Sweden - History
Human habitation of Sweden began at the end of the last Ice Age when tribes began to migrate from Central Europe. By the time of the Stone Age, settlements became more permanent as agricultural techniques evolved. The Bronze Age brought a better climate while the Iron Age brought stronger tools, as well as a runic alphabet.
As in all Scandinavian countries, the Viking Age had a significant impact on Sweden. Population pressures caused the Swedes to begin looking for other places to inhabit. Incredibly strong boats that allowed for ocean crossings made their journeys possible. Initially pillaging unsuspecting and unprotected monasteries in Britain and Ireland, the Vikings soon accumulated a great deal of wealth and were able to visit even further distances.
The first church in Sweden was established early in the 9th century. Olof Skötkonung became the country’s first Christian king. Under King Erik Jedvarsson (Sweden’s patron saint), almost all traces of paganism were eliminated. During the 12th and 13th centuries, two distinct groups that inhabited Sweden, the Sveas (who gave the country its name), and the Gauts, united in an attempt to take over Finland. They were ultimately successful and in doing so, were able to spread Christianity.
Stockholm was founded in 1252 as the Swedish state began to grow. At the same time, the church’s wealth and influence also began to grow. This success was not to continue as the Black Death hit Europe. In Sweden, this meant a loss of almost a third of the country’s population.
By the end of the 14th century, Denmark, Norway and Sweden were united under the Union of Kalmar. This union would survive for over one hundred years, but was brought down when Christian II of Denmark invaded Sweden. Following a rebellion, Sweden ceded from the union in 1523. Denmark once again tried to gain control over Sweden during the Seven Years War (1563-70), but was ultimately unsuccessful.
King Karl XII began his reign in 1697, and it was characterized by warfare. In the years that followed Karl’s death, Sweden’s government became more powerful with the monarch becoming mostly figureheads. The enlightenment that had begun at the end of the 17th century continued and many celebrated artists, philosophers and scientists emerged out of the country.
In 1789, Gustav III introduced absolute rule for the monarchy. When Gustav IV assumed the throne, Sweden was brought into the Napoleonic Wars where the country lost a great deal of territory. The end of the Napoleonic Wars also signaled Sweden’s last military action.
Industrialization came to Sweden in the second half of the 19th century, bringing many new inventions and a new middle class. Smaller farms were essentially left behind, causing peasants to leave the country, with almost a quarter of the population immigrating to other countries.
In 1912, Sweden declared itself neutral and remained that way during the First World War. Following the war, Sweden had a Social Democrat-Liberal Coalition that brought many important reforms including suffrage for all adults over 23. They again declared themselves neutral during the Second World War, but there was some controversy when Sweden allowed German troops to march through the country on their way to occupy Norway. Following this, Sweden did take in many refugees from other countries.
The creation of a welfare state came about during the post war years, which increased the standard of living for Swedes around the country. Sweden joined the EU in 1995 and the country is also a member of the United Nations. Today, Sweden is known for its incredible beauty and culture and for consistently scoring highly when it comes to standards of living, health care, education, equality and more.
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