Finnish-Novgorodian wars

Finnish-Novgorodian wars were a series of poorly documented conflicts that took place between unspecified Finnic groups and the Republic of Novgorod from the 11th or 12th century to early 13th century. The wars seem to have contributed to the eventual Swedish conquest of Finland in around 1249. The term used in Russian chronicles to refer the enemy, "Yem", is highly obscure. It is unclear whether it referred to inhabitants of Tavastland in south-central Finland (the most common interpretation), the West Finns in general [About the association of the term "Yem" with Finns, see "Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä". Historian aitta XXI. Gummerus kirjapaino Oy. Jyväskylä 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2.] or possibly a sub-group of Karelians on the northern coast of the Ladoga. [Pirjo Uino: "Ancient Karelia: Archaeological Studies". Helsinki 1997.]


The only known written sources on the Finnish-Novgorodian wars are from the medieval Russian chronicles. The Russians and "Yem" had frequent conflicts from the 11th or, more securely, the 12th century onwards. Sources never reveal any reason why the conflict got started and kept going on for at least 100 years, or which party was responsible for most of the offensives.

Noteworthy is, though, that the eastern Finnic peoples Votes, "Korela" (interpreted as Karelians in general or more specifically as the Karelians in SW coast of the Ladoga) and Izhorians are all mentioned as allies to Novgorod, said to have been fighting against Yem also without Novgorod's direct involvement.

Early developments

The earliest possible mention of hostilities is from the Laurentian Codex which records in passing that the Novgorodian Prince Vladimir Yaroslavich was at war with the "Yam" in 1042. [ [ Laurentian Codex entry about a Yam war in 1042] . In Swedish. Hosted by the [ National Archive of Finland] . See [] and "Diplomatarium Fennicum" from the menu.] The Yam are also mentioned as tributaries to Novgorod in the Primary Chronicle, [ [ Primary Chronicle] . In Russian.] but they disappear from sources later on. It is disputedwho?|date=September 2007 whether "Yam" was an earlier form of "Yem" or altogether different people, perhaps living east of the Lake Onega. [At the time of the conflict, Sweden still controlled access to the Baltic Sea. Also, Primary Chronicle does not mention Karelians or Izhorians who lived between Russians and Finns. Furthermore, the said Vladimir attacked Constantinople already in 1043, making it unlikely that he was fighting on the other side of the continent only a year earlier.]

Conflicts certainly began in the early 12th century, however information on them remains very scarce.

According to the Novgorod First Chronicle, another Prince of Novgorod, Vsevolod Mstislavich, and his troops from Novgorod were at war with Yem during a great famine in 1123. The chronicle leaves any further developments of the conflict open, including the whereabouts of the fight. [Novgorod First Chronicle entry about the war, [ 1123] . In Swedish.]

Yem pillaged Novgorodian area in 1142, but were defeated near Ladoga with 400 casualties. Coincidently or not, Swedes attacked Novgorodians in the same year as well. [See [ Chronicle entry] . In Swedish.] Korela, now under Novgorodian influence, were at war with Yem in the following year, but were forced to flee, losing two ships. [Novgorod First Chronicle entries about Finnish wars, [ 1142] , [ 1143] . In Swedish.]

Yem attacked Russian soil again in 1149 with 1000 men. Novgorodians, totaling 500, went in pursuit of the Yem, utterly defeating them with Votes, a Finnic tribe in alliance with Novgorod. Votes, today almost extinct, lived south of the present-day Saint Petersburg, probably making this the deepest attack that Yem ever made into Russian territory. [Novgorod First Chronicle entry about the war, [ 1149] .]

After a long pause in open hostilities—at least in the chronicles—a Novgorodian called Vyshata Vasilyevich led his troops against Yem in 1186, returning unharmed with prisoners. It is not clear whether he took his forces to fight in the land of Yem or to defend his country against an intrusion. Reasons for the renewed fighting have not been identified. [Novgorod First Chronicle entries about the war, [ 1186] . In Swedish.]

Korela accompanied Novgorodians for yet another attack against Yem in 1191. This time the fighting is clearly said to have taken place "the land of the Yem", the first such entry in Russian chronicles. The assailants "burned the country and killed the cattle". [Novgorod First Chronicle entries about the war, [ 1191] . In Swedish.] Very hypothetically this may have been the same attack that was mentioned in a much later Swedish chronicle "Chronicon episcoporum Finlandensium" by Bishop Paulus Juusten from the mid-16th century that knows Russians to have burned "Turku" in 1198, at the time of Bishop Folquinus. [The chronicle has been published in Finnish, see e.g. Suomen piispainkronikka. Suomalaisen kirjallisuuden seuran toimituksia 476. Pieksämäki 1988.] Russian chronicles have no information about a conflict that year. It should be noted that the town of Turku did not exist at such an early date.

