Human habitation in Finland dates to the early postglacial period in the late eighth century B.C, long before Finno-Ugric migrations into the area from the east. Earlier evidence indicated that the ancestors of the Finns migrated into southwestern Finland from Estonia as recently as the first century AD. During the early Roman Iron Age. Recent research, Including paleoecological evidence of agricultural grain pollens dating to the second millennium B.C. , suggests a much earlier proto-Finnish presence. By the beginning of the Bronze Age, around 1200 B.C. , these proto-Finnish or Finnic tribes were geographically divided. Those in southwestern Finland were heavily influenced by Scandinavian cultures, while those in the interior and eastern districts had ties with peoples of the Volga region. A series of crusades by the expanding Swedish Kingdom between the 1150s and 1293 was the vehicle for spreading the Roman Catholic church into Finland. By the time of the Lutheran Reformation in the early sixteenth Century, the Swedish crown had strong control of colonial Finland, and a modified estate system forced Finnish peasants to participate in the wars of their Swedish lords. The destruction of Finnish settlements and crops, as well as large population losses, resulted from conflicts between the Swedish and Russian empires. By the mid-eighteenth century strong Finnish separatist movements were growing. Russia finally conquered Finland during the Napoleonic Wars of 1808-1809, annexing it as an autonomous grand duchy. The nineteenth Century was a period of coalescence of Finnish national consciousness in scientific thought, politics, art, and Literature, as exemplified by Elias Lönnrot's 1835 compilation of Finnish and Karelian rune songs in the famous Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala . This movement served as a counterpoint to a growing Russification of Finnish institutions, and Finland declared its independence immediately after the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, like Russia the new Finnish state was immediately embroiled in a civil war, the result of growing class tension between property owners (the counter-revolutionary "White" forces) and landless farm, forest, and factory workers (the "Red" forces) who wanted a socialist state. The scars from that strife had not entirely healed when Finland was united by its conflicts with the Soviet Union during World War II. Finland surrendered several eastern Territories amounting to 10 percent of its area, and 420,000 Karelian Finns in those ceded areas chose to migrate across the newly formed national boundaries to Finland, requiring a massive resettlement and rural land-reform program. After World War II the Finnish parliamentary state actively pursued an official policy of neutrality combined with expanded trade and cultural contacts with the Soviet Union, a political adaptation known as the Paasikivi-Kekkonen Line.
Swedish is the second official language of Finland and is spoken by about 6 percent of the population. Living primarily in the southwestern part of the country, Swedish colonists and Swedish-speaking Finns had for centuries been the source of a ruling elite. Swedish was the language of Commerce, the courts, and education, and Finnish was regarded as a peasant language until the nationalist movement of the nineteenth century advanced Finnish as an official, written, and cultural language of the majority. Political tensions arising from this ethnolinguistic division have largely faded as the Swedish-speaking minority declines in size and assimilates through frequent marriage with Finnish speakers. By contrast, Finland's 4,400 Saami or Lapps have largely avoided assimilation into the cultural mainstream, having been displaced from the southern part of the country by northward colonizing Finns over the past 2,000 years. Separateness is now reinforced as much by the economic marginality and limited educational opportunities in Finnish Lapland as by cultural-linguistic enclavement. Gypsies have lived in Finland since the sixteenth century and, perhaps, have endured the greatest prejudice of any minority. They number between 5,000 and 6,000, and in recent decades Government measures have attempted to improve their economic situation and mitigate overt discrimination.