Written by Mauri Rastas, 22.07.2007 (soon 90 years of Finnish independence)


(This text is much shorter than the corresponding Finnish material)

what is? | language | prehistory | main events | birth | prosperity | West/East | split | Sweden | rupture | Russia | independence | Soviet Union | results | situation | returning | literature


Why I am publishing this on Internet?
The history of Karelia is colorful, rich about mighty and dramatic encounterings -- tragic in its destiny. It fascinates me, and terrifies me - and - well - I was born there. Unfortunately I have not seen many texts on Internet describing Karelian history, and somebody may need or want this information.

Is it correct?
This a personal view, I am not trying to be highly scientific, but I do wish for the information to be correctly displayed. If the reader has anything to comment (any errors, misuse of English, wrong names or terminology, absence of important matters, cooperation, etc.) please do not hesitate to contact me.

What is Karelia?

Karelia (more precisely, its Finnish form Karjala) is very old Finnic name. Probably "karja" is simply and directly karja=cattle, and "-la" is a unigue Finnic suffix meaning =place. Thus Karjala is a "place for cattle".
The old Novgorodian/Russian name Korela of the town of Käkisalmi, in Swedish Kexholm has been derivated from it, and is pronounced karjela.

(MAP of Karelia (in Finnish) | back to menu)

Three main parts of the whole Karelia are shown in the map.
1. In Finland Karelia is considered as its most eastern historical province. Usually it means so-called Finnish Karelia (dark blue area in the map).
2. East Karelia is the area east from the Finnish eastern border (green area in the map), which has been a completely separate part of Karelia since the treaty of 1617, as it is fully Orthodox.
3. (Violet area "Inkeri" is Ingernland, which was considered a part of Ancient Karelia during prehistoric time of Karelia.)

Nowadays the Republic of Karelia in the Russian Federation consists of East Karelia plus northern part of the lost part of Finnish Karelia

(MAP of Republic of Karelia | back to menu)
and is often - even in Finnish - called just Karjala/Karelia. This is misleading expression, because it forgets that the Karelian Isthmus belongs to Russia, and some (mostly Northern and some Southern) Karelian areas are still in Finland.

Ancient Karelia:
Ancient Karelia covered a somewhat diffuse area, the border being roughly: the eastern part of Gulf of Finland - Ladoga Sea - Onega Sea - White Sea - the northern part of Gulf of Botten. The population and admistrative center was the western cost of Ladoga, i.e. Käkisalmi area and up to Sortavala. Ancient Karelia vanished gradually after the treaty of 1323 and its end was finalized in the treaty of 1617. The Karelian language was common in (Finnish) Karelia up to the rupture of 1656-58. Note that expressions "Ancient" and "ancient" with "Karelia" have been used nowadays only.

Käkisalmi- (or Ladoga)-Karelia and Viborg-Karelia:
The Treaty of Pähkinäsaari in 1323 divided the Ancient Karelia into these two parts. The old administrative districts (Finnish lääni) of Käkisalmi and Viborg include almost the same areas.

Language background

Common classification of all the languages:
• (plenty of language tribes)
• Indo-European language tribe (as an example)
• Uralic language tribe:
A. language family of Samoyed languages
B. language family of Finno-Ugrian languages:
•• language group of Sámi (in Lapland)
•• (Volga language group:) Mordvin language group and Mari language
•• Permian language group
•• Ugrian language group: i.g. Hungarian
•• Finnic language group:
a. Finnish (ca. 5,0 mil. people using it)
N.B. Karelian dialect of Finnish language is not Karelian language
Finnish has an eastern foundation and a western surface (:re:kulonen).
b. Estonian (ca. 1,1 mil., re:A126: 1,0 mil)
c. Karelian (roughly 180.000)(re:A126: 1.: 40.000 (+2.: 30.000 +3.: 5.000))
MAP of Karelian dialects: | back to menu
• the oldest Karelian (more properly: Finnic) document:
letter made of birch-bark, Cyrillic alphabet, from Novgorod, 1200-century
1. "Proper"-Karelian dialect (ca. 30.000), subdialects:
• Karelian (dialect) of Viena
• southern Karelian dialect
• Karelian of Tver (=area near Moskow)
(roughly 100.000 speakers)(was spoken in Ancient Karelia until Rupture War 1656-58)
2. Livvi dialect or Karelian (dialect) of Aunus (ca. 40.000)
(re:A126:) Olonetsian language, 30.000)
3. Ludian dialect (better: language)(ca. 10.000, re:A126: 5.000)
d. Vepsian (ca. 10 000, re:A126: 6.000)
e. Ingrian (ca. 800, re:A126: 300) (not the Ingrian dialect of the Finnish language)
f. Livonian (ca. 200, re:A126: <20) (in Latvia)
g. Votian (ca. 20, re:A126: <50) (in Russia near Estonia)

Prehistory of Karelia:

Origin of Finnic tribes, including the Karelians

(literature: carpelan1,2; nunez; uino1:)

Main events in Karelian history:

The eastern border of Finland has been changed severeral times, and every time the direct result was to hit Karelia (frequently only this area)! However, there have been wars in Karelia even more frequently - some count (as many as) more than 40 wars!

