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Swedish history: --1521 (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Swedish history: --1521

 

7.3.3 prehistoric and medieval time

Stone Age

The first found traces after the Ice Age are from northern Scania 13'000 years ago. From 8'000 years ago great settles are found along the coastal line of that time. 6'000 years ago agriculture was established. After a change of climate 5'000 years ago most of the farmlands were abandoned for colonization of the coasts and Baltic islands (for instance Åland), followed again by spread of settlements in the Scandinavian inland 4'000 years ago.

Bronze Age

About 4'000 years ago the contacts between South-Scandinavia and the European continent increased, and approximately at the same time the central and northern parts of Scandinavia came in closer contact with Russia and Siberia. Cattle and stock-raising became important in the South, and in the North a complement to hunting, fishing and gathering.

Iron Age 500 B.C. - 1050 A.D.

At the rise of the Roman Empire contacts between South/Central Scandinavia and the European continent seems to have surged, as indicated by rich finds of import objects and houses with stone foundations. Runic characters are introduced. Denmark dominates southern Scandinavia. Germanics often serve as mercenaries for the Roman armies. In early 6th century a group of disposed mercenaries of the Heruli tribe is said to have resettled in Västergötland.

Approximately 500-700 A.D. the Sámi population is pushed further north during a Germanic expansion. Svenonians ("Svear") come to play a dominating role, and the Goths ("Götar") a subordinate role. Ironworks make the Svenonian area west for Uppland rich, and is the ground for extensive contacts also with what today is Russia, Finland and the Baltic states. The Åland islands are believed to have been colonized around 550 A.D.

The realm of the Vikings is probably better described in terms of water-ways and coastal strips along their trading routes, an not in terms of land areas. On some places there ought to have come up permanent trade stations, as for instance at the Ladoga shore.

The best and most secure settlements were deep in bays ("vik" in Swedish) were only skillful navigators could find their way. The town Birka is founded in the 800:th century at such a position. As it looks there was from the beginning a strong garrison protecting Birka all around the year.

800-1050 Viking age

It was a prosperous period. Swedish Vikings traveled trading fur and slaves to Russia, Byzantium and all the way down to the Arab caliphate at Baghdad. Possibly also silk trading was of major importance until the 970s.

The Svea kingdom gets a leading position, at least it gets best known abroad. Its capital is in Gamla ("Old") Uppsala. The Svea vikings seem to have had a couple of trade stations along the water-way from lake Ladoga to the south. The trade through Russia was in competition with the Gutar from Gotland, Danes (including Scanians) and with Östgötar from Östergötland. Svea Vikings possibly inhabited also Åland and coastal areas in Finland and Norrland.

The Russian leader Rurik was obviously a Viking Chieftain, who settled in Gårdarike (Russia) in the mid 9th century, and whose descendants ruled Russia until year 1598. Novgorod and Kiev were important stations on the way to Persia and Byzantium.

At the end of the previous millennium the trade and plundering became less profitable, and the magnates on the great plains became more powerful than the Viking leaders at the coast. Sweden at this time can be said to consist of six rich agricultural provinces with great plains, their neighboring dark woods (see the table) and the more independent people at the coast and in the archipelago.

King Olof Skötkonung converted to Christianity, was banned from the pagan Svealand, got accepted as a refugee in Skara (or as king over Västergötland?) where Sweden's first bishopric was established.


11th century

Sweden becomes Christian, and the country is united into a single kingdom. Due to pressure from the mighty Danish kingdom, which had united maybe a hundred years before, the warring landscapes of Sweden settle into an uneasy truce and start to elect a king to rule them as one kingdom. This kingdom was often called the "Svea kingdom", because traditionally this was the only stable entity and the only kingdom that foreigners had heard of. Västergötland (often with Värmland and Dalsland) remained the most independent province for many hundred years.

The royal power and authority were limited to leadership in combat and sometimes to function as the highest judicial authority.

Norwegians and Svenonians participate in attempts to make the people on the coast of Finland Christian. During the second half of the century the Svenonians seem to have a succeeded with colonies north of Åland.

1076 Bishop Adam of Bremen writes the history of the bishopric of Hamburg, describing the christianization of Sweden, which is one of our main sources to the early history of Scandinavia.

1050-1397

After the Christianization Sweden is ruled by kings elected by the nobility - most of the time from two rival dynasties. Formerly kings were elected by each "landsting" (that was a combined court and law-giving meeting of the free men in a province). First in 1319 the peasantry would again be officially, participating in the election of kings.

The title king of the Svears did however not give much power. Neither among the Svears nor in more distant parts of the country. The forces of particularism were very strong during the first centuries and often there would be two or three claimants to the throne engaged in civil war.

This time is characterized by the power being divided on so many local magnates assuring no individual command too much power, and becoming a threat against the other magnates. A suitable king could well be chosen from Götaland, perhaps because that person would find it hard to make his power be felt in Svealand.

