Wednesday, 9 March 2011

CASE 232 - The history of Sweden


The first humans arrived in Sweden by 8,000 BC after the end of the ice age, when warming temperatures first made the country habitable. The first Swedes were stone age hunters and fishermen who lived near the coast. However after 4,000 BC farming was introduced into Sweden. The farmers used stone tools and weapons. After 2,000 BC they learned to use bronze. The bronze age craftsmen soon became very skilled at making things of bronze. In bronze age Sweden horses and chariots were used and carvings of boats suggest that trade was important. Then about 500 BC iron was introduced into Sweden. The iron age Swedes had contact with the Romans. They sold slaves, furs and amber to Roman merchants. In return the Romans sold them Mediterranean luxuries.


In the 9th century the Norwegians and Danes turned to raiding and invading Western Europe. However the Swedes were more interested in trade. Improvements in ship design made long distance trade possible. The Swedes crossed the Baltic and travelled along Russian rivers as far as the Byzantine Empire. The number of merchants and craftsmen increased at that time. However Sweden was, of course, an overwhelmingly agricultural society. It was divided into three classes. At the bottom were the slaves or thralls. (Slaves were a common item of trade). A slaves life was, no doubt, horrid. They were made to do all the hardest and most unpleasant work. Above the thralls were the freemen. Their wealth varied greatly and it depended on the amount of land they owned. Some were quite well off and owned slaves. Above them were the jarls or earls. By the 9th century Sweden had become one kingdom. However Swedish kings had little power. When a king died his eldest son did not necessarily inherit the throne. It might go to a younger son or even to the dead kings brother. However as the centuries passed the kings power slowly increased. In the 11th century Sweden was converted to Christianity. Afterwards it became a part of Western civilisation. A missionary called Ansgar went to Sweden in 829 but he had little success in converting the Swedes. However a Swedish king, Olof Stokonung, became a Christian in 1008. However it was a long time before all Swedes were converted. Paganism lingered on in Sweden until the end of the 11th century. Nevertheless by the middle of the 12th century Sweden had become a firmly Christian country. In 1157 King Eric led Sweden in a crusade to convert the Finns. (Although whether the crusade was really motivated by religion or by politics is debatable. After his death in 1160 Eric became the patron saint of Sweden. In the 13th century the Swedes conquered Finland. (The church feared that the Finns would be converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and so looked with favour upon a Swedish invasion). A second crusade was launched in 1249. The Russian fought the Swedes for control of Finland. However by 1323 Finland was in Swedish hands. Finland remained a province of Sweden until 1809.


In 13th century Sweden there were changes in agriculture. Viking farmers had two large fields. Each year one was sown with crops while the other was left fallow. By the 13th century Swedish farmers had begun using the three field system. Every year one field was sown with spring crops, one was sown with autumn crops and one was left fallow. As well as improvements in agriculture Swedish trade and commerce prospered. New towns were founded while old ones expanded. Jarl Birger founded the town of Stockholm about 1252.

Then in 1280 King Magnus granted the upper class exemption from paying taxes in return for military service. However in most of Europe the peasants were serfs, halfway between slaves and freemen. Swedish peasants were never reduced to serfdom. King Vladermar 1250-1275 passed laws which applied to all of Sweden (at that time each province had its own laws). The laws improved the rights of women and strengthened the crown. Finally in 1350 the Swedish king issued a code of laws for the whole country. Like the rest of Europe Sweden was devastated by the Black Death, which struck in 1349 and probably killed about 1/3 of the population.

Then in 1388 the Swedish nobles rebelled against the King, Albert of Mecklenburg (1363-1389). They called in Margaret the Regent of Norway. In 1389 her army defeated Albert and captured him. She became ruler of Sweden (although Albert's allies held onto Stockholm until 1398).

In 1397 Margaret's great nephew Erik was crowned king of Sweden, Norway and Denmark In Kalmar. The three countries were temporarily united into one kingdom. This was called the Union of Kalmar. However Erik alienated the Swedes by giving Danes and Germans important positions. He also fought a war against Holstein. As a result the Hanseatic League (an alliance of Baltic trading towns) stopped Sweden importing salt and stopped Swedish iron exports. In 1434 the Swedish peasants and miners rebelled. In 1439 Erik was deposed. In 1440 he was replaced by his nephew Christopher. However in 1448 the Swedish nobles chose one of themselves, Karl Knuttson, as king and Sweden separated from Denmark and Norway. From 1470 to 1520 regents ruled Sweden. In 1506 the regent Svante Nilsson Sture began a war with Denmark which lasted until 1513.


