History of Sweden

The history of Sweden starts when the Northern polar ice cap started receding. The first traces of human visitation is from ca 12000 BC.

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Written sources about Sweden before 1000 AD are rare and short, usually written by outsiders, and not until the 14th century are there any longer historical texts produced in Sweden. Swedish history, in contrast with pre-history, is thus usually taken to start in the 11th century, when the sources are common enough that they are possible to be contrasted with each other.

The modern Swedish state was formed over a long period of unification and consolidation. Historians have set different standards for when it can be considered complete (resulting in dates from the 6th to 16th century), but a somewhat unified country, with power concentrated to one monarchical dynasty and some common laws were present from the second part of the second half of the 13th century. At this time, Sweden consisted of most of what is today the southern part of the country (except for Scania, Blekinge, Halland and Bohuslän), as well as parts of what is modern Finland. Over the following centuries, Swedish influence would expand into the North and East, even if borders were often ill-defined or nonexistent.

In the late 14th century, Sweden was becoming increasingly intertwined with Denmark and Norway, eventually uniting in the Kalmar Union. During the following century, a series of rebellions served to lessen Sweden's ties to the union, sometime even leading to a separate Swedish king being elected. The fighting reached a climax following the Stockholm Bloodbath in 1520, a mass execution of Swedish noblemen and burgers orchestrated by Christian II of Denmark. One of the few members of the most powerful noble families not present, Gustav Vasa, was able to raise a new rebellion and eventually was crowned King in 1523. His reign proved lasting, and marked the end of Sweden's participation in the union.

Gustav Vasa furthermore encouraged Protestant preachers, finally breaking with the papacy and establishing the Lutheran Church in Sweden, seizing Catholic Church property and wealth.

During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark-Norway, Russia, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sweden emerged as a great power by taking direct control of the Baltic region. Sweden's role in the Thirty Years' War determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. The Swedish state expanded enormously, into the modern Baltic states, northern Germany, and several regions that, to this day, are part of Sweden.

Before the end of the 17th century, a secret alliance was formed between Denmark-Norway, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and Russia against Sweden. This coalition acted at the very start of the 18th century as Denmark-Norway and the Commonwealth launched surprise attacks on Sweden. In 1721, Russia and its allies won the war against Sweden. As a result, Russia was able to annex the Swedish territories of Estonia, Livonia, Ingria, and Karelia. This effectively put an end to the Swedish Empire, and crippled her Baltic Sea Power.

Sweden joined in the Enlightenment culture of the day in the arts, architecture, science and learning. Between 1570 and 1800, Sweden experienced two periods of urban expansion. Finland was lost to Russia in a war in 1808–1809.

In the early 19th century, Finland and the remaining territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were lost. Sweden's last war was the Swedish–Norwegian War (1814). Sweden was victorious in this war which lead to the Danish king being forced to cede Norway to Sweden. Norway was then after losing the war forced to enter into a personal union with Sweden that lasted until 1905. Since 1814, Sweden has been at peace, adopting a non-aligned foreign policy in peacetime and neutrality in wartime. During World War I, Sweden remained neutral. Post-war prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden. During World War II, Sweden once again remained neutral, avoiding the fate of occupied Norway. Sweden was one of the first non-participants of World War II to join the United Nations (in 1946).[1]

Apart from this, the country attempted to stay out of alliances and remain officially neutral during the entire Cold War; and did not join NATO. The social democratic party held government for 44 years (1932–1976). The 1976 parliamentary elections brought a liberal/right-wing coalition to power. During the Cold War, Sweden was suspicious of the superpowers, recognizing that the decisions made by them were affecting smaller countries without always consulting those countries. With the end of the Cold War, that suspicion has lessened somewhat, although Sweden still chooses to remain nonaligned.

Prehistoric Sweden before AD 800

Sweden, like its neighboring country Norway, has a high concentration of petroglyphs (hällristningar[2] in Swedish) throughout the country, with the highest concentration in the province of Bohuslän and around Gamleby and Västervik in northern county of Kalmar, also called "Tjust" (Peterson 2009). The earliest images can, however, be found in the province of Jämtland, dating from 5000 BC.[3] They depict wild animals such as elk, reindeer, bears and seals. The period 2300–500 BC was the most intensive carving period, with carvings of agriculture, warfare, ships, domesticated animals, etc. Also, petroglyphs with themes have been found in Bohuslän; these are dated from 800–500 BC.