Earls (jarlar) were commanders of the fleet (leiðungr) and deputy in Svealand when the king resided in Götaland.

1152 a papal cardinal refuse to organize a separate Swedish archdiocese tired of the quarrel between Götar and Svear, who couldn't agree on one of the two alternatives: Linköping in Östergötland or Uppsala in Uppland. Until the beginning of the 13th century Östergötland appears as the stronghold for the Christian Kingdom, with (heaten?) opposition particularly in Uppland.

Sweden conquers the Finnish woods for Catholicism through a series of "crusades". Most of the coast on both sides of the Bothnic sea, Åland and the plains in southern Finland of today is believed to have been colonized by Svears already. (After the first crusade 1155 Uppland was rewarded with the archdiocese.) Finland is not participating in the elections of kings until 1362.

The dominance in the Baltics by the Gutar from Gotland island is competed by the Germans in the Hansetic League, who from 1161 has an agreement with the Gutar. The situation for Götar and Svear is not improved, but Gotland gets weaker, with civil war in the end of the 13th century, and finally defeat under the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag 1361. Swedish kings had ambitions to rule also over Gotland, but the Gutar were not too interested.

The first one to yield such power that he could issue grants of land in both Götaland and Svealand (showing that he had territorial power), was Knut Eriksson (late 12:th century). In his early days this son of the throne claimant Erik, "Erik the saint", used the title king of Götaland, but after coming out on top in a civil war he also called himself king of Svealand and also used the titles together. Before his days the king can be said to have wielded power only with the consent of the local upper class.

Knut Eriksson is also believed to have initiated the building of stone towers in Kalmar, Borgholm and Stockholm which later were extended to castles. Stockholm, as situated at the very center of the realm, between the rich Svealand provinces, becomes the constant residence for the crown's administration.

13th & 14th century

The crown and the realm increase in strength and stability - slowly, but though. The common people play the non-speaking parts in the drama of the noble families' competition with each other. And the kings? They participated in the competition as much as they could. The kings more than once were appointed at very low age. Probably it was easier to agree upon kings in the three-years age for the noble magnates who then had a long time to strengthen their influence.

1248 at the church meeting in Skänninge (in Östergötland), on demand from the catholic pope, the Swedish church introduces celibacy for priests, and the priests should now be appointed by the bishop. Earlier, priests were elected by their parish (or its noble master) and they married. The independence of the Church is now secured (until the Reformation 1527).

From the latter half of the 13th century the kings are requested to "cooperate" with [maybe sooner: be balanced and controlled by] a Council for the realm, with representatives for the highest nobility: a chancellor (kansler / rikskansler), commander in chief (marsk / riksmarsk), minister of Justice (drots / riksdrots), the bishops and some other peers.

1319 it is settled how king's election should take place, requiring the king to take an oath that no one could be imprisoned unless he'd been found guilty according to law, and that only domestic men were to be appointed as bailiffs. As a national law is proclaimed 1350 the power of legislation and taxation is still formally regarded as an issue solely for the landsting of the seven provinces to decide (1362 Finland was acknowledged as the eight).

Until the Plague 1350 the forests were increasingly colonized for agriculture. Then followed a long time characterized by decrease in population and wealth. The reasons are not well known, but a change in the climate might be a possible explanation.

On the map to the left Sweden as it was understood between 1336 and 1561 is marked with a darker shade of gray, and the provinces temporarily ruled by king Magnus Eriksson (Norway, Gotland and the Scanian provinces) are marked with a lighter shade of gray.

During the 1350s the conflict between King Magnus Eriksson and the strong Swedish State Council aggravates. The noble opposition is led by the high-born Birgitta Birgersdotter in Vadstena (St. Birgitta) and seconded by the crown-prince Erik.

The king and his main councillor, his alleged lover Bengt Algotsson, had debts and after the Plague also diminishing taxes and eastern wars to tamper with. When Bengt Algotsson 1353 was made duke with Halland in the west and large parts of Finland in the east as his duchy, and the Prince Håkon 1355 took over the crown of Norway, then the Crown-Prince and the State Council lost their temper.

As a result of the following civil war Bengt Algotsson was expelled and most of the realm came under the rule of the Crown-Prince Erik. The king was allowed to keep the insignificant provinces of Närke, Västergötland and adjacent parts of Småland.

After the crown-prince and all of his family suddenly had died 1359 his father Magnus Eriksson regained power, but the realm is weak and the nobility is split and fighting. Denmark conquers Gotland and regains Scania, and King Magnus is 1362 forced to abdicate in favor of his son King Håkon. It is in this sorrow time of the Swedish realm as representatives for the Finns are invited as equals to the Diet. Thereby the eastern provinces were given status as totally integrated parts of the realm.

