Sweden has seen a lot of people, wars and movements come and go over the years; from the first people arriving after the last Ice Age some 14000 years ago, the Germanic migrations that brought down the Roman Empire, and the age of Vikings—to the enlightenment, dawn of Swedish democracy, and the age of information and technology we currently find ourselves in.
If you’ve ever been curious about the history of the Swedes and their country, I decided to chronoligically list most of the major events that have taken place in Sweden since around 12000 BCE to today in an easy-to-follow timeline format. Let’s dive in!
- 12000–700 BCE: Ice Age, Migrations & Germanic Tribes
- The First People Arrive in Sweden as the Ice Retreats
- Farmers from Anatolia and Syria Arrive to Scandinavia
- Steppe Herders from the Yamnaya Culture Arrive from the Black Sea
- The Battle Axe Culture is Born in Sweden & Norway
- Tribal Swedes ("Suoines") Meet the Romans and are Mentioned in Writing For the First Time
- Climate Changes Causes Mass Germanic Migrations from Scandinavia in to Europe
- 700s–1100s: The Norsemen, Old Norse Gods, and the Viking Age
- 1200s–1721: The Middle Ages, Scandinavian Union & Sweden as a Great Power
- 1721–1815: A Swedish Age of Military Losses, Liberty & Enlightenment
- Sweden Experiences an Age of Liberty and Military Losses
- Napoleon Schemes Against Sweden and Forces Denmark and Russia to Declare War on the Swedes
- Sweden Lose Finland to Russia, and the Enlightenment Reaches Sweden with a New Form of Government
- The Treaty of Kiel Assigns Norway as Part of the Kingdom of Sweden
- A Wartorn Sweden Becomes Peaceful & Neutral
- 1816–1913: Peace, Migrations to America & The Road to Democracy
- 1914–1967: World Wars, Economic Growth & Middle Way Politics
- Sweden is neutral in both the World Wars
- Women Gain the Right to Vote in Sweden
- The Concept of Folkhemmet ("the people's home") and the Swedish Middle Way is Introduced
- Astrid Lindgren Publishes Her First Book, Pippi Longstocking
- Sweden sees a period of economic growth despite being wedged between NATO and Soviet Russia
- 1969–1989: Cold War, Music & Film
- 1993–Today: The Age of Information Technology
- The Swedish IT Sector Booms & Busts
- The Pirate Bay is Launched by Swedes Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij & Gottfrid Svartholm
- Spotify & Minecraft are Developed & Launched in Stockholm
- 15 year-old Greta Thunberg Starts Her "Strike for the Climate"
- Felix "PewDiePie" Kjellberg Becomes the First YouTuber in History to Surpass 100 Million Subscribers
- The Covid-19 Pandemic Reaches Sweden, But the Country Doesn't Enact a Full Lockdown nor Mask Requirements
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic Scores His 500th Club Goal of His Football Career
- Sweden is Most Innovative Country in the EU According to UN's Global Innovation Index
12000–700 BCE: Ice Age, Migrations & Germanic Tribes
The first people who arrived in Sweden primarily came from two different migration waves; one from the south and one from the east.
These first Swedes did not really look a whole lot like modern-day Swedes, but instead were dark-skinned and blue-eyed (from the south) or pale-skinned and mixed eye colors (east).
Two more significant waves of immigrants would come to Sweden over the next 10 000 years, until we see signs of a warrior society taking root and small tribes and kingdoms sprouting up and defending the land from outsiders and neighbors.
The First People Arrive in Sweden as the Ice Retreats
The first inhabitants of the Scandinavian peninsula came from the south (a people known as the Western Hunter-Gatherers), later joined by migrants from the east (known as Eastern Hunter-Gatherers)
Farmers from Anatolia and Syria Arrive to Scandinavia
The first farmers—originating from Anatolia and Syria and commonly called Early European Farmers—start arriving to Sweden and Scandinavia with powerful new knowledge and tools.
They fuse with the hunter-gatherers, who learn how to farm from the new immigrants. The Swedish population slowly starts settling down in permanent settlements as a result, in a Sweden that is experiencing a heat wave that helps the new farmers reap the benefits of their labor.
New ceramic technologies spread to the region, and we can see a huge increase in pottery being used.
Steppe Herders from the Yamnaya Culture Arrive from the Black Sea
The final wave of people arrive in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia from the steppes north of the Black Sea (modern-day Ukraine and Russia), commonly called the Western Steppe Herders.
After this wave, more permanent and centralized tribes and settlements slowly start forming over time.
