Contact between Swedish and Finnish territories had started before the Viking Age, with trade across the Baltic Sea.
The contact intensified when Austrvegr (the Eastern way) became an important trading route. This happened after the Arabs had conquered Spain in the 8th century and taken control of the Straits of Gibraltar, which made it difficult to reach the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean. The northern routes to the Mediterranean Sea, through the Baltic Sea and along the Russian rivers, became an important alternative to the route through Gibraltar. One of the northern routes went along the south coast of Finland and harbours and trading places were founded along this coast.
The Vikings in the eastern parts of the Nordic countries travelled mostly “i österviking” (to the east). Their trading route was very important during Viking times. Trade with Novgorod, Kiev, Constantinople and Baghdad brought wealth and prosperity to all the Nordic countries. Altogether more than 600,000 Arabic silver coins have been found in Nordic countries.
The Legend of the East
Merchants and mercenaries from the north were not called Vikings by the people in the east: they were called Rus and Varangians (varjager). The kingdom of Russia (Rusland) was founded by Swedish rulers, who established trading places along the rivers and inland seas. Their capital was Könugård (the king´s town), now called Kiev.
A legend tells that in the 9th century Slavic peoples, who were often in conflict with each other, sent a delegation to Rus (their name for Sweden) to ask for help. They wanted someone from Rus to come and rule over them, so the Swedish chieftain, Rurik, travelled there and became their ruler. This was the beginning of Rusland, that is now Russia.
A group of Varangians later became famous as household guards for the emperors in Constantinople (now Istanbul). The emperors did not trust soldiers from nearby countries, but relied fully on the Varangian soldiers. After working in the guard, many of the soldiers returned to Sweden as very rich men.