Viking Period and Middle Ages: 800–1500

For centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen well known for their far-reaching trade. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden gradually became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Until 1060, the kings of Uppsala ruled most of modern Sweden except the southern and western coastal regions, which remained under Danish rule until the 17th century. After a century of civil wars, a new royal family emerged, which strengthened the power of the crown at the expense of the nobility, while giving the nobles privileges such as exemption from taxation in exchange for military service. Sweden never had a fully developed feudal system, and its peasants were never reduced to serfdom.

The Vikings from Sweden mainly traveled east into Russia, but also took part in the raids of the west and southern regions of Europe. The large Russian mainland and its many navigable rivers offered good prospects for merchandise and, at times, plundering. During the 9th century, extensive Scandinavian settlements began on the east side of the Baltic Sea.

The conversion from Norse paganism to Christianity was a complex, gradual, and at times violent (see Temple at Uppsala) process. The main early source of religious influence was England due to interactions between Scandinavians and Saxons in the Danelaw, and Irish missionary monks. German influence was less obvious in the beginning, despite an early missionary attempt by Ansgar, but gradually emerged as the dominant religious force in the area, especially after the Norman conquest of England. Despite the close relations between Swedish and Russian aristocracy (see also Rus'), there is no direct evidence of Orthodox influence, which may be due to the language barrier.

Around the year 1000, Olof Skötkonung became the first king known to rule over both Svealand and Götaland, but the further history is obscure with kings whose periods of regency and actual power is unclear. In the 12th century, Sweden was still consolidating with the dynastic struggles between the Erik and Sverker clans, which finally ended when a third clan married into the Erik clan and founded the Bjelbo dynasty on the throne. This dynasty gradually consolidated a pre-Kalmar-Union Sweden to a strong state, and king Magnus IV also ruled over Norway and Scania. Following the Black Death, this union was severely weakened, and Scania was lost to Denmark.

During the early Middle Ages, the Swedish state also expanded to control Norrland and Finland. Exactly how this happened is not entirely clear; some of the crusades to christen the Finns that are mentioned in some sources are considered unhistorical. What is clear is that this expansion sparked tension with the Russian states, tension that was to continue through Swedish history.

After the Black Death and internal power struggles in Sweden, Queen Margaret I of Denmark united the Nordic countries in the Union of Kalmar in 1397, with the approval of the Swedish nobility. However, continual tension within the countries and within the union gradually led to open conflict between the Swedes and the Danes in the 15th century. The union's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Denmark on one side and Sweden on the other.

Modern Sweden: 1523–1611

In the 16th century, Gustav Vasa fought for an independent Sweden, crushing an attempt to restore the Union of Kalmar and laying the foundation for modern Sweden. At the same time, he broke with the papacy and established the Lutheran Church in Sweden.

The Union of Kalmar's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Norway and Denmark on one side and Sweden on the other. The Catholic bishops had supported the Danish King Christian II, but he was overthrown by Gustavus Vasa (1490–1560), and Sweden was now independent again. Gustavus used the Protestant Reformation to curb the power of the church and became King Gustavus I in 1523. In 1527, he persuaded the Riksdag of Västerås (comprising the nobles, clergy, burghers, and freehold peasants) to confiscate church lands, which comprised 21% of the farmland. Gustavus took the Lutheran reformers under his protection and appointed his men as bishops. Gustavus suppressed aristocratic opposition to his ecclesiastical policies and efforts at centralisation.

