The Battle of Poltava was the turning point in the Northern War (1700-21) between Sweden and Russia. Peter I the Great of Russia won over Charles XII of Sweden. Illustration: “The Battle of Poltava” by Dennis Martens the Younger (1726)

This highly prized country, placed precariously between two strong empires was the subject of many a battle with its borders continuously changing through the ages. The positioning of Finland made it an integral part of a countries repertoire. Positioned on one side of the narrow gulf leading to Russia meant it was valuable land for both trade and defense.

Sweden and Novgorod (now Russia) border Finland with the Baltic to the south. Records as far back as 1150 show the Swedes attempting colonization of their neighbor. Following failed attempts, many other secular powers attempted to bring the Finns under their rule including Denmark, Republic of Novgorod and Germany. It wasn’t until 1323 when the squabble ceased and a peace treaty was signed between Sweden and Novgorod dividing Finland. The area to the east was ruled by Novgorod, the areas to the west and south ruled by Sweden.

While the beginnings of the Swedish rule are debatable, the Swedish empire dominated Finland in one form or another from 1320 to 1809. Finland was treated as a province within the Swedish empire with Stockholm the capital. Shortly after Sweden took charge, a new city was established across the Baltic Sea in the southwest corner of Finland. Turku was Finland’s first city established to bridge the trading gap between Sweden and its new province. The countries first university was established in Turku in 1640.

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