Today’s modern nation of Finland has seen many changes throughout the years. Long ago, it was a vast wilderness that was situated on the edge of Europe. The country played a key role in the forming of the late medieval Swedish empire and was a Grand Duchy of Tsarist Russia. Along with its many accomplishments, Finland’s history is also filled with several oddities. Here are just a few facts that you may not know about Finland.
An Old Viking Tale Featured a Finnish Princess
The Heimskringla, which was one of the Old Norse Kings’ sagas was written in C1230. It includes the story of Skjalv, who was the daughter of the Finnish King Froste. After the enemy King Agne was able to defeat her father, he dragged Skjalv back to Sweden with him to serve as a concubine. Skjalv waited until the drunken King was asleep, and then she strangled him with his golden chain. His corpse was later found up in a tree.
Finns Accept Payment in the Form of Squirrel Skins
No cash in Finland? No problem! Just hunt down a few squirrels and sell their pelts for goods. At least that is how it was done back in the 5th Century AD. After that time trading connections began to develop between Finland and other European countries. During the time of the Roman Empire, traders were able to bring goods from all parts of Europe. They would bring wine glasses and gold bracelets from Italy, or luxury weapons from France and Germany.
The early Scandinavians and German traders in Finland would sell goods, tools and weapons for one fo the nation’s greatest resources, animal pelts or Raha in Finnish. Animal fur came to be a popular form of currency in Finland and Finnish slang still refers to cash as oravannahka, which is the Finnish world for “squirrel skin”.
Finland was Repopulated Adam & Eve Style
After the Black Death, which occurred in the 14th century, a third of Finland’s population was wiped out. It especially hit the town of Espoo hard and according to an old folktale, only a young girl and a monk were able to survive. When the monk eventually died, the girl climbed up to the top of the church tower and rang the bell in his memory. This also signaled her presence to the only other survivor in the area, a man who became her future husband. Together the pair was able to repopulate the town of Espoo according to the legend.
10% of Finland has Disappeared
During WWII, Soviet soldiers invaded Finland and the country later struck back with a “co-belligerency pact” with Nazi Germany. This meant that even though the two nations were not allies, they agreed to fight the same enemy. The Finnish soldiers fought with the Soviet Union until they reached a standstill on the border. They ended up having to give up 10 percent of their eastern territory, which included the nation’s second largest city, Vyborg. After the war, Finland had to deal with the re-settlement of thousands of refugees who lived in the lost lands.
Finnish remained as the official language of the Republic of Karelia until around the 1980s. To this day there are still attempts to get it reinstated.
A Doctor in Finland Helped to Inspire The Lord of the Rings
In the 1800s a Finnish doctor named Elias Lonnrot was bored with his life in the small town of Kajaani. He started to travel to the distant town of Karelia and collected folktales from the locals. After he had gathered quite a bit of information, Lonnrot reconstructed the ancient tales and wrote them as a mythology that Finland may have had prior to Christianity.
The book, titled The Kalevala, created a revolution in Finnish arts and crafts and inspired plenty of creativity across the nation. It provided a large amount of the imagery that is seen in late 19th century Finnish culture. The story inspired writer J.R.R. Tolkien to write his own mythology for the English which became The Lord of the Rings. In the process, he paid tribute to The Kalevala by basing Quenya, the language of the High Elvish, on the Finnish language.
The Country Had Their Own Version of Prohibition
The Finnish were the first in Europe to allow women to vote, and one of their very first acts was to pass a temperance law that kept alcohol away from their husbands. The end result was known as Kieltolaki, or prohibition, which created a ban on alcohol that was in force from 1919 to 1932.
Just like in the US, prohibition resulted in the start of bootleggers in Finland. They created new fortified teas and other beverages, as an estimated 85 percent of all crime that took place during the prohibition was derived in some way from the resistance to the new alcohol law. However, light beer, which was at 2% alcohol or less, didn’t count as beer at all and was allowed at the time.