Viking-like warriors in the computer game Scrolls, by Swedish Mojang. Photo: Mojang
Sweden – from Ice Age to IT Age
Some 100,000 years ago Sweden was covered in ice. Eons later the Vikings put Sweden on the map. And in the last 100 years, Sweden has transformed from a poor nation of farmers to an innovative high-tech nation.
From stone weapons to runic script
Welcome to the Ice Age. The year is 110,000 B.C. and Sweden is covered in ice. At the beginning of the Stone Age (12,000–1700 B.C.), the ice has receded enough to let the first immigrants arrive and settle in Sweden. Dressed in animal skin, they use their stone weapons to hunt, reindeer being their main prey.
The Bronze Age (1700–500 B.C.) starts out with a climate that is actually warmer than today. Those who can afford it start to use better tools and weapons made of bronze, an obvious improvement to their lives.
The Iron Age (500 B.C.–1050 A.D.) brings our first written language, the runic script, an adaptation of Greek and Roman letters. It is discovered that iron makes for both better and cheaper tools and weapons than bronze.
Be a free man, become a Viking!
Enter the Vikings. The period between 700 and 1050 A.D. is marked by their expeditions and raids around Europe, especially eastwards. Trouble around the Mediterranean has brought more trade to the north and Swedes start to make use of their shipbuilding skills.
The fact that Vikings are free men as opposed to those who stay to farm the land and the slaves, probably makes it easy to recruit people to the ‘expeditions’ that are sometimes peaceful trade journeys, sometimes brutal raids where robbery is the only currency.
Around 1008, Olof Skötkonung becomes Sweden’s first Christian king, and the first to rule the first version of the kingdom of Sweden (Svea Rike, later Sverige).
Some highlights from the thousand years that follow, until today, are listed below.
1050–1500: The Middle Ages
1155: Finland is joined to the Swedish realm, through a crusade.
1248–1266: Statesman Birger Jarl introduces the first national laws concerning the protection of women, the home, churches and the court.
1349: The Black Death kills one-third of the Swedish–Finnish population, and a long period of economic decline follows.
At the end of the 1300s, Sweden–Finland has about 650,000 inhabitants.
1391: Saint Birgitta or Bridget, founder of the Brigittine Order, was canonised in Rome. An unusually powerful woman for her time, she made her voice heard among kings and clergy.
1520: The Stockholm Bloodbath. Kristian II ‘the Tyrant’ executes 100 people.
1521–1611: The Vasa Period
1523: Gustav Vasa becomes king. He continues the centralisation of power and Sweden becomes a unified state. The population increases.
1527 onwards: Sweden breaks with the pope – the Reformation. The Catholic Church loses its secular power in Sweden, but Catholicism co-exists with Protestantism for a long time.
1544: Hereditary monarchy is introduced.
In the mid-1500s there were around 1.3 million inhabitants in Sweden–Finland. Exports from Sweden: iron, copper.
1593: The Swedish church becomes officially Lutheran/Protestant.
1611–1721: Sweden a great power
1611: King Gustav II Adolf co-rules the country with Lord High Chancellor Axel Oxenstierna, who organises the administration of Sweden and makes a name for himself in Europe.
1628: The warship Vasa sinks on her maiden voyage, just after leaving Stockholm harbor.
1645: Sweden’s first weekly newspaper, Ordinari Post Tijdender, later Post- och Inrikes Tidningar, is published (the world’s oldest still published newspaper, but now only on the web).
1617–1658: Sweden expands around the Baltic Sea. After the Peace of Roskilde in 1658, Sweden is at its largest. It took Sweden less than a century to go from poor, backward, unknown state to great European power.
In the mid-1600s, there were 3 million inhabitants in the whole realm of Sweden.
1660: Karl XI becomes king at the age of 4; later military dictator, but also a man of peace, reconstruction and organisation.
1668: The world’s oldest still existing national bank, today’s Sweden’s Riksbanken, is founded.
In the late 1600s, the Swedish flag becomes a symbol for the country, not just the king.
1709: Involved in the Great Northern War since 1700, Karl XII loses the Battle of Poltava against Peter I of Russia, which means the beginning of the end for Sweden as a great power.
1710–1713: The plague kills about one-third of the populations of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.
1719–1772: The Age of Liberty
1719: A new constitution that weakens the king’s role and clearly outlines the role of the government and parliament makes the Swedish government the most democratic in the world.
1721: The Swedish empire falls as the Baltic provinces become Russian through the Treaty of Nystad.
