Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Sweden conquered Finland in the Middle Ages

A new article is shedding light on how the Kingdom of Sweden was able to conquer and take control the lands of southern Finland between the 13th and 15th centuries.

In his article, "Sweden's Conquest of Finland: A Clash of Cultures," Philip Line examines how the kingdom of Sweden was able to impose their rule on Finland and convert its inhabitants to Christianity. The article appears in the book The Clash of Cultures on the Medieval Baltic Frontier, edited by Alan V. Murray.

Fine notes that many of the sources for this conquest "are both meagre and suspect," but that some information can be found from archaeological sources. Until the 13th century, the area of southern Finland seems to have been sparsely populated with just a small Christian presence. Both Sweden and the Russian state of Novgorod launched raids into the area, and Fine believes that one of the reasons for the Swedes making more aggressive moves into Finland was to prevent the territory and its trade routes from being taken by the Novgorodians first.

The article also describes the religious dimension to the conquest of Finland. Fine describes how the Pope was receiving news in the first half of the 13th century of various problems with the local bishopric. Fine notes that religious conversion was one of the main goals of the conquest, and that the military expedition by the Swedes in 1249 was called a crusade.

Fine writes that this was a "relatively bloodless conquest" that slowly achieved its goals by establishing castles and fortifications to take control of local areas, bringing in Swedish colonists, and by setting up ecclesiastical organization in these areas to convert the people and impose Swedish law on them. The largest problem that the Swedes had seems to have been in forcing the native population into paying church and state taxes.

The article is one of 16 found in The Clash of Cultures on the Medieval Baltic Frontier. The others deal with the warfare and crusades that took place in the Baltic region during the Later Middle Ages, while others are about the religious struggles between Catholic and Orthodox churches.