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History of Sweden

Modern Swedish history begins with the Viking age (700s-1000s), as these people, known as "Rus" traveled extensively, primarily in an eastward direction. In fact, they were known to have reached as far as modern-day Istanbul and are probably the founders of the Kyivian Rus, the first group of Slavic people and forefather of the Russians, Poles, and more. During the Viking ages cities on the coasts sprung up and became major trading centers in the Baltic Sea.

In 1050 Sweden is believed to have become a Christian country, although the religion was introduced long before this time. This also marks the end of the Viking age, but it didn't alter the strife and power struggles in the country. Over the next couple hundred years the country was overcome with internal power struggles and external wars, primarily with the other Scandinavian countries. It was also during this time, in the 1300s, that Sweden was struck with the Plague, which pushed the country further into despair.

The 1300s was also a time when the Swedes began to communicate more closely with outsiders as many cities joined the Hanseatic League, which soon gained a monopoly on Baltic Sea trade. Just as importantly, in 1319 Sweden and Norway were united as one country and in 1397 Denmark joined this union, called the Kalmar Union.

The Kalmar Union was both good and bad for Sweden depending on the time and the strength of their ruler. However, slowly they lost power to Denmark and in 1520 Denmark essentially invaded the country to assert that dominance. This led the Swedish people to rise up and crown a new king, Gustav I. King Gustav quickly altered the country, most notably by introducing Protestantism and by breaking up the Hanseatic League's monopoly over Swedish trade.

The 1600s brought Sweden to the forefront of Europe as the Swedes entered mainland Europe and took lands from the Russians, Poles-Lithuanians, and the Holy Roman States among others. Soon, Sweden was one of the largest countries in Europe, but the constant war (for nearly half a century) had depleted the treasury, although it also gave Sweden the best military in Europe.

In 1700 the wars began again, most notably the Great Northern War with Russia. These wars struck in the east and south, invading both Poland and Russia. However, the Swedes lost their battles with the Russians and only 10 years later had fallen from the ranks of Europe's powers. This was quickly proven when Sweden lost a battle against neighboring Norway.

This decline continued in the 1800s when Sweden lost their territory of Finland to the Russians. With the Napoleonic wars, Sweden fought the French and upon their defeat Sweden was granted the country of Norway, which was then solidified with a war victory over the Norwegians. From this point on, the century remained peaceful as the country focused on domestic affairs and growth. In the late 1800s the industrial revolution arrived in Sweden and it quickly expanded its cities and economy even further.

As urban migration and standards of living improved, working conditions sunk, creating unions and later political organizations, leading to the development of a democratic government in the early 1900s.

During World War I and World War II (WWII) Sweden remained neutral, however during WWII the Germans occupied the country and most of Sweden's production went to supplying the Nazi military. Despite this, most people supported Norway's resistance to the Germans and organizations developed to aid in humanitarian efforts, particularly as the war came to a close.

Since the end of WWII in Europe, Sweden has partially maintained its neutrality, most notably by taking part in neither NATO nor the Warsaw Pact. However this neutrality somewhat ended in 1994 when the country decided to join the European Union (EU); today they also supply soldiers to NATO and the United Nations (UN) in peacekeeping roles only.

This page was last updated: March, 2013