The Battle Axe Culture is Born in Sweden & Norway
Known for being buried with their spectacular battle axes, this war-loving society is considered the predecessor to the Proto-Germanic Culture; where all the Germanic tribes originated from.
Tribes start waging wars and expanding during this time.
Tribal Swedes (“Suoines“) Meet the Romans and are Mentioned in Writing For the First Time
The Swedes and Geats slowly become the two dominant tribes in Sweden, gradually conquering or pushing out most of the other tribes in the region.
Climate Changes Causes Mass Germanic Migrations from Scandinavia in to Europe
Harsh conditions in Sweden, Denmark and Norway triggers the epic Germanic Migrations that took tribes across Europe, Africa, and Asia and left a strong legacy behind.
Towards the end of the Iron Age we see huge groups of people migrating from instead of to Sweden, which was primarily the trend previously.
The epic Germanic migrations that ultimately contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire may be the first time Swedes and Scandinavians in general make their mark on Europe and the rest of the world, but certainly not the last.
700s–1100s: The Norsemen, Old Norse Gods, and the Viking Age
Germanic tribes had pushed south from Sweden and Denmark and spread all over the European continent between 500-700 CE, but as they settled in their new lands, they were gradually Christianized and detached from their Northern roots.
Then suddenly, around the 8th century, continental Europe saw a huge increase in raids and conquests from their ancestral brethren who had stayed behind in Scandinavia; the Norsemen of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.
The Viking Age had begun, and Swedes were once again expanding out of the region.
Norse & Viking Culture Forms in Sweden, Denmark and Norway
Swedish Vikings start raiding in Finland and the Baltics, and eventually keeps going east to rule in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and beyond.
The First King of Both Swedes & Geats Rules Sweden, Swedish Vikings Form Russia, Ukraine,
Swedes are the Last to Give Up the Norse Gods in Favor of Christianity
Swedes ultimately held on to the Viking lifestyle the longest, as the last of the three Scandinavian kingdoms to abandon the Old Norse gods and convert to Christianity in the 12th century.
As the Norse gods disappeared and the Christian faith took hold of the land, we enter Swedish Medieval times, with the larger Swedish Kingdom taking shape and consolidating its borders.
1200s–1721: The Middle Ages, Scandinavian Union & Sweden as a Great Power
The larger Swedish Kingdom has established itself as a centralized power in the region, wars with Denmark and Norway start to become a yearly traditions, and powerful dynasties in Sweden fight for the crown.
The House of Bjälbo from Västergötland battles the House of Erik from Svealand for the crown, and after emerging victorious with the rule of Birger Jarl through his son King Valdemar.
The Bjälbos slowly started working towards a united Scandinavia by marriage and conquest, eventually resulting in the Scandinavian Kalmar Union ruled by the Danish Queen Margarete and her husband the Norwegian King Håkan Magnusson of Bjälbo.
Sweden Becomes Part of a Scandinavian Union
The whole of Scandinavia is united by Danish Queen Margarete according to a scheme launched by the House of Bjälbo, the Swedish dynasty her husband Håkan Magnusson (King of Norway) was part of.
The union would be ruled formally by their adoptive son Erik of Pommerania (who was of the House of Griffin, the Dukes of Pommerania).
The union lasts (more or less) for 126 years, ending with the Swedish war of independence in 1523, in response to Kristian II “The Tyrant” ordering the “Stockholm Bloodbath”, a public execution of Swedes who were standing up against the King.
Sweden Declares Independence from the Kalmar Union, Gustav Vasa Becomes King
After years of Sweden playing second fiddle to Denmark, who ruled the Scandinavian union, the Swedish noblemen reached a point of no return, and helped Vasa claim the throne of Sweden, and declare independence.
On June 6th, 1520, Gustav Eriksson Vasa proclaimed himself governor of Sweden, which was later to become king when he was formally elected in 1523.
Vasa transformed Sweden from a kingdom of elected kings into a kingdom of hereditary succession, and his sons would go on to strengthen Sweden’s standing in the region significantly.
The Swedish Empire Becomes a Great Power in Europe
During the 17th and 18th centuries, Sweden took control over large parts of the Baltic Sea, including areas controlled by modern-day Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Poland, and Germany.
The beginning of this period is usually connected to the ascension of Gustavus Adolphus (Gustav Adolf) to King of Sweden in 1611, and it ends with the Swedish loss in the Great Northern War in 1721.
As the Swedes break free from the Scandinavian union, a new age begins with Sweden as a great power in Europe.
