Monday, December 04, 2006

Early Swedish history

The Swedish pre-history ended around 800 CE, when the Viking Age began. The Viking Age lasted to the midth 11th century, when the Christianization broke through. Circa 1050 to 1350 – when the Black Death struck – is considered to be Older Middle Ages. Between 1350 and 1523 – when king Gustav Vasa was crowned – is considered the Younger Middle Ages.

During this period, Sweden was gradually consolidated. Scandinavia was fully Christianized around 1100 AD. The Kalmar Union between the Scandinavian countries was established in 1389 and lasted until Gustav Vasa broke off at seizing power.

Viking Age

Around 800, the Scandinavian people had settled in villages and established small societies based on petty kingdoms and their kings, mainly known from legends. The Scandinavian people now became more distinguished as separate people, and started going out on expedition to foreign countries, that lead them to accumulate some wealth. Nation borders were lain inside the country, because the seas were more easy to travel than the forests in the inland, which is why some southern and northern territories were either unexplored or belonged to other kingdoms up until the 17th century.

It is also around 800 that the earliest concrete influences from foreign countries are to be found, including early contact with Christianity and a development of the runic alphabet.

Voyages to foreign countries
Viking expeditions (blue); the expeditions going into Russia were Swedish VikingsThe 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 merchandice 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 (dated to 1113) writes about how the tribe Varangians arrived in Constantinople, and of piratical expeditions on the Black Sea and on the Caspian Sea. The legendary expeditions by Rurik (Rørik) and Askold (Haskuld) established settlements that resulted in Kievan Rus', a predecessor state of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine.

The Varangians accumulated some wealth from its foreigh trades. A centre of trade in northern Europe developed on the island Birka, not far from where Stockholm was later constructed, in midth Sweden. Birka was probably demolished already during the 11th century, but remains show its wealth in the 9th and 10th century. Thousands of graves, coins, jewelry and other luxury items have been found there.

There are also other locations in Sweden where precious treasures have been found, revealing a widespread trade between Sweden and eastern countries down to Asia.

Early rulers
Medieval Danish, Norwegian, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon sources tell of Migration Age 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.

Consequently, historians can differ in the value they ascribe to the sources, in different contexts. Historians also vary in how they define Sweden, some distinguishing between Sverige (the modern Swedish name for Sweden) and Svea rike (the medieval form of the Swedish name for Sweden) as two different nations.

Many kings only ruled over parts of the present territory of Sweden (See further Semi-legendary kings 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.