Soon a nephew of Magnus Eriksson, the German duke Albreckt of Mecklenburg, is asked to claim the crown by a faction of the State Council. Albreckt defeats King Håkon and the ex-King Magnus Eriksson in a battle. Ex-king Magnus is imprisoned in Stockholm. The magnates of three provinces (Värmland, Dalsland & Västergötland) on the border to Norway agree however that Håkon is the rightful (or better?) king why their provinces were to belong to Norway.

From 1371 the Swedish State Council has bound the King Albreckt with promises to follow its advices.


15th century

After 1397 Sweden and Denmark (including Finland, Norway and Iceland) were united in the Kalmar Union under Queen Margrete (Princess of Denmark, Queen of Norway). Margrete never held the title Queen of Sweden, but was instead appointed as "authorized agent" (Fru och fullmäktige av Sverige). This period is characterized by struggle between the nobility, the commons and the queen/king.

The nobility seems to have preferred a union-king far away in Copenhagen for meddlesome kings in Stockholm. The union meant two more advantages: internal peace between the Nordic countries; and a united front against the German powers, and later against Moscow. The nobility came however to fear the loss of the profitable and politically important positions as bailiffs at the crown's castles.

In Finland the nobility in Finland came to play a strong and rather independent role in the union, underlined by the Count of Viipuri/Viborg functioning as Marquis /Markgraf after German model.

The union was a reaction against the strong influence German merchants had around the Baltics, illustrated by a German being elected king in Sweden in the late 14th century, but the union gets questioned both by the nobility, when they are discontent, and by the Commons, when they experience worsening conditions. Germans continue to play a dominating role in towns and mining.

1398 Tyska Orden (the German Order) occupies Gotland. Year 1408 they sell the island to King Erik, who came to regard it as his private property.


1434-36

A rebellion led by Engelbrecht is motivated by the king of the Kalmar union breaking a promise not to change laws or taxes without asking the people (i.e. the four Estates at a Diet). In January 1435 a Diet appointed Engelbrecht as captain for the Swedish realm, and as such he negotiated with the union-king that year - with poor results. In response to demands from the country the four Estates were summoned to a new Diet in Arboga 1436; which decided to continue the rebellion. Engelbrecht was elected king. But then the two higher Estates (nobility and clergy) chose to appoint another man as captain for the realm, while the two lower Estates supported Engelbrecht. The result: Engelbrecht being assassinated, and succeeded by his allied the high-born Karl Knutsson Bonde, Engelbrecht's "marsk" (commander-in-chief), who then kills the most famous supporters of Engelbrecht.

The bishop and magnates in Finland had not so much sympathy for Engelbrecht's rebellion, but after the Diet in Arboga they joined.

In the following years all four Estates are participating in Diets, and Swedes flatter themselves with 550 years of continuous peasant participation in the Diets where taxes and laws were negotiated.

1440 the Swedish regent the Marsk Karl Knutsson and the Duke Christoffer of Bavaria agree with the most of the nobility in Sweden and Denmark: Duke Christoffer becomes regent (later king) for all of the union and Karl Knutsson becomes independent count (jarl) of Viipuri, keeping the crown's taxes to use for the defense of the eastern border. And, of course, as marsk he remains in the Swedish State Council. When Christoffer of Bavaria dies 1448, only 35 years old, and no follower is agreed upon, the Swedish State Council finds it a matter of course to appoint Karl Knutsson to king. The Danish State Council did of course find this initiative highly impudent and had to appoint someone else.

1449-1450

King Karl (Knutsson Bonde) is crowned to king of Norway in opposition against the Danish King Christian, who some months earlier had been elected king of Norway. (King Christian I was the first in the Oldenburg dynasty, and since the crown of Norway was to be inherited, the election was regarded as illegal by many magnates on the Scandinavian peninsula.) Year 1450 King Karl is forced by the Swedish State Council to give up the Norwegian crown, after pressure from the union-king in Denmark. The atrocities calm down after Karl Knutsson has devasted Scania and put the towns Vä, Helsingborg and Lund to fire.

1463-71
Swedish peasants formed armies at many occasions, fighting the smaller but professional troops of the union-king. The peasants were supported, and often encouraged, by the separatists among the nobility. In 1471 the election of a separatist as regent for Sweden led to a relative calmness.

After Novgorod's defeat under Moscow 1471 the eastern border becomes a trouble again, after 150 years of relative peace.


1497

The State Council tried to depose the separatist regent for Sweden who declared he had been appointed by all of the people in Sweden through the Estates at the Diet. The king of the union, King Hans of Denmark, hired an army which vanquished the regent's separatist army, but the State Council soon accepts the four Estates as their in practice highest authority.



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma and Johan Olofsson.
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The line of flags is modified after a picture at det Åländska skoldatanätet.
This page was last updated June the 27th in the year of 1998.

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