When Denmark-Norway invaded the Swedish Empire with help from the Russian Empire and Poland-Saxony, the Great Northern War begun, which was also the beginning of the end of Sweden as a great power.
1721–1815: A Swedish Age of Military Losses, Liberty & Enlightenment
After a period as the dominating power in the Baltic Sea and Northern Europe, Sweden starts losing wars and provinces over gradually over the next hundred years.
But its not all bad, as these military losses catapult Sweden into an age of enlightenment instead of warfare, bringing with it scientific advancements, and ultimately peace with its neighbors (after tens of thousands of years of wars).
Sweden Experiences an Age of Liberty and Military Losses
After a period as a great power in Europe, Sweden transitions into an age of liberty, where new liberal ideas are embraced, and wars are mostly lost.
Many scientific breakthroughs happen in Sweden during these years, including those of Carl von Linné (pictured above).
Napoleon Schemes Against Sweden and Forces Denmark and Russia to Declare War on the Swedes
The Swedish King Gustav IV Adolf had been a vocal opponent of the French Emperor’s aggression in Europe, and was dragged into a two-front war with Denmark-Norway in the west and Russia in the east.
Sweden Lose Finland to Russia, and the Enlightenment Reaches Sweden with a New Form of Government
In 1809, after losing the Finnish war and Finland as a province to Russia, the King of Sweden is deposed. Sweden adopts a new form of government inspired by the ideas of the Enlightenment, as well as a new constitution.
The era of the Swedish King’s supreme rule was over, and more and more power was transferred to the Swedish Riksdag (parliament). But while the seeds of democracy were planted and the courts became more independent, a new king still ruled the country on paper.
The Treaty of Kiel Assigns Norway as Part of the Kingdom of Sweden
The Swedish King Karl Johan (originally a French marshall by the name of Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, and direct ancestor to the current Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf) beat the Napolean army in the battle of Leipzig in 1813.
As a result, Sweden and its allies Britain could force the French alliance, which included Denmark-Norway, into a tough negotiation for peace.
And so the age of the Swedish-Norwegian union begins, which would last until 1905 when the Norwegians ultimately and overwhelmingly voted for independence.
A Wartorn Sweden Becomes Peaceful & Neutral
Sweden would remain neutral for more than 200 years, a period that would formally end with Sweden’s application to join NATO in 2022 due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
1816–1913: Peace, Migrations to America & The Road to Democracy
As Sweden experiences a harsh period of famine and economic hardship, Swedes start considering giving the New World a chance instead of struggling at home.
The Swedes who stay at home also take inspiration from across the Atlantic, and start dreaming of a democratic country.
1.2 Million Swedes Migrate to America
Over this period, more than a fifth of the Swedish population decides to migrate across the Atlantic to North America, mainly settling in the northern states of Minnesota, North Dakota,.
School Becomes Required by Law in Sweden
In 1842, compulsory education was introduced by folkskolestadgan (“the folk school law”), which made it mandatory for all municipalities to establish schools for their children.
Sweden Enters the Age of Industrialization
The country experiences a population boom as it grows from 3.5 million Swedes in 1850 to 5.1 million in 1900.
The Road Towards a Democratic Sweden Continues
The road to Sweden’s democratisation began in the 1870s, when a modern Swedish party system was formed.
Major issues discussed in the two-chamber Riksdag included the dissolution of the union with Norway and the struggle for universal suffrage.
Sweden Becomes a Democracy (Kind Of)
In 1909 the Swedish parliament decides on universal suffrage for men over the age of 24 who pay taxes, have done their military service, and have not received welfare or in prison. This applies only to elections to the second chamber of parliament for now, while the undemocratically elected first chamber still remains.
Women get the right to run for local elected positions in the same year, but their right to vote would have to wait another decade.
The First Nobel Prizes are Awarded in Stockholm, Sweden by the Alfred Nobel Foundation
The prizes were established by Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel (who invented dynamite among many other things) as per his will of 1895.
Each Nobel Prize is considered the most prestigious award in its field, and has been awarded every year since.
Sweden has taken the first steps toward a democratic society, and there is an aura of optimism across the country as the winds of democracy blow strong.
1914–1967: World Wars, Economic Growth & Middle Way Politics
As the first world war broke out, Sweden, Denmark, and Norway all proclaimed themselves neutral, which they more or less stayed throughout the war.
The democratic movements grow stronger and stronger in Sweden, and women eventually gain the right to vote after the first world war.
