Medieval Society and Economy
The late medieval period was marked by the expansion of
settlements along the coast and into the interior. The
gradually conquered the wilderness to the north, moved
cleared the forest, and established agricultural
This settling of the wilderness caused conflict between
Finnish farmers and the Lapp reindeer herdsmen, forcing
slowly northward. By the end of the fifteenth century, the
of settlement was about 200 kilometers north of the Gulf
Finland, and it ran along most of the coast of the Gulf of
Bothnia, though less than 100 kilometers inland. The
of Finland likewise had grown slowly in this difficult
environment; it numbered about 400,000 by the end of the
The economy of medieval Finland was based on
the brevity of the growing season, coupled with the
good soil, required that farming be supplemented by
fishing, trapping, and gathering. All but a small portion
Finnish population earned their livelihood in this way.
Although the European institution of serfdom never
Finland, and although most of the farmers were freemen,
little political power. Society and politics were
dominated by a
largely Swedish-speaking nobility. Finland was
however, in the Swedish Diet of the Four Estates
clergy, nobility, burghers, and farmers--that had advisory
in relation to the king. The Finns also had some
for matters of local justice and administration.
Catholicism was deeply rooted in medieval Finnish
The church parishes doubled as units of local
the church played the leading role in fostering an
Finnish leadership and the development of the Finnish
For example, the general requirement that parish priests
indigenous language helped to maintain the speaking of
Turku (Swedish, Abo), encompassing the whole country, was
diocese, and the bishop of Turku was the head of the
church. In 1291 the first Finn was named bishop, and
all incumbents were native-born.
The southwestern seaport city of Turku, the seat of the
bishopric, became the administrative capital of Finland.
was also the center of Finland's mercantile life, which
dominated by German merchants of the Hanseatic League.
main exports at this time were various furs; the trade in
stores was just beginning. The only other city of
this time was Viipuri (Swedish, Vyborg), which was
both as a Hanseatic trade center and as a military bastion
anchored Finland's eastern defenses against the Russians.
Data as of December 1988