Sweden is a Nordic region on the Scandinavian peninsula, with historic ties both to the region of Rus and to Germany.
Situated in northern Europe, Sweden lies west of the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Bothnia, providing a long coastline, and forms the eastern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. To the west is the Scandinavian mountain chain (Skanderna), a range that separates Sweden from Norway.
The lowest elevation in Sweden is in the bay of Lake Hammarsjön, near Kristianstad; the highest point is Kebnekaise. Southern Sweden is predominantly agricultural, with increasing forest coverage northward. Gotland and Öland are Sweden's largest islands; Vänern and Vättern are Sweden's largest lakes. The lake Vänern is the largest lake in Northern Europe and the third largest in all Europe.
Sweden has a temperate marine climate despite its northern latitude with distinct seasons and mild temperatures both in winter and summer. In the mountains of northern Sweden a sub-Arctic climate predominates. In the far north, the sun never sets for part of each summer, and in the winter, night is similarly unending. In the rest of the country, days are very long during the summer, but short daylight during winter.
In southern and central Sweden, summers are pleasantly warm (sometimes hot or cooler for a couple of days) with comfortable cool evenings. During winter, temperatures are close to freezing in the south, slightly below freezing in the central regions, and very cold, snowy and below freezing for around 6 months in the north.
A foundation date of the nation Sweden cannot be determined with any degree of certainty, since it evolved from a warfare center of power, Svea Rike, centered in old Uppsala, which might have had many increases and decreases in power and influence. The existence of such a power was stated by Tacitus around AD 100. The neighboring West and East Geats also played a very important historical role in defining the nation. About 1000, the first certain king over Svea and Göta Riken is documented to be Olof Skötkonung, 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 Folkunga dynasty on the throne.
The Viking AgeEdit
Until the 9th century, the Scandinavian people lived in small kingdoms and chiefdoms, mainly known from legends and scattered continental sources. The Scandinavian people appeared as a group separate from other Germanic nations, and at this time there was a noticeable increase in war expeditions to foreign countries which has given the name Viking Age to this period. At this time the seas were more easy to travel than the forests in the inland, and the buffer regions that separated the kingdoms were known as marches.
The Danish and Norwegian Vikings turned their attention to western countries, England, France and the Atlantic. The Vikings of Sweden, however, traveled east into Russia. 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 were made on the east side of the Baltic sea. The Russian Tale of Bygone Years writes about the arrival of the Varangians in Constantinople, and of piratical expeditions on the Black Sea and on the Caspian Sea. The legendary expeditions by Rurik and Askold established settlements that resulted in Kievan Rus', a predecessor state of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.
The Varangians accumulated some wealth from foreign trading. A centre of trade in northern Europe developed on the island of Birka, not far from where Stockholm was later constructed, in middle Sweden.
Medieval Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon sources tell of the early Swedish kings belonging to the Scylfing dynasty, also known as Ynglings. Some sources, such as Íslendingabók, Ynglinga saga and Historia Norwegiæ trace the foundation of the Swedish kingdom back in the last centuries BC.
Some of these sources, the Anglo-Saxon Widsith and Beowulf, may date to the 8th century in their present forms, but retain oral traditions that are considerably older. Native Scandinavian sources are generally held to date no earlier than the 9th century in the form of skaldic poetry, such as Ynglingatal. As the Scandinavian sources were not put to paper until the 11th century, and later, their historic validity is controversial.
Many kings only ruled over parts of the present territory of Sweden, and so their validity as kings of Sweden may be questioned. The first undisputed king of Sweden was Eric the Victorious, who lived around 970 – 994. He was succeeded by King Olof (late 960s – circa 1020), the first Christian king of Sweden.
Swedes had contact with Christianity from their early travels. Christian influence on burials can be traced to the late 8th century in some parts of Sweden. Additionally, Irish missionary monks were probably active in some parts of Sweden, as demonstrated by Irish saints that were worshipped in the Middle ages.
From the Holy Roman Empire, the earliest campaign to introduce Christianity in Sweden were made by the monk Ansga (801 – 865). Ansgar made his first visit to Birka in 829, was granted permission to build a church, and stayed as a missionary until 831. He then returned home and became Archbishop of Hamburg-Bremen. Around 850, he returned to Birka, where he saw that the previous congregation had faded away. Ansgar tried to reestablish it, but it only lasted a few years. In the remainder of the 9th and most of the 10th century, there were only a few futile attempts of Christianization, which did not result in anything lasting.
When Emund the Old ascended to the throne around 1050, he had converted to Christianity. But because of his quarrels with Adalhard, Archbishop of Bremen, independence of the Church of Sweden was not obtained for another century. A decade later, in 1060, King Stenkil ascended to the throne. At the time, Christianity was firmly established throughout most of Sweden, with its chief strength in Västergötland. However, the people of Uppland, with their center in Uppsala, still held out for their original pagan faith. Adalhard had succeeded in destroying the idols in Västergötland, but was yet unable to persuade Stenkil to destroy the ancient Temple of Uppsala.