Tax reforms took place in 1538 and 1558, whereby multiple complex taxes on independent farmers were simplified and standardised throughout the district; tax assessments per farm were adjusted to reflect ability to pay. Crown tax revenues increased, but more importantly the new system was perceived as fairer and more acceptable. A war with Luebeck in 1535 resulted in the expulsion of the Hanseatic traders, who previously had had a monopoly of foreign trade. With its own businessmen in charge Sweden's economic strength grew rapidly, and by 1544 Gustavus controlled 60% of the farmlands in all of Sweden. Sweden now built the first modern army in Europe, supported by a sophisticated tax system and government bureaucracy. Gustavus proclaimed the Swedish crown hereditary in his family, the house of Vasa. It ruled Sweden (1523–1654) and Poland (1587–1668).[4]

Early Modern

During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark, Russia, and Poland, Sweden (with scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants) emerged as a great power by taking direct control of the Baltic region, which was Europe's main source of grain, iron, copper, timber, tar, hemp, and furs.

Sweden had first gained a foothold on a territory outside its traditional provinces in 1561, when Estonia opted for vassalage to Sweden during the Livonian War. While, in 1590, Sweden had to cede Ingria and Kexholm to Russia, and Sigismund tried to incorporate Swedish Estonia into the Duchy of Livonia, Sweden gradually expanded at the eastern Baltic during the following years. In a series of Polish–Swedish War (1600–1629) and the Russo-Swedish Ingrian War, Gustavus Adolphus retook Ingria and Kexholm (formally ceded in the Treaty of Stolbovo, 1617) as well as the bulk of Livonia (formally ceded in the Treaty of Altmark, 1629).

Sweden's role in the Thirty Years' War determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe. From bridgeheads in Stralsund (1628) and Pomerania (1630), the Swedish army advanced to the south of the Holy Roman Empire, and in a side theater of the war deprived Denmark–Norway of Danish Estonia, Jämtland, Gotland, Halland, Härjedalen, Idre and Särna, became exempted from the Sound Dues, and established claims to Bremen-Verden, all of which was formalized in the Treaty of Brömsebro (1645). In 1648, Sweden became a guarantee power for the Peace of Westphalia, which ended the Thirty Years' War and left her with the additional dominions of Bremen-Verden, Wismar and Swedish Pomerania. Since 1638, Sweden also maintained the colony of New Sweden along the Delaware River in North America.

Sweden as a Great Power 1648–1721

In 1655, in the Second Northern War, Charles X Gustav of Sweden invaded and occupied western Poland–Lithuania, the eastern half of which was already occupied by Russia. The rapid Swedish advance became known in Poland as the Swedish Deluge. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania became a Swedish fief, the Polish–Lithuanian regular armies surrendered and the Polish King John II Casimir Vasa fled to the Habsburgs. The Deluge lasted for 5 years and took a great toll on Poland and Lithuania, with some historians crediting this invasion as the start of the downfall of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The country was devastated, treasures stolen and taken back to Sweden and insurmountable loss of lives occurred.

Sweden was able to establish control of the eastern bank of the Sound, formalized in the Treaty of Roskilde (1658), and gain recognition of her southeastern dominions by the European great powers in the Treaty of Oliva (1660); yet, Sweden was barred from further expansion at the southern coast of the Baltic. That Sweden came out of the Scanian War with only minor losses was largely due to France forcing Sweden's adversaries into the treaties of Fontainebleau (1679) (confirmed at Lund) and Saint-Germain (1679).

The following period of peace allowed Charles XI of Sweden to reform and stabilize the realm. He consolidated the finances of the Crown by the great reduction of 1680; further changes were made in finance, commerce, national maritime and land armaments, judicial procedure, church government and education.

The Great Northern War: 1700

Russia, Saxony–Poland, and Denmark–Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish empire. Although the young Swedish King Charles XII (1682–1718; reigned 1697–1718) won spectacular victories in the early years of the Great Northern War, most notably in the stunning success against the Russians at the Battle of Narva (1700), his plan to attack Moscow and force Russia into peace proved too ambitious.

