Sweden’s prehistory starts in the Allerd oscillation, a warm era about 12,000 BC, with Late Palaeolithic Bromme culture reindeer-hunting settlements at the edge of the ice in what is now the country’s southernmost region, Scania. Small tribes of hunter-gatherer-fishers used flint technology throughout this time period.
Tacitus describes Sweden in a written source in Germania around 98 AD. In Germania 44 and 45, he describes the Swedes (Suiones) as a strong tribe (distinguished not only by their weapons and soldiers, but also by their formidable fleets), having ships with a prow at either end (longships). It is unclear whose kings (kuningaz) governed the Suiones, but Norse mythology depicts a lengthy series of mythical and semi-legendary rulers dating back to the final millennia BC. In terms of literacy in Sweden, the runic script was in use among the south Scandinavian elite by the 2nd century AD, but all that has survived from the Roman Period are brief inscriptions on artifacts, primarily of male names, demonstrating that the people of south Scandinavia spoke Proto-Norse at the time, a language ancestral to Swedish and other North Germanic languages.
Jordanes mentions two tribes residing in Scandza in the sixth century, both of which are today regarded identical with Swedes: the Suetidi and Suehans. Suetidi is thought to be the Latinized version of Svjó, the Old Norse word for Swedes. Jordanes mentions the Suetidi and Dani as being of the same ancestry and being the tallest people. Later, he cites additional Scandinavian tribes of comparable size. The Suehans were renowned throughout the Roman world as providers of black fox skins and, according to Jordanes, possessed extremely excellent horses comparable to those of the Thyringi of Germania (alia vero gens ibi moratur Suehans, quae velud Thyringi equis utuntur eximiis). Snorri Sturluson, an Icelandic historian, also said that the Swedish king Adils (Eadgils) possessed the best horses of his day.
The Swedish Viking Age lasted approximately from the eighth through the eleventh centuries. Swedish Vikings and Gutar are said to have mostly traveled east and south, visiting Finland, the Baltic nations, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, the Black Sea, and even Baghdad. Their routes were through the Dnieper and south to Constantinople, where they conducted many attacks. The Byzantine Emperor Theophilos recognized their military prowess and asked them to serve as his personal bodyguard, known as the Varangian Guard. The Swedish Vikings, known as Rus, are thought to be the founding fathers of Kievan Rus.
Many runestones throughout Sweden memorialize the deeds of these Swedish Vikings, including the Greece runestones and the Varangian runestones. There was also significant involvement in westward voyages, which are recorded on stones like as the England runestones. The last big Swedish Viking voyage seems to have been Ingvar the Far-ill-fated flung’s trip. Serkland, a location south-east of the Caspian Sea, was visited. Its members are remembered on the Ingvar runestones, but no survivor is mentioned. The crew’s fate is unclear, although it is assumed that they died of illness.
The Kingdom of Sweden
It is unknown when and how the kingdom of Sweden was established, but the list of Swedish monarchs begins with Eric the Victorious, the first king known to have governed both Svealand (Sweden) and Götaland (Gothia) as one province. Long before that, in antiquity, Sweden and Gothia were two distinct countries. The epic poem Beowulf recounts semi-legendary Swedish-Geatish battles in the sixth century, although it is unknown how long they lasted. In this context, “Götaland” refers to the provinces of stergötland (East Gothia) and Västergötland (West Gothia). At the time, the island of Gotland was contested by people other than Swedes (Danish, Hanseatic, and Gotland-domestic). Due to the thick pine woods, Smland was of little significance at the time, and only the city of Kalmar with its castle was significant. Three Danish provinces included the south-west portions of the Scandinavian peninsula (Scania, Blekinge and Halland). Denmark had a straight border with Norway and its province Bohuslän north of Halland. However, there were Swedish settlements in south-west Finland and along Norrland’s southern shore.