00 n.700 formation of Ancient Karelia begins
01 1143 first written mentioning about Karelia as Korela
02 1227 pagan Karelians were turned to Orthodox faith
03 1278 Novgorod overtakes Ancient Karelia
04 1293 Sweden's crusade (III) to Karelia and foundation of Viborg
05 Pähkinäsaari 1323 first split of Karelia: Viborg's and Käkisalmi's Karelias
06 Novgorod 1557 borders mainly the same, practical situation unclear
07 Täyssinä 1595 2nd split of Karelia: Sweden expands to north-east in Savo
08 Stolbova 1617 destruction of Ancient (=Käkisalmi's Orthodox) Karelia begins
09 Vallisaari 1658 end of Rupture War: former borders, final destruction
10 Uusikaupunki 1721 Karelia's new owner: Russia (birth of "Old Finland")
11 Turku 1743 war of "the hats": Russia expands to Kymi river
12 Värälä 1790 war adventure of Gustav III: former borders
13 Hamina 1809 social influence only, birth of Finnish Karelia
14 Dorpat/Tartu 1920 split of Karelia: Finnish and Russian (=East-)Karelias
15 Moskow 1940 destruction of Finnish Karelia
16 Paris 1947 confirmation of the Moskow 1944 cease fire

Birth of Karelia

The densest population areas in Finland occurred at the end of heathenism, ca 1100 AD:
MAP of populations | back to menu)

When the period of Vikings began, ca 800 AD, there were Baltic-Finnish or s.c. Finnic populations around Gulf of Finland, Lakes Ladoga and Onega. These populations started to differentiate first as various tribes (as mentioned above), then much later as nations.

Simplified schema of the birth of Ancient Karelia (re:uino1:):
original population
in Karelia

(Its history of development,
etnisity and language:
according to the previous waves of influence.)
ca. 700-1000 AD

(consists of some
settlement at least)
(identificaty of (ancient)
Karelia in 12th century)

Period of prosperity in Ancient Karelia

The period of prosperity of Ancient, un-devided Karelia began in 10th century, was culminated in 1100-1200 and declined at the beginning of 14th century.
Karelia was then a relatively independent and homogenous organisation or tribe or nation, but it was not a state. The center was Käkisalmi or Korela.
There was a lot of fortified, steep hills on the broken north-west coast line of Ladoga, used mainly 1100-1300 AD.

Last heathen coutries between West and East

Karelian heathen gods: (ooooh ... in English .....?)

First blows to destroy Karelia:

Karelian Arms | back to menu)
The symbolism in the Karelian Coat of Arms, beginning from 1562, is very striking: a straight western sword hits against a curved eastern sabre. The colors of Karelian flag are black and dark-red telling about the gloomy destiny of Karelia.

Fatal split of Karelia in 1323


After heavy warfare from both sides a treaty was made. Swedish king Magnus and prince Juri of Novgorod signed an "eternal" peace treaty of Pähkinäsaari in 1323. Juri gave Magnus "as a sign of friendship" three counties: Savo, Jääski and Äyräpää.
(MAP of border in 1323 | back to menu)

The next peace treaty was made in Täyssinä in 1595 but those years (1323-1595) were full of frontier controversy. There were large numbers of plunder or terror attacks followed by revenge raids, beginning from both sides.


The latest and most northern piece of the long frontier between the West and East across the whole Europe was thus drawn by sword. A victim was Karelia whose land and people was brutally split. Despite of some "details" the situation is the same now - almost 700 years later.

The consequencies of the new border were dramatic. Two completely different areas were born, Viborg-Karelia and Käkisalmi-Karelia, Roman-Catholic and Greek-Catholic (or Orthodox), western and eastern society. The Karelian language was still spoken in Käkisalmi-Karelia though Russian was administrative language. The Finnish language penetrated into Viborg-Karelia and Swedish became administrative language there. The split of Karelian tribe was thus most substantive.

Sweden takes Karelia in 1617

S.c. Long Wrath or the War of 1570-1595

Sweden conquered already Käkisalmi-Karelia during this war. The whole province was devastated. A peace agreement was made in Täyssinä in 1595. Sweden, being too weak, had to return the province of Käkisalmi-Karelia to Moscow but succeeded in removing the border's northen end from Bothnian Gulf to behind Savo and Lapland area.