In February 1808 the Russians invaded Finland and they quickly overran it. The king, Gustav IV, was deposed in March 1809 and a new constitution was introduced. Charles XIII was elected king but he was unfit to rule and a man named Charles August was elected Crown Prince. In September a peace was made with Russia and Finland was lost forever. Charles August died in 1810. One of Napoleon's Marshals, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was elected the new Crown Prince. He took the name Charles John. In April 1812 Charles John formed an alliance with Russia against Napoleon. In 1813 Sweden joined the war against France. At the end of the year Charles John turned on Denmark. At that time the Danish king ruled Norway and Charles John wished to make it his own. In this he succeeded. In January 1814 the Danes surrendered Norway to Sweden.

King Charles XIII died in 1818 and Crown Prince Charles John became the new king. By then the population of Sweden was about 2 1/2 million. It rose to 3 1/2 million by 1850. Part of the reason for the increase was reform of agriculture. In the early 19th century farmland in Sweden was enclosed. In 1800 most land was farmed using the 'open field' system. Land was divided into small strips and each farmers owned several strips scattered around the village. In the early 19th century the land was 'enclosed', that is it was divided up so each farmer got a single block of land in one place. Enclosure allowed Swedish agriculture to become more efficient. The rise in population was despite large scale emigration. Many Swedes emigrated to the USA in the 19th century.

In the early 19th century Sweden was an overwhelmingly agricultural country. However in 1846 trade was deregulated. Until then it was controlled by organisations called guilds. In that year they lost their powers. Meanwhile in 1842 universal primary education was introduced in Sweden. The first railway in Sweden was built in 1856. Oscar I became king of Sweden in 1844. In 1865 he agreed to constitutional reform. In 1867 the old Riksdag, which was divided into four estates, nobility, clergy, burghers and peasants, was replaced by a parliament with two houses. In the late 19th century and early 20th century Sweden was transformed by the industrial revolution. Production of iron and steel boomed. The Swedish engineering industry also flourished. Swedish industry was helped by the introduction of hydro-electricity at the end of the 19th century.


In 1905 Norway became independent from Sweden.

Sweden remained neutral during the First World War and in 1921 universal suffrage was introduced into Sweden. The 1920s were relatively prosperous for Sweden. However in the early 1930s Sweden suffered during the depression. Unemployment rose to 24.9%. However in 1932 the Social Democrats formed a coalition with the Agrarian Party. They took steps to help agriculture and also created public works to reduce unemployment. By 1939 the Swedish economy had largely recovered although unemployment was still very high at 17%. Sweden again remained neutral during World War II. Sweden had maintained a policy of neutrality since 1814 and this policy had served the country well. Nevertheless in the late 1930s the Swedish government increased military spending in case of attack. In the late 1940s and 1950s a strong welfare state was created in Sweden. Reforms included more generous old age pensions, child allowances and health insurance. In 1974 a new constitution was introduced and the minimum age for voting was reduced to 18. The 1950s and 1960s were years of prosperity for Sweden and there was full employment. However the economy suffered a downturn in the mid 1970s Unemployment was high in the 1990s (It reached 9.9% in 1996) but in the early years of the 21st century it fell. However Sweden again suffered high unemployment with the recession of 2009. In the late 20th century the Swedish economy changed greatly and service industries became much more important. Manufacturing industry declined in importance so did agriculture. Today Sweden is a rich country and her people have a high standard of living. The Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated on 28 February 1986. This crime shocked the country. In 1991 Sweden formally applied to join the EU. In November 1994 a majority of the Swedish people voted in favour of joining in a referendum. Sweden joined the EU on 1 January 1995.


In 2006 a centre-right coalition narrowly won an election. The new government, led by Fredrik Reinfeldt, promised to reform Sweden's expensive welfare state.

Today the population of Sweden is 9 million.

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