In the mid-1700s, booming iron production and textile industry lead to labour immigration from Germany, Denmark, Holland, England and France as new skills are needed to run factories and machines.
1766: Sweden introduces the world’s first Freedom of the Press Act.
1772–1809: The Gustavian Age
Freedom of religion is expanded – Jews and Catholics are allowed to settle in Sweden and keep their religion, but with restrictions as to professions and where to live.
1786: The Swedish Academy is founded to work for the ‘purity, strength and nobility’ of the Swedish language. The profession of writer is placed at the top of the social scale.
1789: Six months before the French Revolution, the first levelling of the estates – nobility, clergy, burghers and peasants – takes place, through which new advantages and perquisites are given to non-noble estates. Peasants begin their political and economic journey.
1809: Finland becomes independent from Sweden after invasion by Russia in 1808.
1809: Sweden becomes a constitutional monarchy, where power is shared between the king, the council and the parliament. Legislative power is shared by the king and the estates. The Parliamentary Ombudsman becomes Sweden’s first ombudsman in the modern sense of the word.
1814: Norway is forced into a union with Sweden under Karl XIII. Lasts until 1905.
1842: Compulsory education (for 7- to 13-year-olds) is introduced.
In the mid-1800s, life expectancy in Sweden is 41 for men, 44 for women; and the average height for men 165 cm (5 ft 5 in, compared with 6 ft today).
1850–1930: 1.3 million Swedes emigrate, mainly to North America. The peak year of emigration to the US was 1887.
1862: The main national railway between Stockholm and Gothenburg is opened.
1864: Freedom to pursue any trade is introduced, preparing the ground for the Swedish market economy.
1876: Lars Magnus Ericsson opens a telegraph repair shop – and so his namesake communications company is born.
In the early 1900s, life expectancy in Stockholm is 39 years for men, 47 for women (53 and 54 in the countryside). More than 5 million inhabitants live in Sweden, despite the large emigration.
1906: Ericsson’s main telephone plant has almost 1,500 employees.
1918–1921: First all men, then all women get the right to vote.
1932: Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson starts 40 years of Social Democratic government. The concept of folkhemmet (literally: the people’s home) leads the way for the Swedish welfare state and the Swedish Model.
1939–1945: Sweden remains neutral during World War II, but the Swedish press is censored and Germans and German weapons are permitted to be transported through Sweden to Nazi-occupied Norway. Foodstuffs are rationed and surrogate products appear.
1944: Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg saves a large number of Jews from the Nazis in Budapest, Hungary. And at the end of the war, Folke Bernadotte, member of the royal family, achieves the release of 21,700 people from German concentration camps through negotiations.
1946: Sweden joins the United Nations. Swedish Dag Hammarskjöld is Secretary-General of the UN 1953–1961. After World War II Sweden is transformed into one of Europe’s leading industrial nations.
1979: Sweden is the first nation to prohibit all corporal punishment of children.
1980: Female succession to the throne comes into effect.
1986: Social Democratic Prime Minister Olof Palme is assassinated in central Stockholm.
In the early 1990s, a bursting real estate bubble combined with an international recession leads to a financial crisis.
1995: Sweden joins the European Union.
1999: New legislation criminalises those who purchase sex.
2000: The Öresund Bridge between Sweden and Denmark opens.
2001 (and 2009): Sweden chairs the EU.
2003: Foreign Minister Anna Lindh is assassinated in central Stockholm.
2003: Swedes vote no to the euro in a referendum.
2008: The Swedish parliament passes the FRA law, which gives the Swedish National Defence Radio Establishment the right to wiretap all telephone and internet traffic that crosses Sweden’s borders, as an anti-terrorism measure.
2008: New labour migration policies make it easier to move to Sweden for work for non-EU/EEA and non-Nordic citizens.
2009: Gender-neutral marriages are approved, both religious and non-religious.
2009: Eighty-nine per cent of Swedes aged 16 to 74 have access to internet at home, and 86 per cent use internet at least once a week.
2011: Emigration peak. In fact, more people leave Sweden than in the peak year of the great emigration at the end of the 1800s.
2014–15: Immigration peak. Record numbers of refugees from active war zones come to Sweden. Read more in the story Sweden and migration.
2017–18: Sweden is a member of the UN Security Council,
2018: Almost everyone between 12 and 65 uses the internet (98–100%).
2020: Almost all Swedes, 98 per cent, have access to the internet in their homes.
Last updated: 14 August 2020