"Unknown" Karelia

E.g. in the map from year 1570 that big lake ("sea") Ladoga is quite minuscule (:re:map1).
the map | back to menu)

The Finnish in Moscow!

There was a period in Russia called the "Time of Troubles" at the beginning of 17th century. Moscow asked Sweden to help in its war against Poland and promised Käkisalmi-Karelia as a reward. Swedish count Jacob de la Gardie with his Finnish troops occupied Moscow in 1610. The situation in Russia stabilized with the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613.

Treaty of Stolbova in 1617

(MAP of 1617 border | back to menu)
In this agreement the former promise was materialized. Sweden got Käkisalmi-Karelia and Ingernland. Though Viborg-Karelia and Käkisalmi-Karelia were at last "re-united" by this, the consequences were more dramatic. The Orthodox people living in Käkisalmi-Karelia and Ingernland departed from there to Russia to reunite with their brothers in faith. This occurred because of Sweden's church policies and financial politics.

Population exchanges in Käkisalmi-Karelia

New population streamed steadily from Finland (mainly from Savo area and Viborg-Karelia).
E.g. my direct ancestor Yrjö Rastas moved to my birth place in Kurkijoki county's Riekkala village in 1684 but where from I would like to know.

Rupture War 1656-58

This war can be considered as a successful, large scale commando strike into the new Swedish territory of Käkisalmi-Karelia. It was accomplished by the Russian Orthodox in order to bring back their faith brothers. The Rupture War was the climax of moving of the Orthodox and emptied the Käkisalmi-Karelia area. A large number of the Karelians moved to the area of Tver near Moskow where plenty of land (that had been devastated by the Lithuanians) was available. In Tver, there is still a Karelian settlement (140.000 people in 1926).

The result of this period is that population in Käkisalmi-Karelia too was changed from Karelian Orthodox, speaking Karelian language to Finnish Lutherian, speaking Finnish language. The original Karelia disappeared, but in its place a new Karelia was born!

Russia takes Karelia in 1721

Sweden (and Finland) went through a very difficult war 1700-21 called the "Big Northern War". Finland was occupied by the Russian in 1713-1721. This period is called "The Great Wrath" (in Finnish "Big Hatred"). In the treaty of Uusikaupunki in 1721 Sweden lost the Finnish Karelia, but the people stayed.
MAP of 1721 border | back to menu)

It should be mentioned that The Tzar Peter the Great already in 1703 had started building a fortress, Peter-Paul, in the middle of Ingernland, which already at that time was Finnish territory. That fortress on Hare Island was the start St. Petersburg, which in 1712 was declared the capital of Russia. This purposeful and arrogant Russian expansion produced a dominating metropolis situated very close to Finland. Its location thus later caused considerable suffering to Karelia and Finland for so-called "security reasons".

The use of German language was increased in the administration and jurisdiction in Karelia. Language of hearings was Russian or Finnish. However, most law texts and official language of Lutherian church were Swedish. The judge was most often from the Baltics speaking only German. Thus the Finnish language was used by common people only. Shamefully, the Finnish language was not used in majority of circumstances until 20th century.

Karelia to the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1811

The ("Napoleonic") war in 1808-09 in Finland was a catastrophe for Sweden as it lost the whole Finland to Russia. The Russian Tzars became a Grand Duke of Finland too. Finland, however, preserved its old laws and social structure.

Karelia was joined with the other Finland in 1811, which meant that Swedish/Finnish law was valid in Karelia too. So-called "Donation Lands" were a real problem in ownership of Karelian countryside. In 1863-64 and 1867 the Diet of Grand Duchy of Finland granted funds for buying out Donation Lands. Buy-outs began in 1871 and lasted more than two decades. The renting farmer had a right to buy from the government, for his future heirs, the land he or his ancestors had used for centuries. A rapid economical growth began in Karelia during this period.

Karelia in Finnish cultural life

Finnish folk poetry:
The Kalevala Epic was published in 1835 by Elias Lönnrot who collected material, partly from East-Karelia and Ingernland, where some singers were very productive.

A good example is my grandfather's and his mother's poetry. (in Finnish!)

Finnish artists and the educated class generally were greatly inspired by Karelia and Kalevala in 1890's.

Finnish independence and Karelia in 1917

Finland declared independence 06.12.1917.

Though Mr. Lenin acknowledged Finnish independence 31.12.1917, Finland had to go through a very bitter and bloody civil war in January-May 1918 for its independence and to maintain its social structure.

Treaty of Tartu (Dorpat) 14.10.1920 with Russia confirmed the borders of Finland, in other words established Finnish rule over the Finnish Karelia. The Finnish government demanded, in vain, a referendum in East-Karelia about the possibility of rejoining with Finland. Karelia was again a subject of trade and finally remained split!

