Detecting in Karelia - Karelian Isthmus: Archaeology & History


Apart from the old towns of Vyborg and Priozersk, and churches on the Konevets island of Lake Ladoga, since the late 19th century a number of other archaeological sites have been discovered on the isthmus. Numerous archaeological remnants of the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Copper Age and Bronze Age occur all over the isthmus.

The eastern part of Karelian Isthmus hosts a number of medieval remnants. There are many grave pits of Karelians of the 10th-15th centuries with metal and ceramic artifacts along the northern armlet of Vuoksi, near Lake Sukhodolskoye and in a few other places in Priozersky District.

On the southern shore of Lake Sukhodolskoye small medieval burial mounds are abundant as well. A lot of large cult stones have been found along these bodies of water, as well as agglomerations of cairns. Remnants of several rural settlements were also discovered there as well as on the shore of Lake Ladoga.

Remnants of the Tiuri (Tiversk) town (10th-15th centuries) were excavated on a former island in the northern Vuoksi armlet. A few treasures of silver adornments and medieval Arabian and Western European coins have also been found, as the isthmus laid on the Volga trade route (at that time, Vuoksi River had a tributary emptying into the Bay of Vyborg).

Prehistory and Medieval Period:

In the first millennium, Finnic people wandered to the Karelian Isthmus. In the 11th century, Sweden and Novgorod Republic started to compete tax holding rights. The conflict was rooted in the Viking Age when the Varangians had a trade outpost in Ladoga and controlled the course of the Neva River. The process of turning Northern Russia into Slavic and Catholic accounted for the deterioration of relations between the Vikings and Novgorod at the turn of the 11th century.

In what has become known as the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, the Republic of Novgorod and medieval Sweden were engaged in a number of conflicts for control of the Gulf of Finland, an area vital to the Hanseatic league and part of the Varangian-Byzantine trade route. The Swedish attacks against Orthodox Russians had religious overtones, but before the 14th century there is no knowledge of official Crusade bulls issued by the Pope.

The purpose of the Three Swedish Crusades, in 1150, 1249 and 1293, was not only to slaughter people and devastate villages and fields, but also to gain control over the mouth of the Neva river and the city of Ladoga - the most important part of the Trade Route from the Varangians to the Greeks, which had been under Novgorod's control for more than hundred years.

Medieval Crusader

Medieval Crusader

During the last Crusade, the Swedes won a part of western Karelia and built the fortress of Vyborg there. Earlier, Swedes tried to establish a bridgehead in Estonia but failed.

In the early 14th century, military tensions escalated and the two powers were continually at war. After the Novgorodians devastated central Finland, a Swedish fleet embarked towards city of Ladoga and set that trade emporium on fire in response.

Novgorod attacked Turku in southwestern Finland, burning the city and the cathedral as well as the episcopal castle in Kuusisto. To dominate the entrance to Lake Ladoga, the Russians founded an important fortress Oreshek.

Sweden was encouraging settlers to take over the northern coast of the Gulf of Bothnia, which was defined by the treaty as Novgorod's possession. When Karelians rebelled against Novgorod in 1337, King Magnus Eriksson sent his troops in their support, managing to briefly occupy Korela Fortress (Priozersk). Next year, Novgorod besieged Vyborg but an armistice was soon agreed upon.

After ten years of peace, King Magnus Eriksson felt ready to renew hostilities. He sent his army to Oreshek and set it ablaze. Novgorod soon recovered the lost ground. The king attempted yet another fruitless attack in 1350. In the same year, the Black Death plague broke out in Northern Europe, effectively ending further hostilities.

The military actions were renewed in 1392 and 1411. By then, Sweden had been preoccupied by the Scandinavian power struggle for the entire 15th century. The last conflict ensued in 1445, several decades before Novgorod was absorbed into Moscow Rule. Nevertheless, the conflict continued between Russia and Sweden until the early 19th century.

Events in 17th - 20th Centuries:

During 17th century Sweden gained the whole isthmus and also Ingria. From 1721-1812 the isthmus belonged to the Russian Empire, won in the Great Northern War that started with the Russian conquest of Ingria where the new imperial capital, Saint Petersburg, was founded (1703) in the southern end of the isthmus. Then in 1812, the northwestern half was transferred, as a part of Old Finland, to the semi-autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland, created in 1809 and in a union with Russia.

Because of the rich soil, rich fishing waters and the close proximity to Saint Petersburg, the Karelian Isthmus became the wealthiest part of Finland once the industrial revolution had gained momentum in the 19th century. When Finland declared its independence in 1917, the isthmus remained Finnish.

In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what became known as the Winter War (1939-1940). Soviet forces were able to penetrate the well-defended Mannerheim Line across the isthmus in early 1940. Finland ceded the Karelian isthmus to the Soviet Union after the Winter War and Continuation War (1941-1944).

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