Ystad in Danish province Scania and Paviken on Gotland were thriving trading centers during the early phases of the Scandinavian Viking Age, although they were not part of the early Swedish Kingdom. Ystad has discovered the remains of what is thought to have been a major market dating from 600–700 AD. The ruins of a major Viking Age harbour with shipbuilding yards and handicraft enterprises have been discovered at Paviken, a significant trading center in the Baltic area during the 9th and 10th centuries. Between 800 and 1000, commerce brought an abundance of silver to Gotland, and some historians believe that the Gotlanders of this period hoarded more silver than the rest of Scandinavia combined.
Although St. Ansgar is often credited for bringing Christianity in 829, the new faith did not begin to completely displace paganism until the 12th century. Christianity became the most common religion in the 11th century, and Sweden is considered a Christian country from 1050. Internal power conflicts and rivalry among the Nordic kingdoms characterized the era between 1100 and 1400. According to the tale of Eric IX and the Eric Chronicles, in the years 1150-1293, Swedish kings led the first, second, and third crusades to pagan Finland against Finns, Tavastians, and Karelians, and began battles with the Rus, who had lost contact with Sweden. The Swedish colonization of Finland’s coastal regions began at the same time, in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the 14th century, Swedish colonization of Finland’s coastal regions became increasingly organized, and by the end of the century, many of Finland’s coastal districts were mainly inhabited by Swedes.
Except for the provinces of Scania, Blekinge, and Halland in the south-west of the Scandinavian peninsula, which were part of the Kingdom of Denmark at the time, feudalism did not evolve in Sweden in the same way that it did in the rest of Europe. Throughout much of Swedish history, the peasants remained mainly a class of free farmers. Slavery (also known as thralldom) was not widespread in Sweden, and little slavery existed tended to be driven out by the spread of Christianity, the difficulties of getting slaves from the regions east of the Baltic Sea, and the establishment of towns prior to the 16th century. Slavery and serfdom were, in fact, abolished entirely by an edict issued by King Magnus IV in 1335. Former slaves were integrated into the peasants, and some worked as laborers in cities. Nonetheless, Sweden remained an impoverished and economically underdeveloped nation where barter was the primary mode of trade. For example, farmers in Dalsland would carry their butter to Sweden’s mining regions and swap it for iron, which they would then take to the coast and sell for fish, which they would eat, while the iron was transported overseas.
The Black Death hit Sweden in the middle of the 14th century. Sweden’s and much of Europe’s populations were devastated. And the population (in the same area) that existed in 1348 did not return until the beginning of the nineteenth century. During the years 1349–1351, one-third of the population perished. During this time, Swedish towns started to gain more privileges and were heavily affected by German merchants of the Hanseatic League, particularly in Visby. Sweden and Norway were joined under King Magnus Eriksson in 1319, while Queen Margaret I of Denmark accomplished Sweden, Norway, and Denmark’s personal union via the Kalmar Union in 1397. Margaret’s successors, whose authority was similarly centered on Denmark, were, however, unable to exert control over the Swedish aristocracy.
Over the course of the kingdom’s history, a large number of offspring inherited the Swedish crown; as a result, actual authority was maintained for long periods by regents (particularly those of the Sture dynasty) selected by the Swedish parliament. In 1520, King Christian II of Denmark, who established his claim to Sweden by force, ordered a murder of Swedish nobility in Stockholm. This became known as the “Stockholm blood bath,” and it galvanized the Swedish aristocracy to fresh opposition, and on June 6, 1523 (today Sweden’s national holiday), they crowned Gustav Vasa king. This is frequently regarded as the birthplace of modern Sweden. Soon after, he repudiated Catholicism and led Sweden into the Protestant Reformation.
In 1356, the Hanseatic League was formally established in Lübeck on Northern Germany’s Baltic coast. The Hanseatic League sought civic and economic rights from the princes and royalty of the Baltic Sea nations and towns. In return, they provided some kind of protection. The Hansa, with their own fleet, were able to rid the Baltic Sea of pirates. The Hansa received guarantees that only Hansa nationals would be permitted to trade from the ports where they were situated. They wanted an arrangement that would exclude them from all customs and taxes. With these concessions, Lübeck merchants rushed to Stockholm, where they quickly came to dominate the city’s economic life, transforming the port city into Sweden’s main commercial and industrial metropolis. Under Hanseatic commerce, textiles accounted for two-thirds of Stockholm’s imports, with salt accounting for the remaining one-third. Sweden’s major exports were iron and copper.