After this, there is no information on further Novgorodian conflicts for several decades. It is also impossible to confirm, whether the 1191 war resulted in a brief Novgorodian rule in parts of Finland or Karelia. However, a later chronicle entry from the mid-1220s said that Russian princes had not been able to dwell in the land of Yem.

weden and Pope get involved

At the same time, Sweden and Novgorod were in conflict as well. Pope Alexander III, in his letter to the Archbishop of Uppsala and Jarl Gottorm of Sweden in 1171 (or 1172), seems to refer to the Finns' struggle against Novgorod by demanding Sweden to take over Finnish castles in exchange for protection. [ [ Letter by Pope Alexander III to the Archbishop of Uppsala] in 1171 (or 1172). In Latin.] In the late 15th century, historian Ericus Olai claimed that Bishop Kol of Linköping (d. 1196?) had been the "Jarl of Finland" ("Dux Finlandiae"), [Suomen Museo 2002. See page 66. The book can be ordered from the [ Finnish Antiquarian Society] . Note that the Latin word "Dux" came to mean "Duke" only in the late 13th century and was used in the meaning of Jarl earlier.] possibly leading Swedish troops temporarily situated in Finland. He may have been in a similar military role than Jon jarl who allegedly spent nine years overseas fighting against Novgorodians and Ingrians at the end of the 12th century. ["Suomen museo 2002". See page 65. Ericus Olai may also have made a mistake, since Jon Jarl is apparently buried in the Cathedral of Linköping, thus making him the Jarl of Finland instead of Bishop Kol.]

Noteworthy is also the so-called First Swedish Crusade which according to several 15th century sources took place in 1150. [Note however that several historians from the early 20th century onwards have tried to date the crusade to 1155, with some questionable lines of argument. See Heikkilä, Tuomas. "Pyhän Henrikin legenda". Karisto Oy Hämeenlinna 2005. ISBN 951-746-738-9.] The crusade is only known from later legends that presented the expedition (if it ever took place) as a Christian mission, headed by a saint king to baptize heathens. However, it seems to have followed the exceptionally edgy 1140s with both the Finns and Swedes fighting against Novgorod. Some historians have seen it as a direct reaction to the failed Finnish expedition in 1149, associating it with the co-operation mentioned by the Pope 20 years later. [Linna, Martti. "Suomen alueellinen pyhimyskultti ja vanhemmat aluejaot." Vesilahti 1346-1996. Jyväskylä 1996. See page 197.]

In 1221, Pope Honorius III was again worried about the situation, after receiving alarming information from the Archbishop of Uppsala. He authorized the unnamed Bishop of Finland to establish a trade embargo against the "barbarians" that threatened the Christianity in Finland. [ [ Letter by Pope Honorius III to the Bishop of Finland] in 1221. In Latin.] The nationality of the "barbarians", presumably a citation from Archbishop's earlier letter, remains unknown, and was not necessarily known even by the Pope. However, as the trade embargo was widened eight years later, it was specifically said to be against the Russians. [See papal letters from 1229 to [ Riga] and [ Lübeck] . In Latin.]

Russian sources mention Swedish-Finnish co-operation in 1240 at the earliest; it was then that Finns [As "Yems" and "Sums", presumably separating Tavastians and the coastal Finns which from then on was customary in Russian sources until the early 14th century.] were mentioned as one of the Swedes' allies in the little-documented Battle of the Neva. The first reliable mention of Finns being a part of Swedish forces is from 1256, [ [ Novgorod First Chronicle entry about the Swedish attack to Novgorod and Novgorodian counterattack to Finland] . In Swedish.] seven years after the conventional dating of the so-called Second Swedish Crusade.

Final war

The final known conflict between the Finnish tribes and Novgorod took place in the 1220s, following decades of peace, at least in the chronicles. After having secured his power in Novgorod by 1222, Grand Prince Yaroslav II of Vladimir organized a series of attacks against Estonia, Yem and Karelia. The offensive against Yem took place in winter 1226–27.

The same winter Yaroslav, son of Vsevolod left Novgorod over the sea against Yem where no else Russian prince had been able to dwell; and he conquered the land and returned to Novgorod praising God with many prisoners. When those who were accompanying him could not handle all the prisoners, they killed some of them but released many more. [ Attack to Finland in 1226] from the Laurentian Codex. In Swedish.]

The Yem retaliatory expedition in summer 1228 against Ladoga, allegedly with more than 2000 men [The figure sounds high. The usual Swedish "ledung" had just 2500 men which would mean that less organized Finns were able to establish a similar naval force. Total population in Finland at the time is estimated to have been 50 000 at the maximum. See Suomen museo 2002 (ISBN 951-9057-47-1), page 85.] ended in disaster, as described by the Novgorod First Chronicle.

. The same night they asked for peace, but the bailiff and the people of Ladoga did not grant it; and they killed all the prisoners and ran into forests, after abandoning their ships. Many of them fell there, but their boats were burned. -- And of those who had come, 2000 or more were killed, God knows; and the rest (who had not fled) were all killed. [ [ Yem attack against Ladoga in 1228] . In Swedish.]

The war seems to have been the end of independent Finnish-Novgorodian conflicts and a watershed in the history of Finland. Based on Papal letters from 1229, [See letters by Pope Gregory IX: [] , [] , [] , [] , [] , [] , [] . All in Latin.] the unknown Bishop of Finland took advantage of the chaotic situation by taking over non-Christian places of worship and moving the see to a "more suitable" location. On bishop's request, the Pope also enforced a trade embargo against Novgorodians on the Baltic Sea, at least in Visby, Riga and Lübeck. A few years later, the Pope also requested the Livonian Brothers of the Sword to send troops to protect Finland. If any knights ever arrived, remains unknown. [ [ Letter by Pope Gregory IX] . In Latin.]

Novgorodian wars were a factor contributing to the eventual Swedish conquest of Finland around 1249. [See e.g. "Suomen historian pikkujättiläinen". WSOY 1987. ISBN 951-0-14253-0. Pages 55-59.] Under Swedish rule, the wars continued to rage in Finland as a part of Swedish-Novgorodian Wars.

ee also

*Early Finnish wars
*List of Finnish wars


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