The Russians won decisively at the Battle of Poltava in June 1709, capturing much of the exhausted Swedish army. Charles XII and the remnants of his army were cut off from Sweden and fled south into Ottoman territory, where he remained three years. He outstayed his welcome, refusing to leave until the Ottoman Empire joined him in a new war against Tsar Peter I of Russia. In order to force the recalcitrant Ottoman government to follow his policies, he established, from his camp, a powerful political network in Constantinople, which was joined even by the mother of the sultan. Charles's persistence worked, as Peter's army was checked by Ottoman troops. However, Turkish failure to pursue the victory enraged Charles and from that moment his relations with the Ottoman administration soured. During the same period, the behavior of his troops worsened and turned disastrous. Lack of discipline and contempt for the locals soon created an unbearable situation in Moldavia. The Swedish soldiers behaved badly, destroying, stealing, raping, and killing. Meanwhile, back in the north, Sweden was invaded by its enemies; Charles returned home in 1714, too late to restore his lost empire and impoverished homeland; he died in 1718.[5] In the subsequent peace treaties, the allied powers, joined by Prussia and Great Britain-Hanover, ended Sweden's reign as a great power. Russia now dominated the north. The war-weary Riksdag asserted new powers and reduced the crown to a constitutional monarch, with power held by a civilian government controlled by the Riksdag. A new "Age of Freedom" opened, and the economy was rebuilt, supported by large exports of iron and lumber to Britain.[6] The Rikstag developed into an active parliament. This tradition continued into the nineteenth century, laying the basis for the transition towards a modern democracy.[7]

The reign of Charles XII (1697–1718) has stirred great controversy; historians have been puzzled ever since why this military genius overreached and greatly weakened Sweden. Although most early-19th-century historians tended to follow Voltaire's lead in bestowing extravagant praise on the warrior-king, others have criticized him as a fanatic, a bully, and a bloodthirsty warmonger. A more balanced view suggests a highly capable military ruler whose oft-reviled peculiarities seemed to have served him well, but who neglected his base in Sweden in pursuit of foreign adventure.[8] Slow to learn the limits of Sweden's diminished strength, a party of nobles, who called themselves the "Hats", dreamed of revenge on Russia and ruled the country from 1739 to 1765; they engaged in wars in 1741, 1757, 1788, and 1809, with more or less disastrous results as Russian influence grew after every Swedish defeat.


Sweden joined in the Enlightenment culture of the day in the arts, architecture, science and learning. A new law in 1766 established for the first time the principle of freedom of the press, a notable step towards liberty of political opinion. The Academy of Science was founded in 1739 and the Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities in 1753. The outstanding cultural leader was Carl Linnaeus (1707–78), whose work in biology and ethnography had a major impact on European science.

Following half a century of parliamentary domination came the reaction. King Gustav III (1746–1792) came to the throne in 1771, and in 1772 led a coup d'état, with French support, that established him as an "enlightened despot", who ruled at will. The Age of Freedom and bitter party politics was over. Precocious and well educated, he became a patron of the arts and music. His edicts reformed the bureaucracy, repaired the currency, expanded trade, and improved defense. The population had reached two million and the country was prosperous, although rampant alcoholism was a growing social problem. Gustav III weakened the nobility and promoted numerous major social reforms. He felt the Swedish monarchy could survive and flourish by achieving a coalition with the newly emerged middle classes against the nobility. He personally disliked the French Revolution, but he decided to promote additional antifeudal reforms to strengthen his hand among the middle classes.[9]

When Gustav made war on Russia and did poorly, he was assassinated by a conspiracy of nobles who were angry that he tried to restrict their privileges for the benefit of the peasants. Under King Gustav IV, Sweden joined various coalitions against Napoleon but was badly defeated and lost much of its territory, especially Finland and Pomerania. The king was overthrown by the army, which in 1810 decided to bring in one of Napoleon's marshals, Bernadotte, as the heir apparent. He had a Jacobin background and was well-grounded in revolutionary principles but put Sweden in the coalition that opposed Napoleon. He served as the quite conservative King Charles XIV John of Sweden (1818–44).[10]

Colonies and slavery

Sweden experimented briefly with overseas colonies, including "New Sweden" in Colonial America and "Swedish Gold Coast" in present-day Ghana, which began in the 1630s. Sweden purchased the small Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy from France in 1784, then sold it back in 1878; the population had included slaves until they were freed by the Swedish government in 1847.[11]

