Sweden's prehistory begins in the Allerød warm period c. 12,000 BC with Late Palaeolithic reindeer-hunting camps of the Bromme culture at the edge of the ice in what is now the country's southernmost province.
A foundation date of the nation Sweden cannot be determined with any degree of certainty, since it evolved from a warfare center of power, Svea Rike, centered in old Uppsala, which might have had many increases and decreases in power and influence. The existence of such a power is stated already by Tacitus, around AD 100.
About AD 1000, the first certain king over Svea and Göta Riken is documented to be Olof Skötkonung, but the further history is obscure with kings whose periods of regency and actual power is unclear.
During the 11th century, Christianity became the most prevalent religion, and from the year 1050 Sweden is counted as a Christian nation. The period between 1100 and 1400 was characterized by internal power struggles and competition among the Nordic kingdoms. Swedish kings also began to expand the Swedish-controlled territory in Finland, creating conflicts with the Rus which now no longer had any connection with Sweden. In the 14th century, Sweden was struck by the Black Death (bubonic plague, 1348-1350). The population of Sweden was decimated. During this period the Swedish cities also began to acquire greater rights and were strongly influenced by German merchants of the Hanseatic League, active especially at Visby. Modern Sweden emerged out of the Kalmar Union formed in 1397 and by the unification of the country by King Gustav Vasa in the 16th century.
Russia, Saxony-Poland, and Denmark-Norway pooled their power in 1700 and attacked the Swedish empire. Although the young Swedish King Charles XII won spectacular victories in the early years of the Great Northern War, his plan to attack Moscow and force Russia into peace proved too ambitious; he was shot during the siege of Frederiksten fortress in Norway in 1718. In the subsequent peace treaties, the allied powers, joined by Prussia and by England-Hanover, ended Sweden's reign as a great power and introduced a period of limited monarchy under parliamentary rule.
Later on during the 17th century Sweden emerged as a European great power.
Before the emergence of the Swedish Empire, Sweden was a very poor, scarcely populated, country on the fringe of European civilization, with no significant power or reputation. In the middle of the 17th century Sweden was the third largest country in Europe by land area, only surpassed by Russia and Spain. In the 18th century, Sweden did not have enough resources to maintain its territories outside Scandinavia and most of them were lost, culminating with the 1809 loss of eastern Sweden to Russia which became the semi-autonomous Duchy of Finland in Imperial Russia.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw a significant population increase, which the writer Esaias Tegnér in 1833 famously attributed to "the peace, the (smallpox) vaccine, and the potatoes". Between 1750 and 1850, the population in Sweden doubled. According to some scholars, mass emigration to America became the only way to prevent famine and rebellion; over 1 percent of the population emigrated annually during the 1880s. Nevertheless, Sweden remained poor, retaining a nearly entirely agricultural economy even as Denmark and Western European countries began to industrialize. Despite the slow rate of industrialization into the 19th century, many important changes were taking place in the agrarian economy due to innovations and the large population growth. Between 1870 and 1914, Sweden began developing the industrialized economy that exists today.
During and after World War I, in which Sweden remained neutral, the country benefitted from the worldwide 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. Foreign policy concerns in the 1930s centered on Soviet and German expansionism, which stimulated abortive efforts at Nordic defence co-operation. Sweden followed a policy of armed neutrality during World War II and currently remains non-aligned.
Sweden was under German influence for much of the war, as ties to the rest of the world were cut off through blockades. Following the war, Sweden took advantage of an intact industrial base, social stability and its natural resources to expand its industry to supply the rebuilding of Europe.
During the cold war Sweden maintained a dual approach, publicly the strict neutrality policy was forcefully maintained, but unofficially strong ties were kept with the U.S. and it was hoped that the U.S. would use conventional and nuclear weapons to strike at Soviet staging areas in the occupied Baltic states in case of a Soviet attack on Sweden. Over time and due to the official neutrality dogma, fewer and fewer Swedish military officials were aware of the military cooperation with the west, making such cooperation in the event of war increasingly difficult. At the same time Swedish defensive planning was completely based on help from abroad in the event of war. The fact that it was not permissible to mention this eventuality aloud eventually led to the Swedish armed forces becoming highly misbalanced. For example, a strong ability to defend against an amphibious invasion was maintained, while an ability to strike at inland staging areas was almost completely absent.
Sweden, like countries around the globe, entered a period of economic decline and upheaval, following the oil embargoes of 1973–74 and 1978–79. In the beginning of the 1990s there occurred once again an economic crisis with high unemployment and many banks and companies going bankrupt. Sweden became a member of the European Union in 1995, after which the country more and more has started to stray from its post-war and cold war neutrality. In a referendum held in 2003, the majority of the population voted against the adoption of the Euro as the country's official currency.
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