Trade and cultural contacts

Friend barter

Trade between the inhabitants of coastal villages along the northern coast of Estonia and southern coast of Finland probably dates back as far as antiquity. The first known records date from the Middle Ages. The term „friend barter“, however, is today associated mainly with the late 19th and early 20th century, a period of active trade between the inhabitants of Suursaari and Tytärsaari islands and coastal people of Viru County.

Friend barter involved steady trade partners, or friends, who had swapped goods for steady exchange prices already for generations. Families were on firm friend terms – „friends forever“. When they met at friend fairs, they performed a ritual exchange of bark-dried fish for a bottle of milk to show other fair participants that loyalty between friends is unbreakable and swap of goods has been confirmed. The main exchange commodity of the islanders was salted Baltic herring, which was swapped both for grain, especially rye, and for potatoes. Seal hides tanned by the islanders were also highly valued, as were laces made by women.

In addition to the people of Suursaari Island, the most active friend barterers were the islanders of Tytärsaari, who would go „Viron seproissa“ (friend bartering with Estonians) up until September 1939. Goods were exchanged at friend fairs – sepramarkkinoilla –, where people would sail from Tytärsaari 3–4 times a year. The first trip was taken before Midsummer to barter low-fat spawning herring. The second trip was taken in early October, when it was time to buy potatoes, and the third one in November, around St. Martin’s Day. The last friend trip of the year was made in late November or early December, around St. Catherine’s Day. According to 1889 data of Haapasaari Customs Service, the islanders of Tytärsaari would prefer friend trips to Mahu, the oldest village on the coast of Viru County, but they would also visit Purtse and Ontika.

When a customs agreement was concluded between Finland and Estonia in 1930, free trade in potatoes ceased. The agreement was devastating for wider friend barter, with the exception of the people of Tytärsaari, who maintained the right to exchange salted herring for 150 kg of rye and 400 kg of potatoes per capita free of duty

Estonian fishermen fishing in Finland

Fishermen of North Estonia have been going on fishing expeditions to Finnish waters outright by entire villages since the Middle Ages. Estonians had fishing grounds along the entire coast of the Gulf of Finland – in the waters off Seiskari, Lavansaari, Tytärsaari, Suursaari and Koivisto islands; Virolahti, Pernaja (Pernå), Porvoo and Sopoo municipalities; Porkkala Archipelago; Hanko (Hangö) Island, and even in Turku Archipelago.

Estonian fishermen had to notify Finnish officials of their arrival and pay rent to them upon departure. Rent was paid in fish. In the 16th century, rent was calculated in bunches of dried twait shad, or krampesill. A bunch had to contain 1000 fish. Data on taxation of fishing have been recorded in the bookkeeping documents of Finnish authorities.


  • In 1550, Estonian fishermen paid 324 bunches of krampesill for fishing rent in Viipuri (Viborg). This amount was charged as rent for 27 Estonian boats fishing in the waters off Tytärsaari, Lavansaari and Seiskari.
  • In 1551, 125.5 bunches of krampesill were collected for fish taken to Livonia and Virumaa from Pernaja.
  • For 1556, the records also show monetary payment. An Estonian boat crew that had been fishing off Tytärsaari, Lavansaari and Seiskari was charged 71 marks and 5 ores, plus 474 bunches of krampesill at Viipuri Fort.
  • On Koivisto Island, 134 bunches of krampesill were collected as rent, plus payment in fish or cash. 24 Estonian boat crews claimed that they had no catch at all. They were charged 10 ores per boat, 30 marks in total. Seven Estonians who had had better fishing luck were also charged 10 ores per boat in cash, and 76 bunches of krampesill in total.
  • For fish taken to Estonia from Porvoo, 125.5 bunches of krampesill were charged in 1551, 270 bunches in 1554, and 72 bunches in 1556.

Joint fishing expeditions from the Estonian coast to Finland were undertaken up until the early 20th century. Later, sprat fishing near Estonian coasts became so lucrative for fishermen that they no longer went on fishing expeditions to Finland.

The ruins of kivipirtti-saunas and fish ovens could be seen on Suursaari Island even as late as the 1930ies. Estonians built them to dry fish, while Finns dried fish in the wind and sun.

Prangli chapel

Prangli Island has had several chapels over the years. The chapel formerly located on the east coast of the island was built by Finnish seal hunters who miraculously escaped death. To find a location for the chapel, they carried water with a sieve and picked the place where water flew through the sieve fastest. The chapel contained a silver votive fish, which was believed to have an impact on catch. The chapel dilapidated in the mid-17th century. A new religious building was built soon. As this, too, had dilapidated by the early 19th century, Gustav Schüdlöffel, priest of Jõelähtme village, started raising funds for a new chapel. The necessary amount was raised in 19 years, and the cornerstone of a new chapel was laid on 8 June 1848. The rest went fast. Johan Klamas from Rammu Island and his brother-in-law Abram Liljeberg from Pirtti Island transported ready-cut logs from Sipoo, Finland, to Prangli by sailboats, and the new St. Lawrence Chapel was inaugurated on 10 August.

Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland - Ingria, Retusaari, Nyen, Kronshtadt

At the eastern end of the Gulf of Finland lie the coast of historical Ingria and Retusaari Island, which were conquered by Peter I during the Great Northern War. After its incorporation into Russia, the island was renamed as Kotlin and the fort of Kronshtadt was built there. Kronshtadt still serves as St. Petersburg’s gate to the sea.

Present-day St. Petersburg was formerly the location of the Swedish-built city of Nyen. The city was built at the mouth of the Neva, by Nyenkans Fort, and was granted city rights in 1642. Nyen was inhabited by Swedes and Finns, as well as wealthy German merchants. Nyen enjoyed its heyday in the second half of the 17th century, when its population amounted to two and a half thousand. In the early 18th century, Peter I had the grand stone buildings of Nyen razed to the ground.