Human history in Sweden began only after the glaciers of the ice age covering the whole of Scandinavia started retreating. The earliest evidence of human colonization in Sweden was logically found in the very south, near Malmö. The finds date from approximately 8000 BCE, and testify to a stone age society of hunters and gatherers.

First signs of agriculture and cattle raising, along with permanent settlements, appeared in the Late Stone Age, between 2500 and 1800 BCE. The emergence of megalithic burial tombs shows a change in culture as well, arguably due to a new people conquering the land and creating a class society. The Bronze Age in Sweden lasted from about 1800 to 500 BCE. A flourishing culture began to develop, leaving many artifacts of arts and crafts. There are also first traces of trade with the British Isles.

The Roman Iron Age spans between approximately the year 0 and 500 AD. Iron had already been in use before, but of this era there are many artifacts testifying to trade links between Scandinavia and the Roman Empire. It was also the Romans who left the first written accounts on Scandinavia, namely Tacitus in "De Germania" from about 100 AD. Sweden is described as a land of many tribes, each under their own chieftain.

The so-called Vendel Period took place between 600 and 800 AD. It is named after the Vendel Church in Uppland where many characteristic ship-burial sites were found. There the Vendels used to bury their powerful chieftains with full armor, weapons and articfacts for a journey to the underworld.

In the years from 800 AD to 1050 AD the Scandinavian people left their mark on European history, and they became known as the Viking Age. The first evidence of a Viking raiding party dates from the year 793 AD, when Lindisfarne Monastery, on an island off the English coast, was plundered. Later on the Vikings even traveled into the Mediterranean Sea, and in the beginning of the eleventh century King Canute the Great's empire spanned besides Denmark and Norway also much of England. The Swedish Vikings, on the other hand, were mainly oriented to the east, across the Baltic Sea. They became known as far as Byzantium as the "Rus". On Gotland many arabic coins were found, documenting a livily trade. But after 1050 AD, that suddenly stopped. The theory among historians is that the Crusades brought the Mediterranean once again into the center of attention and rendered the trade routes through Russia unimportant.

The Scandinavians originally worshipped the Nordic gods like Odin, Thor and Frej. But in 830 the christian monk Ansgar set foot into Sweden and founded the first church at Birka. In the next hundred years not much did happen in that respect though. In the end of the 10th century English missionaries surface in Västergötland, but only in the end of the 11th century did Christianity take hold in the Swedish heartland in the east. In 1164 the first archbishop of Sweden took residence in Uppsala, which had hitherto been the cult center of the old religion. Christianity marks the transition from a tribal society to a organized state.

It is not quite clear when Sweden was first united under a single king. The Beowulf saga and archeology seemed to indicate that it may have been the case as early as in the 8th century, proof however only dates from 1130, when Sverker the Elder definitely ruled the whole of Sweden. Both theories assumed though that unification was the work of the Svea tribe from the Mälaren basin around Uppsala, after all, that's why it's called Sweden. Still another theory states that unification started from Götaland in the west, together with christianization.

Anyway, in the 11th and 12th century justice and administration were the duties of the magistrate (jarl) of every province. Only in the late 13th century did a strong central power for the whole country develop. The 13th century was generally a period of expansion. New land was made arable, towns were founded. Through the Hanseatic League, trade increased greatly. The kingdom became organized in fiefs (län), each with its central fortress for taxation and administration. The king had a council with a Lord Chief Justice (drots) for the law, an Earl Marshal (marsk) for the army and a Chancellor (kansler) for the administration. In the 14th century enhanced communications led to an increasing influence from continental Europa.

In 1250 power passed into the hands of Birger Jarl. This was the beginning of the Folkunga dynasty, which lasted until 1364. Around 1300 Sweden conquered Finland. During the whole time many revolts and assassinations took place, so the king was often an infant and power rested with the council. In 1319 the 3-year-old Magnus Eriksson was made king under the provisions of a Letter of Privilege. This was Sweden's Magna Charta and its first constitution. In the same year the infant inherited the crown of Norway. Throughout his reign, he had to face much opposition from the nobility, and finally, in 1364, he was driven into exile after the Danes had conquered much Swedish territory. In 1388 Queen Margaretha of Denmark and Norway became also Queen of Sweden, thus uniting the three Scandinavian kingdoms under one rule.

This peroid is called the Kalmar Union, named after the town of Kalmar where in 1397 Margaretha formally undertook not to interfere with each people's laws and privileges. The important positions in the respective governments were all to be filled by native Danes, Norwegians and Swedes. This, of course, did not work out, but it was only under Erik of Pomerania, who ruled from 1412 to 1439, that the tensions broke out.
Erik tried to curb the influence of the Hanseatic League, but this only served to cripple Sweden's economy. A revolt started in the mining area of Dalarna, led by Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson. After initial successes, Engelbrekt was murdered, but Karl Knutsson Bonde carried on the struggle and was made "Protector of the Realm". The union was retained in the end, but only formally, while power rested with the Swedish nobles, who fought one another as well as the crown during the latter half of the 15th century.

It was Sten Sture the Elder who held the power most of the time from 1471 until his death in 1503. In the ensuing civil war finally King Kristian II of Denmark intervened in 1517. In 1520 he managed to take Stockholm, and, though he had promised amnesty, had about 100 of his leading opponents beheaded in the market place of the city. This event became known as the Stockholm bloodbath. It was the end of the Kalmar Union.

Gustav Vasa led the rebellion and was crowned king in 1523. He would reform Sweden, make it a modern kingdom, and pave the way for its rise to a European superpower in the early 17th century.

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