Early urbanization

Between 1570 and 1800, Sweden experienced two periods of urban expansion, c. 1580–1690 and in the mid-18th century, separated by relative stagnation from the 1690s to about 1720. The initial phase was the more active, including an increase in the percentage of urban dwellers in Stockholm – a pattern comparable to increasing urban populations in other European capital and port cities – as well as the foundation of a number of small new towns. Increasing populations in the small towns of the north and west characterized the second period of urban growth, which began around 1750 in response to shifts in Swedish trade patterns from the Baltic to the North Atlantic.[12]

19th century

Loss of Finland: 1809

Finland was lost to Russia in a war that lasted from February 1808 to September 1809. As a result of the peace agreement, Finland became a Grand Duchy and thus was officially ruled by the Tzar of Russia though was not strictly part of Russia. Humanitarian aid from England did not succeed in preventing Sweden from adopting more Napoleon-friendly policies after the Swedish coup d'état in 1809.[13]

Union with Norway: 1814

In 1810, French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's top generals, was elected Crown Prince Charles by the Riksdag. In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon and defeated the Danes at Bornhöved. In the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark ceded mainland Norway to the Swedish king. Norway, however, declared its independence, adopted a constitution and chose a new king. Sweden invaded Norway to enforce the terms of the Kiel treaty in the last war Sweden ever fought. After brief fighting, the peace established a personal union between the two states. Even though they shared the same king, Norway was largely independent of Sweden, except Sweden controlled foreign affairs. The king's rule was not well received and when Sweden refused to allow Norway to have its own diplomats, Norway rejected the King of Sweden in 1905 and selected its own king.

During Charles XIV's reign (1818–1844), the first stage of the Industrial Revolution reached Sweden. This first take-off was founded on rural forges, textile proto-industries and sawmills.

The 19th century was marked by the emergence of a liberal opposition press, the abolition of guild monopolies in trade and manufacturing in favor of free enterprise, the introduction of taxation and voting reforms, the installation of a national military service, and the rise in the electorate of three major party groups: the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

Modernization of Sweden: 1860–1910

Sweden, much like Japan at the same time, transformed from a stagnant rural society to a vibrant industrial society between the 1860s and 1910. The agricultural economy shifted gradually from communal village to a more efficient private farm-based agriculture. There was less need for manual labor on the farm so many went to the cities, and a million Swedes emigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890. Many returned and brought word of the higher productivity of American industry, thus stimulating faster modernization.

In 1873, Sweden and Denmark formed the Scandinavian Monetary Union.

The late 19th century saw the emergence of an opposition press, the abolition of guild monopolies on craftsmen and the reform of taxation. Two years of military service was made compulsory for young men although there was no warfare.


The steady decline of death rates in Sweden began about 1810. For men and women of working age the death rate trend diverged, however, leading to increased excess male mortality during the first half of the century. There were very high rates of infant and child mortality before 1800. Among infants and children between the ages of one and four, smallpox peaked as a cause of death in the 1770–1780s and declined afterward. Mortality also peaked during this period due to other air-, food-, and waterborne diseases, but these declined as well during the early 19th century. The decline of several diseases during this time created a more favorable environment that increased children's resistance to disease and dramatically lowered child mortality.[14]

The introduction of compulsory gymnastics in Swedish schools in 1880 rested partly on a long tradition, from Renaissance humanism to the Enlightenment, of the importance of physical as well as intellectual training. More immediately, the promotion of gymnastics as a scientifically sound form of physical discipline coincided with the introduction of conscription, which gave the state a strong interest in educating children physically as well as mentally for the role of citizen soldiers.[15] Skiing is a major recreation in Sweden and its ideological, functional, ecological, and social impact has been great on Swedish nationalism and consciousness. Swedes perceived skiing as virtuous, masculine, heroic, in harmony with nature, and part of the country's culture. A growing awareness of strong national sentiments and an appreciation of natural resources led to the creation of the Swedish Ski Association in 1892 in order to combine nature, leisure, and nationalism. The organization focused its efforts on patriotic, militaristic, heroic, and environmental Swedish traditions as they relate to ski sports and outdoor life.[16]

20th century

With a broader voting franchise, the nation saw the emergence of three major party groups – Social Democrat, Liberal, and Conservative. The parties debated further expansion of the voting franchise. The Liberal Party, based on the middle class, in 1907 put forth a program for local voting rights later accepted in the Riksdag; the majority of Liberals wanted to require some property ownership before a man could vote. The Social Democrats called for total male suffrage without property limitations. The strong farmer representation in the Second Chamber of the Riksdag maintained a conservative view, but their decline after 1900 gradually ended opposition to full suffrage.

