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Karelia (Finland)

Karjala, Karelen

Last modified: 2021-08-25 by christopher oehler
Keywords: finland | karelia | karjala | karelen | carelia | armoured arm | swords: 2 | crown (yellow) | old finland |
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[Flag of Karelia]
image by António Martins-Tuvalkin
The flag is a banner of the arms; arms granted in 1560.

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About the flag

The legend says: one arm is the arm of Russian Cossack with curved sword; the other arm with straight sword is the arm of Swedish knight. The coat of arms symbolizes the long wars of Russia and Sweden. The coat of arms were shown first time at funeral ceremony of Gustav Vasa. The Finnish writer Alopaeus wrote in 1792 that the Karelian coat of arms were granted by the Russian czar Ivan IV Grozny, but he was wrong.
Victor Lomantsov, 1 October 2001

Indeed. Due to its geographical position Karelia happened to become in the Middle Ages the main battle field between the expanding interests of Sweden and Russia (earlier Novgorod), which is why the (Swedish part of the) province got this very martial coat of arms. Despite its Finnish speaking population Karelia was divided between the two powers for the first time in 1323 and after this several times with varying borders (last time 1944 in favour of Russia), the entire area not ever having belonged to just one state. The coat of arms in question originally stood for the area around Viipuri (in Russian: Vyborg, in Swedish: Viborg) betweeen the Baltic Sea and Lake Ladoga. What remains of this on the Finnish side today is known as South Karelia (Etelä-Karjala, Södra Karelen). The area now known as North Karelia (Pohjois-Karjala, Norra Karelen), at that time mainly a wilderness with a few peasants, did not become Swedish officially until the Peace Treaty of Stolbova in 1617, along with other areas. Since then it belonged to the Province of Käkisalmi (in Swedish: Kexholm; since 1946 known by its Russian name: Priozersk), which was given coat of arms totally different - even though not less martial - from that of Viipuri Province: a burning silver castle on blue, surmounted by two cannon balls in flames.

Most of the provincial coats of arms of Sweden (at the time including Finland), including that of Karelia, were designed for the funeral ceremony of king Gustavus I Wasa (in 1560, to be precise), probably by his son John (Johan) who was very interested in heraldry. In the ceremony the coats of arms were used sewn on flags and the originals have been lost. The oldest remaining image of the Karelian coat of arms dates back to 1562. In this image, however, the ducal crown is missing and the arms are loose. By 1580 the coat of arms had gained its modern form .

An interesting feature can be noticed if you compare the Karelian coat of arms to that of Finland (Grand Duchy/Republic) which is about two decades younger. The Finnish coat of arms shows the Folkunga Lion from the Royal Swedish coat of arms, crowned, tramping on the Russian sabre and fighting with the straight western sword in its harneshed right arm - the swords and the arm, perhaps even the crown, were clearly taken from the Karelian coat of arms. A nice symbolism: in 1560 the Swedes and Russians were seen fighting as equals, twenty years later the Swedes considered they had won the fight - which later proved to be wrong, though...
Marco Pribilla, 1 October 2001

Not even in the years 1809-1917, when Finland was a Grand Duchy in the Russian Empire, was all of Karelia transferred to Finland, even if the parts of Karelia conquered from Sweden in 1721 and 1743 (these parts were in Russia unofficially called Old Finland in the 19th century) were transferred to the grand duchy in 1812.
Elias Granqvist, 2 October 2001


Official blazon in Finnish: "Punaisessa kentässä kultainen kruunu ja sen alapuolella kaksi esiin työntyvää, toisiaan vastaan iskevää käsivartta, joista oikea, haarniskoitu pitelee miekkaa ja vasen, rengaspanssarin peittämä paljaassa kädessä käyrää sapelia; kaikki hopeaa, paitsi aseiden kahvat ja haarniskan liitosvanteet kultaa. Kruunu: herttuakunnan kruunu."

Official blazon in Swedish: "I rött fält en krona av guld och därunder två mot varandera krökta, uppskjutande armar, den högra med pansar hållande ett svärd, den vänstra med ringbrynja och obehandskad hållande en kroksabel, allt av silver utom vapnens fästen och den pansarklädda armens ledplåta, som är av guld. Skölden krönes med hertigdömets krona."

Blazoned in English: "Gules, in center chief a crown or; below, two arms bent toward and almost touching one another, the dexter armored and holding a sword, the sinister chain-mail armored, holding in bare hand a curved scimitar, all argent, except weapon handles and, on dexter, armor elbow band attachments, or. The shield's crown is a ducal crown."
English blazon by Lewis A. Nowitz, 15 March 2002.