However, the Swedes started to resent the Hansa’s (mainly German nationals) monopolistic trade position, as well as the revenue they saw they had lost to the Hansa. As a result, when Gustav Vasa or Gustav I destroyed the Hanseatic League’s monopolistic authority, the Swedish people hailed him as a hero. Gustav I is today regarded as the father of the modern Swedish nation. Gustav’s foundations would need time to mature. Furthermore, as Sweden developed, broke away from the Hanseatic League, and reached its golden age, the fact that the peasantry had historically been free meant that most of the economic advantages flowed back to them rather than a feudal landowning elite.
Sweden rose to prominence as a European superpower throughout the 17th century. Sweden was an impoverished and sparsely populated nation on the outside of European civilization before the rise of the Swedish Empire, with no major power or reputation. During the reign of King Gustavus Adolphus, Sweden grew to continental importance, capturing lands from Russia and Poland–Lithuania in a number of wars, notably the Thirty Years’ War.
Sweden captured almost half of the Holy Roman states during the Thirty Years’ War. Gustav Adolphus hoped to become the next Holy Roman Emperor, reigning over an unified Scandinavia and the Holy Roman kingdoms, but he was killed at the Battle of Lützen in 1632. Following the Battle of Nördlingen, Sweden’s only major military loss of the war, pro-Swedish feeling in the German states began to wane. One by one, these German provinces withdrew from Swedish control, leaving Sweden with just a few northern German territories: Swedish Pomerania, Bremen-Verden, and Wismar.
Sweden was the third-largest nation in Europe by land area in the mid-seventeenth century, behind only Russia and Spain. Sweden had its greatest geographical size under the reign of Charles X, after the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658. Gustav I’s significant improvements to the Swedish economy in the 16th century, as well as his adoption of Protestantism, are credited with laying the groundwork for Sweden’s prosperity throughout this era. Sweden was involved in numerous conflicts in the 17th century, including one with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, with both sides fighting for territory of today’s Baltic nations, with the catastrophic Battle of Kircholm being one of the highlights. The catastrophic famine that hit Finland in 1696 killed one-third of the population. Famine struck Sweden as well, killing approximately 10% of the population.
The Swedes launched the Deluge, a series of invasions against the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Swedish economy had degraded after more than a half-century of nearly continuous conflict. Charles’ son, Charles XI, was tasked with rebuilding the economy and refitting the army for the rest of his life. His bequest to his son, the incoming king of Sweden, Charles XII, included one of the world’s best arsenals, a huge standing army, and a magnificent navy. Russia, Sweden’s main danger at the time, had a bigger army but lagged far behind in terms of equipment and training.
The Russian army was so badly damaged after the Battle of Narva in 1700, one of the first engagements of the Great Northern War, that Sweden had an open opportunity to invade Russia. However, instead of pursuing the Russian army, Charles turned his attention to Poland–Lithuania, defeating the Polish king, Augustus II, and his Saxon allies in the Battle of Klissow in 1702. This allowed Russia to rebuild and modernize its army.
After successfully conquering Poland, Charles planned to invade Russia, but this resulted in a devastating Russian victory at the Battle of Poltava in 1709. After a lengthy march through Cossack raids, Russian Tsar Peter the Great’s scorched-earth tactics, and the very cold winter of 1709, the Swedes arrived at Poltava wounded and demoralized, outnumbered by the Russian army. The loss signaled the start of the end for the Swedish Empire. Furthermore, the plague that was sweeping in East Central Europe ravaged the Swedish dominions, reaching Central Sweden in 1710.
In 1716, Charles XII tried to conquer Norway, but was assassinated in Fredriksten stronghold in 1718. The Swedes were not beaten militarily at Fredriksten, but the campaign’s whole structure and organization came apart with the king’s death, and the army retreated.
Sweden lost its position as an empire and as the dominating power on the Baltic Sea when it was forced to surrender vast tracts of territory in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721. With Sweden’s decline in power, Russia rose to become an empire and one of Europe’s major powers. By the time the conflict ended in 1721, Sweden had lost an estimated 200,000 soldiers, 150,000 from the region of modern-day Sweden and 50,000 from the Finnish portion of Sweden.
