Following the last ice age, Germanic tribes from Central Europe moved north into the southern regions of Sweden while the Sami indigenous peoples hunted in the north. These tribes grew over the next thousand years as technology advanced, with the economy coming to rely on fishing, farming and trade.
Scandinavia’s most well-known historical period is the age of the Vikings. The Vikings were fearsome warriors from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, equipped with fast yet sturdy boats that allowed them to raid the Baltic and European coastlines. Sweden had experienced a sudden population boom and needed to import goods to feed the masses and these imports were financed through mercenary activities.
The Vikings went as far as Constantinople and Baghdad, establishing trade with Byzantium, while some went on to establish Russia after conquering the Slavic tribes in the region. The ones that did return to Sweden were rich with gold, silver and slaves.
Christianisation and the Kalmar Union
The Viking age ended with the Christianisation of Sweden over the 12th century. Wars were fought with Denmark and Norway and crusades were led to the unconverted Finnish tribes across the sea, but Sweden would eventually join Denmark and Norway in the Kalmar Union, a response to the increasing power of the Hanseatic League on mainland Europe. This union, at the end of the 14th century, led to riches but it was Denmark that really ruled Scandinavia.
Regionalism increased over the following centuries and separatist parties were formed, which eventually rejected the rule of the Danish king in the 16th century. Sweden was then taken by force and Swedish nobles were executed in Stockholm, leading to a rebellion led by Gustav Vasa, who was named King of Sweden in 1523. Scandinavia was split into the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway and the Kingdom of Sweden.
Age of Freedom
Through the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries Sweden continued to wage wars and lost land in the Baltics as well as economic stability. The death of Charles XII, in 1718, ushered in an era known as the Age of Freedom, as in freedom from the dictatorial king. What the Swedes lost in territory they gained in intellectual progress and the reign of Gustav III, in the late-18th century, was a blessing for the Swedish arts with drama, opera and poetry becoming prominent expressions of Swedish culture.
World Wars and modern Sweden
At the outbreak of WWI Sweden declared itself neutral. This neutrality remained through WWII though much has been made of their decision to let German troops through to take Norway.
Following the war, Sweden introduced child care, unemployment benefits and more socially positive policies. The country went from strength to strength and has become a prosperous nation with strong systems in place to support its population. That said, Sweden’s decision to be a haven for those fleeing persecution has led to a real test of its welfare policies, which is currently coming to a political head.
The government is currently run by the Social Democratic Party, who have dominated the country’s politics for much of the past century, but the Sweden Democrats – a nationalist anti-immigration party – have seen a swift rise, mirroring far-right movements across Europe. As of 2020, they are set to become Sweden’s most popular party, and it remains to be seen what effects this will have on the country.