Soviet Union takes Karelia in 1940 and 1944

World War II 1939-45 caused the final destruction of Karelia.

Events of Finnish Wars during 1939-1945 (Q&A about Finland's role)

Human losses of Finland during the war:

Winter War: 23.157 killed and 45.000 wounded.
Continuation War: 60.605 killed, 4.543 missing and 158.000 wounded.
Total losses: 85.500 dead and 57.000 permanently injured invalids, several thousands died afterwards.

Conditions of peace agreements

Conditions for the Preliminary Treaty of Moscow in 1944 were practically the same as in the 1940 Treaty of Moskow. The final, international peace agreement was signed in Paris in 1947.

Lost Karelian area: green area in MAP | back to menu

South-East Finland or the main part of Finnish Karelia was the most important area taken by the former Soviet Union. The lost area was about 40.000 square-km. According to the 1939 census book there were 418.202 people living in the area, (about 12% of Finland's inhabitants). All those people were evacuated to Finland.

Final "results":

Karelia, after its thousand year history, is to be considered by many as a destroyed province because that territory is occupied now by the Russians. But the Karelian people has not yet vanished. "Old" Karelian tribe fragments exist, living dissolute in the large Russian country, and "new" Karelian tribe has mixed with other Finnish people.

The unavoidable dissolution of the tribes into the surrounding population destroys ruthlessly the nationally weaker part. But - we the Finnish including the "New"-Karelians are free people living in a free country.

Situation now

Russian side:

MAP of Republic of Karelia | back to menu)
Present days' Republic of Karelia is a part of Russian Federation. The Karelian Isthmus belongs to District of Leningrad of Russian Federation. The Karelian language in Republic of Karelia has only 79.000 speakers (10% of population). The official language of the area is Russian.

Finnish side:

Finland still has North-Karelia and a part of South-Karelia where Finnish-Karelian culture is still strong. Practically no one speaks the Karelian language in Finland.
Mr. Tapani Pitkänen has information in Finnish about Finnish activities to help preserving East-Karelian cultural treasures.

After the Soviet Union's disappearance, Finnish citizens have been able to travel to the lost Karelia to see old places and e.g. to recondition old monuments and cemeteries. The Finnish have provided a lot of practical help for the today's inhabitants on Russian side of Karelia.

Discussion about return

There has been and still is in Finland a large and living discussion about possibilities to get
Finnish Karelia back to Finland. The Finnish-Karelians consider that "the robbed land must be returned".

The Russian government does not want to take it - even the discussion - into a consideration. The Finnish government avoids (open) discussion about it because of international agreements of Paris in 1947 and ESCC in 1975, and a mutual agreement in 1992 with Russia. Public discussion is, however, allowed in Finland.

This s.c. Question of Karelia has been, is and will be "a thorn in the side" in Russo-Finnish relations. (lit.:medvedev)

Literature about Karelia

A. Used sources in English:      (a large bibliography in Finnish)
(carpelan1): Christian Carpelan: On the Postglacial Colonisation of Eastern Fennoscandia.
(In "Dig it all" Papers dedicated to Ari Siiriäinen, Editor Matti Huurre. Helsinki 1999.)
(carpelan2): Christian Carpelan: Essay on archaeology and languages in Western end of the Uralic zone.
(In "Congressus nonus internationalis Fenno-Ugristarum" 7.-13.8.2000 Tartu, PARS I), 2000.
(kulonen): Ulla-Maija Kulonen: The Origin of Finnish and Related Languages, Finfo 13-98, published
by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Department for Press and Culture, Helsinki, Finland.
See the text in Web.
(map1): part of the map from Antwerp, Populär Historia 3/96
(medvedev): Sergei Medvedev: Russia as the Subconsciousness of Finland. Ulkopoliittinen Instituutti
(Finnish Institute for Foreign Politics), Working Papers 7 (1998)
(nunez): Milton Nunez: Role of food production in Stone Age Finland.
(In Pohjan poluilla. Editor Paul Fogelberg, 1999, ISBN 951-653-294-2.)
(uino1): Pirjo Uino: Ancient Karelia, Archaeological studies, ISBN 951-9057-25-0, (for Doctorate 1997)

B. Other literature in English about Karelia:

- Antti Laine and Mikko Ylikangas (ed.): Rise and Fall of Soviet Karelia. Kikomora Publications. 285 pages, 2002?.
- Tapani Salminen, Helsinki University: Finno-Ugrian languages, http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/fu.html.
Updated for the number of speakers and English names of Uralic languages.

beginning/preface | what is? | language | prehistory | main events | birth | prosperity | West/East | split | Sweden | rupture | Russia | independence | Soviet Union | results | situation | returning

Text is under continuous construction, and comments will be appreciated.