After Sweden manages to stay fairly neutral (helping both the Allies and the Axis powers in various ways) through the second world war, it emerges as one of the very few countries with intact infrastructure in post-war Europe.
As a result, Sweden begins a period of great economic growth and prosperity, with companies such as IKEA, Volvo, and H&M seeing major global success.
Sweden is neutral in both the World Wars
The Swedish government managed to keep the country out of both world wars that ravaged the European continent and large parts of the world.
Women Gain the Right to Vote in Sweden
After almost 40 years of campaigning for women’s right to voite, the Swedish Riksdag finally decides on universal and equal suffrage in Sweden in 1919.
The first democratically elected women in parliament would be voted in three years later, with Kerstin Hesselgren, Elisabeth Tamm, Agda Östlund, Nelly Thüring, and Bertha Wellin.
The Concept of Folkhemmet (“the people’s home”) and the Swedish Middle Way is Introduced
Per-Albin Hansson coins the term Folkhemmet in 1928, and his Social Democratic party would go on to create a middle way between socialism and capitalism over the next 50 or so years.
It would be defined by successful and lasting concepts such as the Swedish welfare state, which offered access to childcare, healthcare, education, and modern and functional housing for all Swedes.
Astrid Lindgren Publishes Her First Book, Pippi Longstocking
The Swedish author would go on to publish numerous books that saw global success, including Emil of Lönneberga, Karlsson-on-the-Roof, Children of Noisy Village in the US, Mio, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, and The Brothers Lionheart.
In total, Astrid Lindgren has sold over 190 million books worldwide, and she is the world’s 18th most-translated author of all time.
Most of her books were made into movies that are considered cult classics today, and her legacy lives on as new versions are in the works (such as a remake of Ronia the Robber’s Daughter due to be released in 2023).
Sweden sees a period of economic growth despite being wedged between NATO and Soviet Russia
As a result of staying out of the devastating world wars, the Swedish economy saw a period of growth and prosperity while the country was balancing the great powers during the post-ww2 and cold war eras.
Instead of Swedes migrating elsewhere (mainly America during the 1800s and early 1900s), people from Finland, the Baltics, the Balkans, Italy, and Turkey start migrating to Sweden during this time period looking for work.
Swedish businesses such as Volvo (pictured above), H&M, Electrolux, and IKEA start seeing major global success during this time.
1969–1989: Cold War, Music & Film
Sweden is wedged between the East and West in the cold war, but still manages to thrive in this tumultuous era.
As music and film spread into the homes and lives of every Swede, music and filmmakers such as ABBA and Ingmar Bergman break through on the global stage and establish themselves as the best of the best.
ABBA is Formed & Conquers the World with Their Dance Music
Björn Ulvaeus & Benny Andersson met for the first time in 1966, but it was in 1969 they formed ABBA along with their fiancees Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and started their conquest of the world of music.
They ended up selling more than 400 million records and are considered among the world’s most successful music acts of all time, especially their accomplishment of reaching all the world’s continents.
After their breakup in 1979, the group has seen continued success and waves of revivals in popularity from covers by other bands and the Mamma Mia musical and movie.
Ingmar Bergman Wins his First of Three Oscars for The Virgin Spring
The Swedish director will go on to become one of the greatest directors globally of all time, after movies such as The Sevent Seal, Autumn Sonata, and Fanny & Alexander
Sweden Expands its “Middle Way” of Economics & Politics, and Thrives
Sweden’s middle way of economics enter a new era, continuing the heritage of this compromise between democratic socialism and capitalist market economy.
The 1980s would be characterized by deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation of the economy while keeping the strong social welfare state alive. Perhaps most imporantly, Sweden would take no official stance in the global conflict between East and West.
Bill Clinton’s (US) and Tony Blair’s (UK) social liberal governments of the 1990s and 2000s would also embrace this Third Way as they called it, as an alternative to pure market liberalism and social democracy.
Feb 28, 1986
Olof Palme, Prime Minister of Sweden, is Shot and Killed
The Swedish investigators did not find the killer, despite numerous suspects and theories. That is until June 2020, when the Chief Prosecutor named the so-called “Skandia man”, Stig Engström (deceased in 2000), as the suspected perpetrator, after which the investigation was closed.
Sweden’s Economy Slides into a Recession
After a period of seemingly endless growth, the 1990s start with a period of bleak economic outlooks, with Sweden’s GDP falling by 5 percent between 1990-1993.
