A Nation Born Old : Origins of the Finnish People

By Osmond, Stephen J. | The World and I, July 1999 | Go to article overview

A Nation Born Old : Origins of the Finnish People


Osmond, Stephen J., The World and I


Settlers entered Finland in the Stone Age, around 4000 b.c., but almost every Finn will tell you that his race is descended from ancient Finnish tribes whose progeny commingled with Swedish settlers. The tribal culture of the Suomalaiset (Finns) was established some two thousand to fifteen hundred years ago, during the Iron Age, and Finland is named for these people. The original inhabitants were displaced, possibly driven north. They may be ancestors of Finland's most distinctive ethnic group, the Saami, or Lapps.

The Suomalaiset came from the south side of the Gulf of Finland. Some settled in Estonia, others in Varsinais-Suomi (Finland proper). Finland became known as Suomi and its language as Soumen Kieli. Closely related to Estonian, it eventually evolved as "Finns-proper," or Finnish.

First use of the term Finns can be found in the writings of the Roman historian Tacitus, around the second century a.d., although the Phinnoi were mentioned earlier by Ptolemy and must be considered the same people. Finlandia and Finland were terms in common use by the early thirteenth century a.d. Finland became the name used by the Swedish- speaking part of the population, although the region was also called Osterland (East-land) by the Swedes. …

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