The last king who adhered to his native religion was Blot-Sweyn, who reigned 1084 – 1087. Blot-Sweyn became king when his predecessor King Inge refused to sacrifice at Uppsala. His brother-in-law Sweyn stepped up and agreed to sacrifice, which gave him the name Blot, which means sacrifice. Inge took out his revenge three years later, when he entered Uppsala with a great force, set Blot-Sweyn's house ablaze, and killed him as he attempted to flee the burning wreckage.
It wasn't until Eric the Saint (1150 - 1160) that the Church of Sweden was to be organized on the medieval model. Erik undertook the so-called First Swedish Crusade to Finland together with the Bishop Henry of Uppsala, conquering the country and building many churches there.
After the introduction of Christianity the importance of Uppsala began steadily to decline, and the kings no longer made it their residence. It was made the seat for the Swedish Archbishop in 1164. A cathedral was built on the place for the old Temple of Uppsala. One of the first to be consecrated there was the Swedish King Eric the Saint.
In the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden more or less consisted of self-governing provinces. It is established that Olof Skötkonung was king of Svealand, but it is uncertain whether his realm extended to include all of Götaland. And after Olof, the reign of the country was on several occasions divided between different rulers. King Sverker I of Sweden (1134 - 1155) is said to have permanently integrated Götaland with Svealand.
The following centuries saw rivalry between two houses: the House of Sverker in the Östergötland province, and the House of Eric in the Västergötland province.
The greatest medieval statesman of Sweden, and one of the principal architects of its rise as a nation, was Birger Jarl the Regent, who practically ruled the land from 1248 to 1266. His wise reforms prepared the way for the abolition of serfdom. The increased respect and power which later royals owe to Birger Jarl was still further extended by his son, King Magnus Ladulas (1275 - 1290.) Both these rulers, by the institution of separate and almost independent duchies, attempted to introduce into Sweden a feudal system similar to that already established elsewhere in Europe; the danger of thus weakening the realm by partition was averted, though not without violent and tragic complications by the opponents, the Folkung party. (Unfortunately, the term Folkung also later referred to Earl Birger's descendants, forming the royal Folkunge of Bjelbo dynasty.) Finally, in 1319, the severed portions of Sweden were once more reunited.
The formation of separate orders (classes of society), or estates, was promoted by Magnus Ladulas, who extended the privileges of the clergy and practically founded the formal Swedish nobility. In connection with this institution we now hear of a heavily armed cavalry as the kernel of the national army. The Knights (new nobles) and Burghers became distinguishable from the higher nobility. To this period belongs the rise of a prominent burgess class, as the towns now began to acquire charters. At the end of the 13th century, and the beginning of the 14th, provincial codes of laws appear and the king and his council executed also legislative and judicial functions.
Union Between Sweden and NorwayEdit
The first union between Sweden and Norway occurred in 1319 when the three-year-old Magnus, son of the Swedish royal Duke Eric and of the Norwegian princess Ingeborg, inherited the throne of Norway from his grandfather Haakon V and in the same year was elected King of Sweden, by the Convention of Oslo. The boy king's long minority weakened the royal influence in both countries, and Magnus lost both his kingdoms before his death. The Swedes, irritated by his misrule, superseded him by his nephew, Albert of Mecklenburg in 1365. In Sweden, Magnus' partialities and necessities led directly to the rise of a powerful landed aristocracy, and, indirectly, to the growth of popular liberties. Forced by the unruliness of the magnates to lean upon the middle classes, in 1359 the king summoned the first Swedish Riksdag, on which occasion representatives from the towns were invited to appear along with the nobles and clergy. His successor, Albert, was forced to go a step farther and, in 1371, to take the first coronation oath.
The Kalmar UnionEdit
In 1388, at the request of the Swedes themselves, Albert was driven out by Queen Margaret of Denmar and at a convention of the representatives of the three Scandinavian kingdoms (held at Kalmar in 1397), Margaret's great-nephew, Eric of Pomerania, was elected the common king, although the liberties of each of the three realms were expressly reserved and confirmed. The union was to be a personal, not a political union. Neither Margaret herself nor her successors observed the stipulation that in each of the three kingdoms only natives should hold land and high office, and the efforts first of Denmark (at that time by far the strongest member of the union) to impose her will on the Union's weaker kingdoms soon produced a rupture, or rather a series of semi-ruptures. The Swedes first broke away from it in 1434 under the popular leader Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson, and after his murder they elected Karl Knutsson Bonde their king under the title of Charles VIII, 1436. In 1441 Charles VIII had to abdicate in favour of Christopher of Bavaria, who was already king of Denmark and Norway; however, upon the death of Christopher in 1448, a state of confusion ensued in the course of which Charles VIII was twice reinstated and twice expelled again. Finally, on his death in 1470, the three kingdoms were reunited under Christian II of Denmark, the prelates and higher nobility of Sweden being favourable to the union.