland, offers an interactive Viking experience: try to lift the heavy Viking shield on the premises, or imagine yourself as a Viking Age woman by weaving the fabrics on site.

The National Museum of Finland and the Museum of Central Finland also have Viking Age findings on site.

The Viking age in Finland

Hopefully this article shed some light on Finland and Vikings — even if the answer to the questions “were the Finnish Vikings?” and “did Vikings come from Finland?” is no, as you can see, there is definitely still plenty of evidence of Vikings in Finland.

The Viking Age impacted all of Europe heavily, and Finland was no exception. The Vikings represented freedom, strength, adventure, and success, and it is no wonder that they continue to fascinate humans to this day.

To get into the Viking mood, stop by the Viking Fair or the Viking Center — or, if you are unable to visit Finland, delve into the many written stories of Vikings in Finland!

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