Sweden did not have the resources in the 18th century to preserve its possessions outside of Scandinavia, and most of them were lost, culminating in the fall of eastern Sweden to Russia in 1809, which formed the highly autonomous Grand Principality of Finland in Imperial Russia.
Sweden aligned itself against its traditional friend and patron, France, in the Napoleonic Wars in order to reestablish Swedish supremacy in the Baltic Sea. Sweden’s participation in the Battle of Leipzig provided it the power to compel Denmark–Norway, a French ally, to surrender Norway to the King of Sweden at the Treaty of Kiel on 14 January 1814 in return for northern German territories. The Swedish monarch, Charles XIII, rejected Norway’s efforts to retain its position as an independent state. On July 27, 1814, he began a military campaign against Norway, which resulted in the Moss Convention, which drove Norway into a personal union with Sweden under the Swedish monarch, which lasted until 1905. Sweden was at war for the final time in 1814.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was a substantial population growth, which writer Esaias Tegnér ascribed in 1833 to “peace, smallpox vaccination, and potatoes.” Sweden’s population doubled between 1750 and 1850. According to some historians, widespread emigration to America became the only option to avoid starvation and revolt; during the 1880s, more than 1% of the population left yearly. Nonetheless, Sweden remained impoverished, with a virtually exclusively agrarian economy, even as Denmark and the rest of Western Europe started to industrialize.
During this period, many people turned to America for a better life. It is estimated that about one million Swedes immigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1910. In the early twentieth century, Chicago had more Swedes than Gothenburg (Sweden’s second biggest city). The majority of Swedish immigrants settled in the Midwestern United States, with a significant population in Minnesota, and a few others settling in other areas of the United States and Canada.
Despite the sluggish pace of industrialisation throughout the nineteenth century, many significant changes were occurring in the agricultural economy as a result of continuous invention and fast population expansion. These advances included government-sponsored enclosure programs, intensive agricultural land exploitation, and the introduction of new crops such as the potato. Because the Swedish peasants had never been enslaved, the Swedish agricultural culture started to play a significant role in Swedish politics, which has lasted to the present day with the contemporary Agrarian party (now called the Centre Party). Sweden started building the industrialised economy that exists today between 1870 and 1914.
During the second part of the nineteenth century, significant grassroots organizations (trade unions, temperance groups, and autonomous religious groups) arose in Sweden, laying the groundwork for a solid foundation of democratic ideals. The Swedish Social Democratic Party was established in 1889. These movements accelerated Sweden’s transition to a modern parliamentary democracy, which it attained by the end of World War I. People increasingly migrated to cities to work in industries as the Industrial Revolution advanced throughout the twentieth century, and many got engaged in socialist unions. Following the reintroduction of parliamentarism in 1917, a communist revolution was averted, and the nation was democratized.
World War I and World War II
Sweden was officially neutral during World War I, but under German pressure, they took steps that were detrimental to the Allied powers, such as mining the resund channel, effectively closing it to Allied shipping, and allowing the Germans to use Swedish facilities and the Swedish cipher to send secret messages to their overseas embassies. Sweden also authorized volunteers to fight with the Germans for the White Guards against the Reds and Russians in the Finnish Civil War, and temporarily controlled the Aland islands in collaboration with Germany.
Sweden remained nominally neutral throughout World War II, as it did during World War I, but its neutrality during World War II has been contested. For most of the war, Sweden was ruled by Germany, since its connections to the rest of the world were severed by blockades. The Swedish government felt it was in no position to publicly challenge Germany, so it made some compromises. Throughout the conflict, Sweden also provided steel and machined components to Germany. Sweden, on the other hand, aided the Norwegian resistance and helped save Danish Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in 1943. The Swedish government also provided unofficial assistance to Finland during the Winter War and the Continuation War by permitting volunteers and equipment to be transported to Finland.