Religion maintained a major role but public school religious education changed from drill in the Lutheran catechism to biblical-ethical studies.

Sweden in World War I

Sweden was neutral in World War I, although the Swedish government was sympathetic to both sides at different times during the conflict, even briefly occupying the Åland islands jointly with the Germans. At first the Swedish government flirted with the possibility of changing their neutral stance to side with the Central Powers, and made concessions to them including mining the Öresund straits to close them to Allied warships wishing to enter the Baltic. Later the Swedish signed agreements allowing trade with the Allied powers and limiting trade with Central Powers, though this brought about the fall of the government of Hjalmar Hammarskjöld.

Industrialization: 1910–1939

During the First World War and the 1920s, its industries expanded to meet the European demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches. Post-war prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden.

Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated abortive efforts at Nordic defence co-operation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II and currently remains non-aligned.

Welfare state

Sweden created a successful model of social democracy because of the unique way in which Sweden's labor leaders, politicians, and classes cooperated during the early development period of Swedish democracy. Because Sweden's socialist leaders chose a moderate, reformist political course with broad-based public support in the early stages of Swedish industrialization and prior to the full-blown development of Swedish interclass politics, Sweden escaped the severe extremist challenges and political and class divisions that plagued many European countries that attempted to develop social democratic systems after 1911. By dealing early, cooperatively, and effectively with the challenges of industrialization and its impact on Swedish social, political, and economic structures, Swedish social democrats were able to create one of the most successful social democratic systems in the world, including both a welfare state and extensive protections of civil liberties.[17]

When the Social Democratic Party came into power in 1932, its leaders introduced a new political decision-making process, which later became known as "the Swedish model" or the Folkhemmet (The People's Home).[18] The party took a central role, but tried as far as possible to base its policy on mutual understanding and compromise. Different interest groups were always involved in official committees that preceded government decisions.

Foreign policy 1920–1939

Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated failed efforts at Nordic defense cooperation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II (although thousands of Swedish volunteers fought in the Winter War against the Soviets); however, it did permit German troops to pass through its territory to and from occupation duties in its neighbour, Norway, and it supplied the Nazi regime with steel and much needed ball-bearings.

Sweden during World War II

Sweden remained neutral during World War II, avoiding the fate of occupied Norway. A key event came with the German invasion of Russia in June 1941: Germany demanded transit through Swedish-held territories and the use of Swedish railroads. Sweden agreed.[19]

The dominant historiography for decades after the war ignored the Holocaust and used what it called the "small state realist" argument. It held that that neutrality and co-operation with Germany were necessary for survival since Germany was vastly more powerful, concessions were limited and were only made where the threat was too great; neutrality was bent but not broken; national unity was paramount; and in any case, Sweden had the neutral right to trade with Germany. Germany needed Swedish iron, and Sweden had nothing to gain and much iron to lose by an invasion.[20] The nation was run by a national unity government, which included all major parties in the Riksdag. Its key leaders included Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson, King Gustav V, and Foreign Minister Christian Günther.

Humanitarian aid to Jews facing the Holocaust was the mission of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. As the secretary of the 1944 Swedish delegation to Hungary, to co-ordinate humanitarian relief for the Jews of Europe during the Jewish Holocaust. He helped to rescue tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary in late 1944. He disappeared in January 1945, and probably died in a Soviet prison in 1947.[21]

Post-war Sweden: 1945

Sweden was one of the first non-participants of World War II to join the United Nations (in 1946).[22] Apart from this, the country tried to stay out of alliances and remained officially neutral during the entire Cold War; it never joined NATO.

