The Viking Age

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When Helsinki didn’t exist.

When Turku was an insignificant marketplace.

When most people in Finland lived in the forests and prayed to the god Ukko.

When there were no roads, only meandering paths here and there.

When world maps depicted Finland as a wavy line somewhere around the North Pole.

The Viking Age is a historical time period (800-1050 AD) which, in the history of Finland, coincides with the Iron Age.

The Eastern Route–historical background

During the Iron Age, an international waterway passed through the southernmost part of the Finnish Archipelago. When, during the ninth century, the vikings started conquering across the seas it was named Austrvegr–The Eastern Route. Later, the route was used by the mighty Hansa merchants, by kings and pretenders to the throne on the warpath, and by an illustrious group of pirates making life unsafe ashore as well as at sea.

A thousand years ago the Vikings often traveled by the Eastern Route to the huge marketplaces in Novgorod, Constantinople and Baghdad. The route passed through the outer archipelago, and the strait between Hitis and Rosala, called Örsund, was an important harbour and marketplace.

A document from the thirteenth century describes a waterway, probably the same one used by the Vikings during the years 800-1000. The route goes from Arholma in Sweden to Åland, and from there continues through the southernmost part of the archipelago of Åboland to Hanko and the archipelago of Nyland. From Porkala, the route extends to Reval, i.e. Tallinn. The Vikings used this route as well, but their destinations were the Black Sea or the Caspian Sea. The document lists the the names of the locations, but has no exact information on distances or directions. Suitable harbours are noted, as are convenient places to spend the night or wait for favourable winds. In summer, the people living along the coasts traded with the numerous strangers traveling along the Eastern Route. Trading was conducted in the outern archipelago, in no man’s land, as villages and houses on land were badly protected against attacks and people were hesitant to let greedy guests close to their homes. Travelers bought foodstuffs and piloting services, as the waters were treacherous for anyone who didn’t now the route.

The archipelago offers a unique blend of wild nature and a culture landscape formed by humans. The thousand-year inhabitation and even older history have left their mark everywhere. When you travel in the footsteps of the Vikings, you experience history in the same barren, fascinating, beatiful scenery that once greeted them. The memory of Vikings who settled down on various islands lives on in legends and names of locations along the Eastern Route.

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