Pre-historic age: 9,000 BC–AD 800
Sweden, as well as the adjacent country Norway, has a high concentration of petroglyphs throughout the country, with the highest concentration in the province of Bohuslän. The earliest images can, however, be found in the province of Jämtland, dating from 5000 BC.
Early Swedish history: 800–1500
For centuries, the Swedes were merchant seamen well known for their far-reaching trade. In the 9th century, Nordic Vikings raided and ravaged the European continent as far as the Black and Caspian Seas. During the 11th and 12th centuries, Sweden gradually became a unified Christian kingdom that later included Finland. Until 1060 the kings of Uppsala ruled most of modern Sweden except the southern and western coastal regions, which remained under Danish rule until the 17th century. After a century of civil wars a new royal family emerged, which strengthened the power of the crown at the expense of the nobility, while giving the nobles privileges such as exemption from taxation in exchange for military service. Finland was taken over. Sweden never had a fully developed feudal system, and its peasants were never reduced to serfdom.
The Vikings from Sweden mainly traveled east into Russia. During the 9th century, extensive Scandinavian settlements began on the east side of the Baltic Sea.
About 1000, the first king known to rule over both Svealand and Götaland was Olof Skötkonung, but the further history is obscure with kings whose periods of regency and actual power is unclear.
The conversion from Norse paganism to Christianity was a complex, gradual, and at times possibly violent process. The main early source of religious influence was England due to interactions between Scandinavians and Saxons in the Danelaw, and Irish missionary monks.
After the Black Death and internal power struggles in Sweden, Queen Margaret I of Denmark united the Nordic countries in the Union of Kalmar in 1397, with the approval of the Swedish nobility. The union's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Denmark on one side and Sweden on the other.
Modern Sweden: 1523
In the 16th century, Gustav Vasa fought for an independent Sweden, crushing an attempt to restore the Union of Kalmar and laying the foundation for modern Sweden. At the same time, he broke with the papacy and established a reformed church.
The Union of Kalmar's final disintegration in the early 16th century brought on a long-lived rivalry between Norway and Denmark on one side and Sweden (including Finland) on the other.
During the 17th century, after winning wars against Denmark, Russia, and Poland, Sweden-Finland (with scarcely more than 1 million inhabitants) emerged as a great power by taking direct control of the Baltic region, which was Europe's main source of grain, iron, copper, timber, tar, hemp, and furs.
Sweden's role in the Thirty Years' War determined the political as well as the religious balance of power in Europe.
The Swedish Empire: 1648
Sweden's status as an empire did not remain unchallenged. In the Second Northern War, she was able to establish control of the eastern bank of the Sound, formalized in the Treaty of Roskilde (1658), and gain recognition of her southeastern dominions by the European great powers in the Treaty of Oliva (1660); yet, Sweden was barred from further expansion at the southern coast of the Baltic.
The following period of peace allowed Charles XI of Sweden to reform and stabilize the empire. He consolidated the state finances by the great reduction of 1680; further changes were made in finance, commerce, national maritime and land armaments, judicial procedure, church government and education.
The Great Northern War: 1700
Russia, Saxony-Poland, and Denmark-Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish empire
The Russians won decisively at the Battle of Poltava in June 1709, capturing much of the exhausted Swedish army. Russian now dominated the north.
Sweden joined in the Enlightenment culture of the day in the arts, architecture, science and learning. A new law in 1766 established for the first time the principle of freedom of the press—a notable step towards liberty of political opinion. The Academy of Science was founded in 1739 and the Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities in 1753. The outstanding cultural leader was Carl Linnaeus whose work in biology and ethnography had a major impact on European science.
Colonies and slavery
Sweden experimented briefly with overseas colonies, including "New Sweden" in Colonial America in the 1640s. Sweden purchased the small Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy from France in 1784, then sold it back in 1878; the population had included slaves until they were freed by the Swedish government in 1847.
Union with Norway: 1814
In 1810 French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's top generals, was elected Crown Prince Charles by the Riksdag. In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon and defeated the Danes at Bornhöved. In the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark ceded mainland Norway to the Swedish king. Norway, however, declared its independence, adopted a constitution and chose a new king. Sweden invaded Norway to enforce the terms of the Kiel treaty—it was the last war Sweden ever fought.
The 19th century was marked by the emergence of a liberal opposition press, the abolition of guild monopolies in trade and manufacturing in favor of free enterprise, the introduction of taxation and voting reforms, the installation of a national military service, and the rise in the electorate of three major party groups—Social Democratic Party, Liberal Party, and Conservative Party.
Modernization of Sweden: 1860-1910
Sweden—much like Japan at the same time—transformed from a stagnant rural society to a vibrant industrial society between the 1860s and 1910. The agricultural economy shifted gradually from communal village to a more efficient private farm-based agriculture. There was less need for manual labor on the farm so many went to the cities; and about 1 million Swedes emigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890. Many returned and brought word of the higher productivity of American industry, thus stimulating faster modernization.
20th century (early)
With a broader voting franchise, the nation saw the emergence of three major party groups – Social Democrat, Liberal, and Conservative.
Religion maintained a major role but public school religious education changed from drill in the Lutheran catechism to biblical-ethical studies.
Sweden was neutral in World War I. During the war and the 1920s its industries expanded to meet the European demand for Swedish steel, ball bearings, wood pulp, and matches. Post-war prosperity provided the foundations for the social welfare policies characteristic of modern Sweden.
Sweden successfully integrated socialism and democracy because of the unique way in which Sweden's labor leaders, politicians, and classes cooperated during the early development period of Swedish social democracy. Because Sweden's socialist leaders chose a moderate, reformist political course with broad-based public support in the early stages of Swedish industrialization and prior to the full-blown development of Swedish interclass politics, Sweden escaped the severe extremist challenges and political and class divisions that plagued many European countries that attempted to develop social democratic systems after 1911.
When the Social Democratic Party came into power in 1932, its leaders introduced a new political decision-making process, which later became known as "the Swedish model." The party took a central role, but tried as far as possible to base its policy on mutual understanding and compromise. Different interest groups were always involved in official committees that preceded government decisions.
Foreign policy 1920-1939
Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated failed efforts at Nordic defense cooperation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II (although thousands of Swedish volunteers fought in the Winter War against the Soviets); however, it did permit German troops to pass through its territory to and from occupation duties in its neighbour, Norway, and it supplied the Nazi regime with steel and much needed ball-bearings.
Sweden during World War II
Sweden remained neutral during World War II, despite the involvement of all its neighbors. Sweden provided assistance to both warring parties.
Post-war Sweden: 1945
Sweden was one of the first non-participants of World War II to join the United Nations (in 1946). Apart from this, the country tried to stay out of alliances and remain officially neutral during the entire Cold War; it never joined NATO.
On February 28, 1986, the Social Democratic leader and Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was murdered; shocked Swedes worried whether the nation had "lost its innocence".
In the early 1990s there occurred once again an economic crisis with high unemployment and many banks and companies going bankrupt. A few years after the end of the Cold War Sweden became a member of the European Union in 1995, and the old term "policy of neutrality" fell out of use.
In a referendum held in 2003, voters decided not to adopt the Euro as the country's official currency.