Baltic Finns

Baltic Finns

Total population
(c. 7.4–8.2 million)
Regions with significant populations
Finns c. 6.2–7 million
Estonians c. 1.1 million
Karelians c. 100,000
Vepsians c. 6,000
Izhorians c. 1,000
Livs c. 200
Votes c. 100
Finnic languages
Christianity and Uralic Neopaganism
Related ethnic groups
Balts, Volga Finns, Sami

The Baltic Finns[1] or Finnic people consist of the peoples inhabiting the region around the Baltic Sea[2] in Northeastern Europe who speak Finnic languages, including the Finns proper, Estonians (including Võros and Setos), Karelians (including Ludes and Olonets), Veps, Izhorians, Votes, and Livonians as well as their descendants worldwide. In some cases the Kvens, Ingrians, Tornedalians and speakers of Meänkieli are also included separately rather than being a part of Finns proper. The bulk of the Baltic Finns are ethnic Finns and Estonians (more than 98%), who reside in the only two independent Finnic nation statesFinland and Estonia. Baltic Finns are also significant minority groups in neighbouring countries of Sweden, Norway, Russia and Latvia.

Theories of origin

According to the Migration Theory that was based primarily on comparative linguistics, the proto-Finnic peoples migrated from an ancient homeland somewhere in northwestern Siberia or western Russia to the shores of the Baltic Sea around 1000 BC, at which time Finns and Estonians separated. The Migration Theory has been called into question since 1980, based on genealogy, craniometry and archaeology. Recently, a modified form of the Migration Theory has gained new support among the younger generation of linguists, who consider that archaeology, genes or craniometric data cannot supply evidence of prehistoric languages.[3]

During the last 30 years, scientific research in physical anthropology, craniometric analyses, and the mitochondrial and Y-chromosomal DNA frequencies have reduced the likelihood of the Migration Theory - a major westward migration as recently as 3,000 years ago. The Settlement Continuity Theory asserts that at least the genetic ancestors of the Finno-Ugric peoples were among the earliest indigenous peoples of Europe.[4][5][6]

The origin of the people who lived in the Baltic Sea area during the Mesolithic Era continues to be debated by scientists. From the middle of the Neolithic Era onwards, there is agreement to a certain extent among scholars: it has been suggested that Finno-Ugric tribes arrived in the Baltic region from the east or southeast approximately 40003000 BC by merging with the original inhabitants, who then adopted the proto-Finno-Ugric language and the Comb Ceramic culture of the newcomers. The members of this new Finno-Ugric-speaking ethnic group are regarded as the ancestors of modern Estonians.[6] The Y-chromosomal data has also revealed a common Finno-Ugric ancestry for the males of the neighboring Baltic peoples, speakers of the Indo-European Baltic languages. According to the studies, Baltic males are most closely related to the Finno-Ugric-speaking Volga Finns such as the Mari, rather than to Baltic Finns.[7] The results suggest that the territories of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been settled by Finno-Ugric-speaking tribes since the early Mesolithic period.[6]

On the other hand, some linguists do not consider it likely that a Baltic-Finnic language form could have existed at such an early date. According to these views, the Finno-Ugric languages appeared in Finland and Baltic only during the Early Bronze Age (ca. 1,800 BC), if not later.[3]

Baltic Finnic oral poetry

The Baltic Finns share a common cultural heritage: the art of ancient "rune" (poem) singing in the Kalevala meter, estimated to be 2,5003,000 years old.[8] The Veps are the only Baltic Finnish people with no significant corpus of Kalevala meter oral poetry. The poetic tradition has included epic poems (known mostly in Karelia and Ingria, perhaps as survivals from an earlier, wider distribution), lyric poems and magic chants.

The ancient rune singing has inspired the creation of the national epic of Finland, Kalevala compiled by Elias Lönnrot, and the music of Arvo Pärt, the best known Estonian composer in the classical field.[9]

J. R. R. Tolkien has highlighted the importance of Kalevala as a source for his legendarium, including The Lord of the Rings.[10]

History of the Baltic Finnic peoples

Baltic Finns in The Races of Europe by William Z. Ripley in 1899.

The Mesolithic Period

The region has been populated since the end of the last glacial era, about 10,000 BC. The earliest traces of human settlement are connected with Suomusjärvi culture and Kunda culture. The Early Mesolithic Pulli settlement is located by the Pärnu River. It has been dated to the beginning of the 9th millennium BC. The Kunda Culture received its name from the Lammasmäe settlement site in northern Estonia, which dates from earlier than 8500.[11] Bone and stone artefacts similar to those found at Kunda have been discovered elsewhere in Estonia, as well as in Latvia, northern Lithuania and southern Finland.

