Mankind only populated the area we now know as Sweden after the ice caps of the Ice Age retreated. The first known dwellers were hunter gatherers dating from about 12,000 B.C. The Bronze Age saw a period of cultural growth in the area and in the Iron Age the population became more settled and agriculture developed.
The Vikings started expanding from the 9th Century A.D. onwards, although in the case of the Swedish their efforts were directed across the Baltic and down the rivers of Russia as far as the Byzantine Empire. It was around this time that Christianity first came to Sweden, although it did not become embedded until King Olof Skötkonung, became a Christian in 1008.
It was also around the same time that a single king started to emerge across the country and by 1280 King Magnus Ladulås established nobility and a feudal society. The Black Death hit the Swedish population hard in 1350 and a weakened country was merged with Denmark and Norway through the Union of Kalmar in 1397 under the rule of Queen Margaret 1 of Denmark.
Through the 14th to the 16th Century trade grew and became especially important with the Hanseatic League in northern Germany. In the early 16th Century the Union of Kalmar disintegrated; but not before the so called ‘Stockholm Bloodbath’ in 1520 when 80 Swedish nobles were executed by the Danish King Kristian II. The murders resulted in a successful rebellion led by Gustav Vasa who was subsequently made King Gustavus I of Sweden in 1523.
Gustavus nationalised the church, confiscated its estates and introduced the Protestant Reformation and a hereditary monarchy came into force in 1544. The next 150 years saw the Swedish nation consolidate itself with a series of wars against Denmark, Russia and Poland some of which it won and some territories were lost, especially those across the Baltic Sea. In 1648 Sweden was also involved in the signing of the Peace of Westphalia which brought the Thirty Years War, which had raged across most of Europe, to an end.
With more disputes to run, Sweden fought the Second Northern War between 1655 and 1660 and managed to expand her territories particularly into modern day Norway, Finland and the Baltic States. Another war, the Great Northern War, ran on and off from 1700 to around 1714 and reduced the territories of Sweden once more. The young King Charles XII returned home to find that the Riksdag had reduced the crown to a constitutional monarchy and a strengthened parliament.
The Riksdag incidentally had its roots as far back as 1435 and in 1865 a modern style bicameral parliament was founded but did not become a parliament in the true sense of the word until 1917.
The period following the Great Northern War was a quieter (although periodically turbulent) period dominated by trade, stagnation, economic crisis and emigration. Finland was lost to Russia in a brief war in 1809 and in 1810 Sweden and Norway were united, a union that lasted until 1905 when Norway rejected the King of Sweden.
In the late 1800s Sweden went through a period of industrialisation which made it an economic powerhouse. At the same time there emerged strong popular movements and the labour movement. This in turn led to the development of political parties.
By the turn of the century the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), The Free-minded National Association (the forerunner of the modern day Liberal People’s Party FP) and the General Electoral League (the forerunner of the modern day Moderate Party – Moderaterna) were all active participants in political life.
In the first election in Sweden with universal male suffrage (women got universal suffrage in 1921), the 1911 general election was won by the Free-minded National Association with 102 of the 230 seats in the Second Chamber of the Riksdag. But by 1914 the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) emerged the largest party in the Riksdag, a position they have held ever since, although they have ceded power to coalitions of centre-right parties at various times.
Sweden remained neutral in the First World War as it did in the Second World War. After the war the welfare state which had been drawn up in the 1930s was put into action and from 1936 until 1976 the Social Democrats ran the country. But the 1970s were a period of a faltering economy and the Social Democrats took some of the blame.
In 1976 the Centre Party ruled for two terms (1976 – 1982) with the support of the Liberal People’s Party (FP) and Moderaterna, a Centre/Centre-Right alliance.
The Social Democrats were back in power in 1982. But tragedy struck on 28th February 1986 when Prime Minister Olof Palme was assassinated as he walked home from the cinema with his wife. Deputy Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson assumed the duties of Prime Minister and was to remain in the post until 1991.
In 1991 it was the turn of Moderaterna under the leadership of Prime Minister Carl Bildt to run a government with the Centre Party and Liberal People’s Party.
The Social Democrats then had a further three term period from 1994 until 2006 and in 1995 they took the country into the European Union (EU). In 2006 Moderaterna was able to form a majority government together with the Centre Party, Liberal People’s Party and the Christian Democrats, a feat they repeated in 2010.
Another notable event for parliament was that in 2010 there were eight parties in the Riksdag for the first time.
King Carl Gustav XVI is Head of State.
Sweden has a unicameral Parliament consisting of 349 members serving four year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Sweden at 4th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 88 (where 100 is least corrupt).