The Swedish economy has kept up a constant state of growth since the second world war, but signs of gloomier times were on the horizon, and the country eventually slid into a recession in 1990
1993–Today: The Age of Information Technology
The most recent period in Swedish history has been marked by technological innovation and social responsibility, with Sweden often being in the forefront of the information revolution that the whole world is experiencing as a result of the impact of the internet, personal computers, and smart phones.
The Swedish IT Sector Booms & Busts
As the possibilities of the internet first dawned upon the world, the Swedish IT bubble saw companies grow with seemingly endless potential for almost a decade, before they all crashed spectacularly.
IT consultancies Framfab & Icon Medialab were the largest in Europe, and telecom company Ericsson’s market cap grew with 1.8 billion SEK during the period (40% of the total market cap of the Stockholm Stock Exchange towards the end of the bubble).
At the turn of the new millennium, the Stockholm Stock Exchange had increased by 80% in just under 100 trading days, which has never happened either before or after (so far, at least).
On March 6, 2000, the Stockholm Stock Exchange had reached a combined record value of 4 863 billion SEK, but after the epic crash about a year later it bottomed out at 1 500 billion SEK (a 67% loss of market value).
The Pirate Bay is Launched by Swedes Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij & Gottfrid Svartholm
The torrenting website provides users a way to search, download, and contribute files without any limitations or regulations.
This milestone in internet history signalled a start of democratizing media in general, which ended up shifting media consumption from a gatekeeping model where users had to pay large fees up front to consume media, towards a freemium model where users can consume the media for free in exchange for seeing or hearing ads.
Despite a mutlitude of attempts over the years to shut the website down, it is still alive to this day (and likely will be forever due to its network of unlimited proxy websites).
Spotify & Minecraft are Developed & Launched in Stockholm
A new era of Swedish innovation within entertainment technology dawns, with Spotify turning the musical industry upside-down and Minecraft introducing a new way of having fun with friends.
Today, Spotify has amassed 433 monthly listeners around the world (August 2022), and Minecraft have 173 million active monthly players (August 2022).
Aug 20, 2018
15 year-old Greta Thunberg Starts Her “Strike for the Climate”
On 20 August 2018, Greta Thunberg, then 15 and in 9th grade, started her school strike. She decided to sit outside the Riksdag building in Stockholm with a sign saying “School strike for the climate”, up until the election in September.
She gave her first speech in a few weeks later during a climate demonstration, when she announced that she would continue the school strike every Friday until Sweden had fulfilled the Paris Agreement.
Her commitment and passion (combined with her young age) made the news of her strike spread like wildfire on in social media around the world, and as a result of her global activism she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
On Nov 25, 2022, Greta Thunberg along with 623 Swedish youth sued the Swedish goverment for not doing enough to reach the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.
Aug 25, 2019
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg Becomes the First YouTuber in History to Surpass 100 Million Subscribers
The Swedish streamer and internet personality has amassed more than 28 billion views on his videos, which is the 30th most in the history of internet videos.
He would eventually be surpassed in subscribership by his good friend MrBeast (from the US) in November 2022, and is currently considered semi-retired from his YouTube career.
Jan 31, 2020
The Covid-19 Pandemic Reaches Sweden, But the Country Doesn’t Enact a Full Lockdown nor Mask Requirements
Though Folkhälsomyndigheten (the Swedish Health Agency) implemented many recommendations to curb the spread of the virus (such as social distancing and washing hands), all Swedish schools remained open throughout the pandemic, and face masks were not generally recommended.
This was a controversial decision, as most other countries in the world went into multiple full lockdowns and implemented strict face mask requirements.
Ultimately, Sweden’s approach did not seem to have a significant negative impact, with Sweden ranking 30th out of 47 European countries (though still worse off than its Nordic neighbors) in number of people passing on per capita as a result of the pandemic (Worldometer 2022).
Feb 7, 2021
Zlatan Ibrahimovic Scores His 500th Club Goal of His Football Career
The Swedish footballer, born in Malmö in 1981, cements his place in football history by joining an exclusive group of 23 players who has scored 500 or more club goals.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is considered the greatest Swedish footballer of all time, and as of writing this article, Zlatan is still playing for AC Milan and has scored a total of 571 goals for club and country, the 12th most out of all players in the history of football.
Oct 7, 2022
Sweden is Most Innovative Country in the EU According to UN’s Global Innovation Index
Sweden placed third in the world, after Switzerland and the US, out of 132 countries ranked.
As of writing this article, Sweden is experiencing an economic contraction much like the rest of the world in late 2022, has recently switched from a center-left to a center-right government, and failed to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
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