Ancestors of the modern Finns migrated from the Volga basin to the Baltic coast region sometime during the first millennium B.C. Gradually, many settled in what is now Finland. During the mid-12th century the Swedes conquered the Finns and converted them to Christianity. Sweden made a grand duchy of the area inhabited by the Finns, and Swedish became the official and literary language. Sweden gave the Finns a high degree of self-rule and a constitutional government.

Important dates in Finland
1100's-1200's Sweden gradually conquered all of Finland.
1500's-1700's Sweden and Russia fought several wars for possession of Finland.
1809 Finland became a grand duchy of the Russian Empire.
1917 Finland declared its independence from Russia.
1918 Finnish socialists and nonsocialists fought a civil war.
1919 Finland adopted a republican constitution.
1939-1940 The Soviet Union defeated Finland in the Winter War.
1941-1944 The Soviet Union defeated Finland in the Continuation War.
1946 Finland established a policy of neutrality in international politics.
1955 Finland joined the United Nations (UN) and the Nordic Council.
1981 President Urho Kekkonen resigned from office because of poor health. He had served as president since 1956.
1995 Finland joined the European Union, an economic and political organization of European nations.

In the early years of the 18th century, Finland suffered greatly from wars between Sweden and Russia. In 1703 Peter the Great of Russia founded St. Petersburg only 30 miles (48 km) from the Finnish border, and control of Finland became increasingly important to Russia. It obtained Karelia (eastern Finland) and neighboring provinces in 1721, and in 1809 (during the Napoleonic Wars) Sweden agreed to give up the rest of the country. In ceding Finland to Russia, Sweden made the czar pledge that the Lutheran religion would be preserved and the laws and liberties of the Finns protected. In the 1860's Russia loosened its control over Finland by allowing the Finnish Diet (parliament) to have authority over local affairs.

In 1897, however, the Russians began to reduce Finnish rights. The manifesto of 1899 lessened the authority of the Finnish legislature. As Russian rule tightened, Finnish nationalist sentiment was aroused.