During the final year of the war, Sweden began to play a role in humanitarian efforts, and many refugees, including several thousand Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe, were rescued thanks to Swedish rescue missions to internment camps and partly because Sweden served as a haven for refugees, primarily from the Nordic and Baltic countries. Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish ambassador, and his colleagues secured the safety of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews. Nonetheless, both Swedes and others have claimed that Sweden might have done more to resist the Nazis’ war activities, even if it meant risking occupation.
Sweden was nominally a neutral nation and did not join NATO or the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War, but Sweden’s leadership maintained close connections with the US and other western countries. Following the war, Sweden expanded its industry to serve the reconstruction of Europe, taking advantage of an undamaged industrial foundation, social stability, and natural resources. Sweden got Marshall Plan assistance and was a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). During the majority of the postwar period, the nation was ruled by the Swedish Social Democratic Party, which worked closely with labor unions and business. The government aggressively sought a globally competitive industrial sector, mainly comprised of big companies.
Sweden was a founder member of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). EFTA nations were frequently referred to as the Outer Seven throughout the 1960s, as contrast to the Inner Six of the then-European Economic Community (EEC).
Following the 1973–74 and 1978–79 oil embargoes, Sweden, like many other nations, experienced a period of economic collapse and turmoil. The foundations of Swedish industry were substantially reorganized in the 1980s. Shipbuilding was phased out, wood pulp was incorporated into modernized paper manufacturing, the steel sector was consolidated and specialized, and mechanical engineering was automated.
Between 1970 and 1990, the total tax burden increased by more than 10%, although at a slower rate than in other Western European nations. Eventually, the government started to spend more than half of the country’s GDP. During this period, Sweden’s GDP per capita ranking fell.
In the early 1990s, a collapsing real estate bubble fueled by lax lending regulations, coupled with a worldwide recession and a policy shift from anti-unemployment to anti-inflationary measures, culminated in a fiscal crisis. Sweden’s GDP fell by about 5%. In 1992, a currency run prompted the central bank to temporarily raise interest rates to 500 percent.
The government’s reaction was to reduce expenditure and implement a slew of changes to boost Sweden’s competitiveness, including shrinking the welfare state and privatizing public services and products. Much of the political elite pushed for EU membership, and on November 13, 1994, a referendum passed with 52.3 percent in favor of entering the EU. Sweden became a member of the European Union on January 1, 1995. In a referendum held in 2003, the Swedish people decided against the nation entering the Eurozone. Sweden’s first majority administration in decades was formed in 2006, when the center-right Alliance toppled the previous Social Democrat government. Following the fast rise of anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats and their election to the Riksdag in 2010, the Alliance was reduced to a minority government.
Sweden is non-aligned militarily, but it engages in certain joint military exercises with NATO and other nations, as well as significant defense technology and defense industrial cooperation with other European countries. Swedish businesses, for example, sell weaponry used by the American military in Iraq. Sweden has had a long history of engaging in foreign military operations, most notably in Afghanistan, where Swedish soldiers are under NATO command, as well as in EU-sponsored peacekeeping missions in Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Cyprus. During the Arab Spring, Sweden also helped to enforce a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya. Sweden presided over the European Union from July 1 to December 31, 2009.
Sweden has become a more culturally varied country in recent decades as a result of considerable immigration; in 2013, it was estimated that 15% of the population was foreign-born, with an extra 5% born to two immigrant parents. The flood of newcomers has created new societal problems. Violent events have happened on a regular basis, notably the 2013 Stockholm riots, which erupted in response to a police killing of an elderly Portuguese immigrant. In reaction to these violent incidents, the anti-immigrant opposition party, the Swedish Democrats, pushed its anti-immigrant policies, while the left-wing opposition blamed the increasing disparity on the centre-right government’s socioeconomic policies.
Stefan Löfven was elected Prime Minister of Sweden in 2014 after winning the General Election. The Sweden Democrats held the balance of power and voted against the government’s budget in the Riksdag, but the administration was able to retain power owing to agreements between the government and the Alliance. The 2015 European migrant crisis severely impacted Sweden, prompting the government to tighten entrance restrictions as the nation received thousands of asylum applicants each week throughout the fall, overloading existing institutions.