Second Swedish Crusade
Part of the Northern Crusades
Date middle of the 13th century
Location Tavastia
Result Swedish victory; Tavastia became a part of Sweden
Swedish Crusaders Tavastians
Commanders and leaders
Eric IX of Sweden
Birger Jarl

The Second Swedish Crusade was a 13th century Swedish military expedition against the Tavastians, in present-day Finland, led by Birger jarl. A lot of the details of the Crusade are debated, but the end result was that eastern Finland came to be a part of the Swedish kingdom.


A sculpted head in Varnhem Church, identified as the likeness of Birger Jarl, leader of the Crusade.

Sweden had been starting to exert control over Finland at least since the beginning in the 13th century, starting with Finland proper. In 1220, Sweden tried to join in on the Baltic Crusades, but could not hold on to the foothold in Estonia. There are notes of Swedish churchmen, possibly led by Finland's bishop Thomas, being present in Tavastia ca 1230, and papal letters deplore how slowly Christianity gains ground in Finland. There were apparently a backlash against the missionaries, and in 1237, pope Gregory IX sent out a call for the Swedes to take up arms in a crusade against the "apostates and barbarians".[1][2]


All details of the crusade are from Eric's Chronicle, which is largely propagandist in nature, written a century after the events, amidst internal unrest and war against Novgorod. The chronicle says that the crusade took place between the Battle of Sparrsätra in 1247 and the death of King Eric in 1250, and presents the Tavastians (taffwesta) as the Swedish opponents. According to the chronicle, the expedition was prepared in Sweden and then conducted over sea to a land on the coast, where the enemy was waiting.[3]

The Chronicle also mentions that a castle called "taffwesta borg" was established after the war. The Chronicle also links the Crusade to a contest with the Orthodox Russians, making a point of the fact that the "Russian king" had now lost the conquered land.

The so-called "Detmar Chronicle" of Lübeck from around 1340 confirms the expedition with a short note that Birger Jarl submitted Finland under Swedish rule.[4]


Unlike the doubted First Swedish crusade, there seem to be little doubt that Sweden's effort to christen Finland reached a culmination in the middle of the 13th century. Still, a lot of the details, including the year and the exact nature, has been the subject of debate.

Nature of the Crusade[]

Despite the Chronicles attempt to paint the Crusade as a war of conquest, it is likely it was more of an unusually bloody phase in an ongoing process by which Finland was incorporated in the Swedish state. Sweden had a central government, and a strong ideological force in the form of the Christian church. Finnish chieftains who joined up gained power and prestige.[5]


The dating of the Crusade when the attack took place has been somewhat disputed. Attempts have been made to date the attack either to 1238-1239 or to 1256. Neither date has received wide acceptance.[6] Dick Harrison finds the theory of an early crusade most probable, on the ground of the papal letter, which would also make the war into a properly sanctioned crusade, and the fact that Sweden was otherwise peaceful during that period.[7]

"Taffwesta borg"[]

The Chronicle mentions an impressive castle that was built by the Swedes, "taffwesta borg". This has been interpreted both as Häme Castle (Swedish Tavastehus), as well as nearby Hakoinen Castle, but there is no archaeological evidence to support such an early dating.

Template:Christianization of Finland


Church reaction and reorganization[]

Probably related to preventing other parties from getting involved in the conflict, Pope Innocent IV took Finland under his special protection in August 1249, however without mentioning Sweden in any way.[8] Finland's bishop Thomas, probably a Dominican monk, had resigned already in 1245 and died three years later in a Dominican convent in Gotland. The seat being vacant, the diocese had probably been under the direct command of the papal legate William of Modena whose last orders to Finnish priests were given in June, 1248.[9]

Swedish Bero was eventually appointed as the new bishop in 1248/9, presumably soon after William's visit to Sweden for an important church meeting at Skänninge that ended on March 1, 1248. The so-called "Palmsköld booklet" from 1448 noted that it was Bero who gave Finns' tax to the Swedish king.[10] Bero came directly from the Swedish court like his two successors. It seems that Swedish bishops also held all secular power in Finland until the 1280s when the position of the Duke of Finland was established.

In 1249, the situation was also seen clear enough to have the first Dominican convent established in Finland.[11] There had been no monasteries in Finland before that. The convent was situated next to the bishop's fortification in Koroinen until the end of the century.

