When you think of the crusades, what comes to mind? European knights rushing to defend or conquer the Middle East most likely, Jerusalem, pilgrimages, deserts, etc.
What if I told you that not all the crusades went to the Middle East? There was not one, but three crusades in, of all places, Finland. They are mostly forgotten, a tiny footnote in history.
Who were these crusaders and how did they end up in Finland?
In the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, southern Europe was increasingly a patchwork of kingdoms and nation states. But in Scandinavia there was still a huge stretch of land in the far north, and between the Kingdom of Sweden and Novgorod (present day Russia) that was no man’s land, a wild place of Sami reindeer herders and loggers.
Image source: Wikicommons
Eric the IX of Sweden wanted that land. So he got his bishop to petition the pope for the right to crusade to, ahem, “Christianize” those lands. I use quotes because despite the explicit purpose of the crusades, the Sami people wouldn’t be Christianized until the 18th century (some are not Christian to this day) and the Finnish Epic poem, the Kalevala records pagan mythos still being told in Finland in the 19th century. The first Swedish crusade was in 1150 and there were two more, in 1248 and 1293. The third crusade blended into the Swedish-Novgorod wars, which became a political struggle rather religious one.
Solid historical information about the Swedish crusades is sketchy. Archaeological evidence is completely lacking for the first crusade and researchers aren’t sure where exactly the second crusaders ended up, Hame castle or Haikonen.
Legends of the Finnish and Sami people record the crusades in their land as being a precursor to western colonization elsewhere in the world. It was a time of oppression, genocides and hardship for those colonized. Despite being a progressive country in so many other ways, the Sami people still struggle with the Swedish government to this day, over autonomy and land rights.