The Neolithic Period

Around 5300 BCE pottery and agriculture entered Finland.[12] The earliest representatives belong to the Comb Ceramic Cultures, known for their distinctive decorating patterns. This marks the beginning of the Neolithic Period

Comb Ceramic Culture

Neolithic period

Until the early 1980s, the arrival of Finnic peoples, the ancestors of the Estonians, Finns, and Livonians on the shores of the Baltic sea around 3000 BC, was associated with the Comb Ceramic Culture[13] However, such a linking of archaeologically defined cultural entities with linguistic ones cannot be proven and it has been suggested that the increase of settlement finds in the period is more likely to have been associated with an economic boom related to the warming of climate. Some researchers have even argued that a form of Uralic languages may have been spoken in Estonia and Finland since the end of the last glaciation.[14]

Bronze Age

The beginning of the Bronze Age in Estonia is dated to approximately 1800 BC, in present-day Finland some time after 1500 BCE. The coastal regions of Finland were a part of the Nordic Bronze Culture, whereas in the inland regions the influences came from the bronze-using cultures of Northern Russia. The development of the borders between the Finnic peoples and the Balts was under way. The first fortified settlements, Asva and Ridala on the island of Saaremaa and Iru in the Northern Estonia, began to be built. The development of shipbuilding facilitated the spread of bronze. Changes took place in burial customs, a new type of burial ground spread from Germanic to Estonian areas, stone cist graves and cremation burials became increasingly common aside small number of boat-shaped stone graves.[15]

The Iron Age

The Pre-Roman Iron Age began in about 500 BC and lasted until the middle of the 1st century AD. The oldest iron items were imported, although since the 1st century iron was smelted from local marsh and lake ore. Settlement sites were located mostly in places that offered natural protection. Fortresses were built, although used temporarily. The appearance of square Celtic fields surrounded by enclosures in Estonia date from the Pre-Roman Iron Age. The majority of stones with man-made indents, which presumably were connected with magic designed to increase crop fertility, date from this period. A new type of grave, quadrangular burial mounds, began to develop. Burial traditions show the clear beginning of social stratification.

The Roman Iron Age is roughly dated to between 50 and 450 AD, the era that was affected by the influence of the Roman Empire. In material culture this is reflected by few Roman coins, some jewellery and artifacts. The abundance of iron artifacts in Southern Estonia speaks of closer mainland ties with southern areas while coastal Finland and the islands of western and northern Estonia communicated with their neighbors mainly by sea.

By the end of the period, clearly defined tribal dialectical areas - (proper-)Finns, Tavastians, Karelians, Northern Estonians, Southern Estonians, and Western Estonians including the islanders - had emerged, the population of each having formed its own understanding of identity.[16]

Early Middle Ages

Finnic peoples in chronicles

The word Finn is first mentioned in the form fenni in the 1st century AD by Tacitus, the Roman historian. However it is possible that he was referring to the people of northern Europe in general, particularly the Lappic or Sami people. After that the name finni is used by Claudius Ptolemaeus (around 150 AD) and the Byzantine writer Jordanes in his Getica (551 AD). References to Finnic tribes become much more numerous from the Viking era (800-1050). It was not until about 1171 that the word Finni was employed to mean the Finns.

The term Eesti, the name of the Estonians, occurs first again in Tacitus; however, it might have indicated Baltic peoples. In Northern Sagas (13th century) the term started to be used to indicate the Estonians.

In a Norwegian text (11-12th century) the name 'Kiriali referring to Karelians, and the term 'cornuti Finni, interpreted as referring to the Lapps or Sami people, first appear.