Swedish succession[]

As an unexpected side effect, Eric's Chronicle tells of how the expedition seems to have cost Birger the Swedish crown. As King Eric died in 1250 and Birger was absent from Sweden, the Swedish lords, led by Joar Blå, selected Birger's under-aged son Valdemar as the new king instead of the powerful Jarl himself.

Swedish rule in Finland[]

From 1249 onwards, sources generally regard Finland proper and Tavastia as a part of Sweden. The Diocese of Finland proper is listed among the Swedish dioceses for the first time in 1253.[12] In the Novgorod First Chronicle Tavastians (yem) and Finns proper (sum) are mentioned on an expedition with Swedes (svei) in 1256.[13] However, very little is known about the situation in Finland during the following decades. The reason for this is partly the fact that Western Finland was now ruled from Turku and most of the documentation remained there. As the Novgorod forces burned the city in 1318 during the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, very little remained about what had happened in the previous century. The last Swedish Crusade to Finland took place in 1293 against Karelians.

Eric`s Chronicle: "Crusade against Tavastians"[]

King Erik then sent out a call
to knights and to their equals all,
to peasants and to fighting men,
- as ruler still do now, as then,
to notify their men before
they send them off to fight a war -
he sent them thus to heathen land
and chose his in-law to take in hand
to lead them all upon that quest,
for him of all he trusted best.
His son-in-law was eager to go,
keen his honour there to show.
Then arms and armour were prepared
by warriors brave, who nothing feared.
Helmets and body-armour burnished
were in demand, and more were furnished.
Each in his district did his best,
ready to heed the king`s request,

and warships and transport set afloat.
Many a money-bag was brought out,
its contents did those men receive
who now their homes were due to leave
not knowing where their journey led
Hands were wrung and tears were shed
by many a wife left on her own.
Yet they rejoiced that God`s renown
would grow and He be more adored.
Many an old ancestral sword
was then from nails unslung
where it for many a day had hung.
Their friends them followed to the strand
to bid farewell and clasp their hand
Many a red mouth was kissed that day
that never again was kissed that way,
for some never more would each other see

- such can the outcome of such partings be.
Fair winds arose, the sails were set.
The heathen, too, foresaw the threat
they well knew that their coming would
be to their harm and not their good.
There the Christians a harbour did find.
Innumerable gilded prows aligned
the heathen men saw lying there,
causing them less to laugh than fear.
They took their banners and went ashore.
Fate then favored the Christians more:
their bright shields there and helmets they
throughout that country did display.
They eager were to try their swords
upon the Heathen Tavast hordes,
which I expect is what occurred.

With gold and silver and many a herd
of cattle the Tavasts away did run.
The heathen lost, the Christians won.
Whoever would this them agree
to become a Christian and baptised be,
him they allowed both goods and life
and peace to live withour further strife.
The heathen who would them gainsay
they did mercilessly slay.
The Christians there a fortress did build,
which they with friend and kinsmen filled.
That castle they Tavasteborg did call;
it to this day does the heathen gall.
With Christian men they settled that land,
a deed, I think, that does yet stand.
That land became Christian through and through
the Russian king its loss must rue.


See also[]

  • Early Finnish wars
  • First Swedish Crusade
  • Third Swedish Crusade
  • Northern Crusades
  • Battle of Lihula
  • Battle of the Neva


  1. ^ Harrison (2005), p.425-426
  2. ^ "Letter by Pope Gregory IX about an uprising against the church in Tavastia". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  3. ^ Description of the crusade. Original text.
  4. ^ Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä, 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. See page 7.
  5. ^ Harrison (2005), p 425; Tarkiainen (2008), p. 101
  6. ^ Finnish Antiquarian Society, Suomen Museo 2002, page 66
  7. ^ Harrison (2005), p 427
  8. ^ "Letter by Innocentius IV to the diocese of Finland and its people". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  9. ^ "Wilhelm of Sabina's letter to the priests of Finland in 1248". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  10. ^ Original text as hosted by the University of Columbia; in Latin. See also Suomen varhaiskeskiajan lähteitä, 1989. ISBN 951-96006-1-2. Page 7.
  11. ^ "Convent established in Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.  In Latin.
  12. ^ Surviving lists from 1241 and 1248 still did not include Finland.
  13. ^ "Novgorod First Chronicle entry about the Swedish attack to Novgorod and Novgorodian counterattack to Finland". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. . In Swedish.
  14. ^ Erik Carlquist,Peter C. Hogg,Eva Österberg. "The Chronicle of Duke Erik: A Verse Epic from Medieval Sweden". 


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