The social democratic party held government for 44 years (1932–1976), they spent much of the 1950s and 1960s building Folkhemmet (The People's Home), the Swedish welfare state[23] Sweden's industry had not been damaged by the war and it was in a position to help re-build Northern Europe in the decades following 1945. This led to an economic upswing in the post-war era that made the welfare system feasible.[24]

By the 1970s, the economies of the rest of Western Europe, particularly that of West Germany were prosperous and growing rapidly, while the Swedish economy stagnated. Many economists blamed its large tax funded public sector.[25]

In 1976, the social democrats lost their majority. The 1976 parliamentary elections brought a liberal/right-wing coalition to power. Over the next six years, four governments ruled and fell, composed by all or some of the parties that had won in 1976. The fourth liberal government in these years came under fire by Social Democrats and trade unions and the Moderate Party, culminating in the Social Democrats regaining power in 1982.

During the Cold War Sweden maintained a dual approach, publicly the strict neutrality policy was forcefully maintained, but unofficially strong ties were kept with the U.S., Norway, Denmark, West Germany and other NATO countries. Swedes hoped that the U.S. would use conventional and nuclear weapons in case of a Soviet attack on Sweden. A strong ability to defend against an amphibious invasion was maintained, complete with Swedish-built warplanes, but there was no long-range bombing capability.[26]

In the early 1960s, U.S. nuclear submarines armed with mid-range Polaris A-1 nuclear missiles were deployed not far from the Swedish west coast. Range and safety considerations made this a good area from which to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike on Moscow. The U.S. secretly provided Sweden with a military security guarantee, promising to provide military force in aid of Sweden in case of Soviet aggression. As part of the military cooperation, the U.S. provided much help in the development of the Saab 37 Viggen, as a strong Swedish air force was seen as necessary to keep Soviet anti-submarine aircraft from operating in the missile launch area. In return, Swedish scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology made considerable contributions to enhancing the targeting performance of the Polaris missiles.[27]

On February 28, 1986, the Social Democratic leader and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered; shocked Swedes worried whether the nation had "lost its innocence".

In the early 1990s, there occurred once again an economic crisis with high unemployment and many banks and companies going bankrupt. In 1995, a few years after the end of the Cold War, Sweden became a member of the European Union and the old term "policy of neutrality" fell out of use.[28][29]

In a referendum held in 2003, the majority voted not to adopt the Euro as the country's official currency.


According to Lönnroth (1998)[30] in the 19th century and early 20th century, Swedish historians saw their writing in terms of literature and story telling, rather than analysis and interpretation. Harald Hjärne (1848–1922) pioneered modern historical scholarship. In 1876, he attacked the traditional myths of the social and legal conditions of ancient Greece and Rome inherited from the classical authors. He was inspired by German scholar Barthold Georg Niebuhr (1776–1831), a founder of modern German historiography. As professor of history at Uppsala University, Hjärne became a spokesman for the Conservative Party and the Swedish monarchy by 1900. Hjärne had enormous influence on his students and, indeed, on an entire generation of historians, who mostly became political conservatives and nationalists. Another movement emerged at Lund University around 1910, where critical scholars began using the source critics' methods to the early history of Scandinavia. The brothers Lauritz Weibull and Curt Weibull were the leaders, and they had followers at Lund and Göteborg universities. The result was a half-century of often embittered controversy between traditionalists and revisionists that lasted until 1960. There was a blurring of the ideological fronts resulting from experiences during and after World War II. In the meantime, in the general expansion of university education in the postwar period, history was generally neglected. Only through the activities of the National Research Council of the Humanities and the dedicated efforts of certain ambitious university professors created some expansion of historical scholarship. After 1990, there were signs of revival in historiography, with a strong new emphasis on 20th-century topics, as well as the application of social history and computerized statistical techniques to the demographic history of ordinary villagers before 1900.[31]