The Russian Primary Chronicle's opening chapter lists the following peoples living "in the share of Japheth" among others: Chud, Merya, Muroma, Ves, Mordvin (Moksha and Erzya), Chud beyond the portages, Perm, Pechera, Yam, Ugra, Liv.[17]

The name Sum, possibly meaning Suomi (Finland in Finnish), is found in Nestor's Chronicle (1000–1100). The names of other Finnic tribes are also listed including Veps, Cheremis, Mordvin (Moksha and Erzya), Permian.[18]

The Chudes, as mentioned by the monk Nestor in the earliest Russian chronicles, were the Ests or Esthonians.[19] According to the Russian Primary Chronicle Chuds bordered on the Varangian Sea (Baltic sea).[17] In 1030 Yaroslav I the Wise invaded the country of the Chuds and laid the foundations of Yuriev,[20] (the historical Russian name of Tartu, Estonia). They remained until 1061 when, according to chronicles, Yuryev was burned down by the Chudes. According to Old East Slavic chronicles the Chudes were one of the founders of the Rus' state.[19]

The Northern (or eastern) Chudes were also a mythical people in folklore among Northern Russians and their neighbours. In Komi mythology, the Northern Chudes represent the mythic ancestors of the Komi people[21]

Middle Ages

In the 13th century the east Baltic world was transformed by military conquest: first the Livs and Estonians, then the Finns underwent defeat, baptism, military occupation and sometimes extermination by groups of Germans, Danes and Swedes.[22] Finland was governed as a part of Sweden, while Estonia was under a Baltic German knightly brotherhood. Finland and Estonia became independent at the beginning of the modern age at 1917-1918; see history of Finland and history of Estonia. The Karelians remained under Russian and then Soviet rule, and their absolute and relative numbers dwindled. With urbanization, smaller peoples were often easily assimilated to the mainstream society, since they could no longer easily maintain their village-based culture.

See also


  1. also referred to as Baltic-Finnic or Balto-Finnic peoples
  2. Niskanen, Markku (2002). "The Origin of the Baltic-Finns" (PDF). The Mankind Quarterly. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  3. 1 2 Kallio, Petri 2006: Uralilaisen kantakielen absoluuttista kronologiaa. (With English summary: The absolute chronology of the Proto-Uralic language.). Virittäjä 2006
  4. the early indigenous inhabitants of Europe by Richard, Lewis (2005). Finland, Cultural Lone Wolf. Intercultural Press. ISBN 978-1-931930-18-5.
  5. Niskanen, Markku (2002). "The Origin of the Baltic-Finns" (PDF). The Mankind Quarterly. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-06.
  6. 1 2 3 Laitinen, Virpi; Päivi Lahermo (August 24, 2001). "Y-Chromosomal Diversity Suggests that Baltic Males Share Common Finno-Ugric-Speaking Forefathers" (PDF). Department of Genetics, University of Turku, Turku, Finnish Genome Center, University of Helsinki. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  7. Siiri Rootsi (19 October 2004). "Human Y-Chromosomal Variation in European Populations" (PDF). Tartu University Press. Retrieved 2008-10-08.
  8. Pentikäinen, Juha; Ritva Poom (1999). Kalevala Mythology. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-21352-5.
  9. Nidel, Richard (2005). World Music. Routledge. p. 160. ISBN 978-0-415-96801-0.
  10. Chance, Jane (2004). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 978-0-8131-2301-1.
  11. Jean-Jacques Subrenat (2004). Estonia: Identity and Independence: Translated into English (On the Boundary of Two Worlds: Identity, Freedom, and Moral Imagination in the Baltics, 2) ... and Moral Imagination in the Baltics). Amsterdam: Rodopi. p. 24. ISBN 90-420-0890-3.
  13. Minahan, James (1998). Miniature empires: a historical dictionary of the newly independent states. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press. p. 153. ISBN 0-313-30610-9.
  14. Helle, Knut (2003). The Cambridge history of Scandinavia. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-521-47299-7.
  15. Jean-Jacques Subrenat (2004). Estonia: Identity and Independence. p. 26. ISBN 978-90-420-0890-8.
  16. Jean-Jacques Subrenat (2004). Estonia: Identity and Independence. pp. 28–31. ISBN 978-90-420-0890-8.
  17. 1 2 Samuel H. Cross (1968). Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Medieval Academy of Amer. p. 52. ISBN 0-910956-34-0.
  18. Angela Marcantonio (2002). The Uralic Language Family: Facts, Myths and Statistics (Publications of the Philological Society). Blackwell Publishing Professional. pp. 21–3. ISBN 0-631-23170-6.
  19. 1 2 Pre- and Proto-historic Finns by John Abercromby p.141
  20. Pre- and Proto-historic Finns by John Abercromby p.142
  21. FOREST MYTHS by Pavel F. Limerov at google.scholar
  22. Christiansen, Eric (1997). The northern Crusades. Harmondsworth [Eng.]: Penguin. p. 93. ISBN 0-14-026653-4.
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