Finland was inhabited when the last ice age ended, approximately 9000 BCE. The first settlers left behind artefacts that present characteristics shared with those found in Estonia, Russia, and Norway. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, using stone tools. The first pottery appeared in 5200 BCE, when the Comb Ceramic culture was introduced. The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in southern coastal Finland between 3000 and 2500 BCE may have coincided with the start of agriculture. The Bronze Age and Iron Age were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions and the sedentary farming inhabitation increased towards the end of Iron Age. At the time Finland had three main cultural areas – Southwest Finland, Tavastia and Karelia – as reflected in contemporary jewellery.
From the late 13th century, Finland gradually became an integral part of Sweden through the Northern Crusades and the Swedish part-colonisation of coastal Finland, a legacy reflected in the prevalence of the Swedish language and its official status. In 1809, Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1906, Finland became the first European state to grant all adult citizens the right to vote, and the first in the world to give all adult citizens the right to run for public office.
Finland was a relative latecomer to industrialisation, remaining a largely agrarian country until the 1950s. After World War II, the Soviet Union demanded war reparations from Finland not only in money but also in material, such as ships and machinery. This forced Finland to industrialise. It rapidly developed an advanced economy while building an extensive welfare state based on the Nordic model, resulting in widespread prosperity and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Finland is a top performer in numerous metrics of national performance, including education, economic competitiveness, civil liberties, quality of life, and human development. In 2015, Finland was ranked first in the World Human Capital and the Press Freedom Index and as the most stable country in the world during 2011–2016 in the Fragile States Index, and second in the Global Gender Gap Report. A large majority of Finns are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Finnish Constitution.
The earliest written appearance of the name Finland is thought to be on three runestones. Two were found in the Swedish province of Uppland and have the inscription finlonti (U 582). The third was found in Gotland. It has the inscription finlandi (G 319) and dates back to the 13th century. The name can be assumed to be related to the tribe name Finns, which is mentioned at first known time AD 98 (disputed meaning).
The name Suomi (Finnish for "Finland") has uncertain origins, but a candidate for a source is the Proto-Baltic word *źemē, meaning "land". In addition to the close relatives of Finnish (the Finnic languages), this name is also used in the Baltic languagesLatvian and Lithuanian. Alternatively, the Indo-European word *gʰm-on "man" (cf. Gothic guma, Latin homo) has been suggested, being borrowed as *ćoma. The word originally referred only to the province of Finland Proper, and later to the northern coast of Gulf of Finland, with northern regions such as Ostrobothnia still sometimes being excluded until later. Earlier theories suggested derivation from suomaa (fen land) or suoniemi (fen cape), but these are now considered outdated. Some have suggested common etymology with saame (Sami, a Finno-Ugric people in Lapland) and Häme (a province in the inland), but that theory is uncertain.
The first survived use of word Suomi is in 811 in the Royal Frankish Annals where it is used as a person name connected to a peace treaty.
In the earliest historical sources from the 12th and 13th centuries, the term Finland refers to the coastal region around Turku from Perniö to Uusikaupunki. This region later became known as Finland Proper in distinction from the country name Finland. Finland became a common name for the whole country in a centuries-long process that started when the Catholic Church established missionary diocese in Nousiainen in the northern part of the province of Suomi possibly sometime in the 12th century.
The devastation of Finland during the Great Northern War (1714–1721) and during the Russo-Swedish War (1741–1743) caused Sweden to begin carrying out major efforts to defend its eastern half from Russia. These 18th-century experiences created a sense of a shared destiny that when put in conjunction with the unique Finnish language, led to the adoption of an expanded concept of Finland.