See also


  1. Norbert Götz. “From Neutrality to Membership: Sweden and the United Nations, 1941 to 1946.” Contemporary European History 25 (2016) 1: 75–95.
  2. Nordström, Patrik. "Arkeologiska undersökningar invid hällristningar. Analys av 16 utgrävningar invid hällristningar i Sverige och Norge." (1995) STARC
  3. (in Swedish) Hällristningarna i Gärde Archived 2010-07-12 at the Wayback Machine
  4. Michael Roberts, The Early Vasas: A History of Sweden 1523–1611 (1968); Jan Glete, War and the State in Early Modern Europe: Spain, the Dutch Republic, and Sweden as Fiscal-Military States, 1500–1660 (2002) online edition
  5. He was shot through the head during a siege in his second failed attack on Norway, but whether by assassination at close range or by stray enemy fire at long range is mysteriously unclear. Andersson, A History of Sweden p. 247
  6. Absolute monarchy returned briefly at the end of the 18th century.
  7. Baten, Jörg (2016). A History of the Global Economy. From 1500 to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 23. ISBN 9781107507180.
  8. R. M. Hatton, Charles XII of Sweden (1968)
  9. Neander N. Cronholm, A History of Sweden from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (1902) ch 35
  10. Alan Palmer, Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King (1991)
  11. Francine M. Mayer, and Carolyn E. Fick, "Before and After Emancipation: Slaves and Free Coloreds of Saint-Barthelemy (French West Indies) in The 19th Century." Scandinavian Journal of History 1993 18 (4): 251–73.
  12. Sven Lilja, "Swedish Urbanization c. 1570–1800: Chronology, Structure and Causes," Scandinavian Journal of History 1994 19 (4): 277–308.
  13. Jan Sundin, "Child Mortality and Causes of Death in a Swedish City, 1750–1860." Historical Methods 1996 29(3): 93–106.
  14. Jens Ljunggren, "Nation-Building, Primitivism and Manliness: The Issue of Gymnastics in Sweden around 1880". Scandinavian Journal of History 1996 21(2): 101–20.
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  17. Norbert Götz. “The Modern Home Sweet Home.” The Swedish Success Story? Kurt Almqvist and Kay Glans (eds). Stockholm: Axel and Margaret Ax:son Johnson Foundation, 2004. 97–107, 300–302.
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  23. Albert Harold Rosenthal, The social programs of Sweden: a search for security in a free society (1967) ch. 7–8
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  25. Askelin, Jan-Ivar, "Lifeless lifeline to the west" Archived 2011-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, Framsyn Magazine, Swedish Defence Research Agency, 2004, Issue 1, Retrieved February 24, 2010
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  28. Christine Agius, The Social Construction of Swedish Neutrality: Challenges to Swedish Identity and Sovereignty (2006) p. 207
  29. Erik Lönnroth, "Svensk Historieskrivning Under 1900-Talet," ["Swedish historiography in the 20th century"] Historisk Tidskrift, 1998, Issue 3, pp. 304–13
  30. See Martin Dribe, and Patrick Svensson, "Social Mobility in Nineteenth Century Rural Sweden – A Micro Level Analysis," Scandinavian Economic History Review, July 2008, Vol. 56#2 pp. 122–41



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  • Magnusson, Lars. An Economic History of Sweden (2000) online edition
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  • Metcalf, Michael F., ed. The Riksdag: A History of the Swedish Parliament. (1987). 347 pp.
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  • Moberg, Vilhelm, and Paul Britten Austin. A History of the Swedish People: Volume II: From Renaissance to Revolution (2005)
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  • Palmer, Alan. Bernadotte: Napoleon's Marshal, Sweden's King. (1991). 285 pp.
  • Pred, Allan. Lost Words and Lost Worlds: Modernity and the Language of Everyday Life in Late Nineteenth-Century Stockholm. (1990). 298 pp.
  • Pred, Allan Richard. Place, Practice and Structure: Social and Spatial Transformation in Southern Sweden, 1750–1850. (1986). 268 pp.
  • Roberts, Michael. The Age of Liberty: Sweden, 1719–1772. (1986). 233 pp.
  • Sejersted, Francis. The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century (Princeton University Press; 2011); 543 pp; Traces the history of the Scandinavian social model as it developed after the separation of Norway and Sweden in 1905.
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  • Waldenström, Daniel. "The national wealth of Sweden, 1810–2014" Scandinavian Economic History Review 64#1 (2016) pp. 36–54 doi:10.1080/03585522.2015.1132759
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