The History Of Sweden Throughout The Eventful Viking Period

In the time of the Viking Age Sweden was fragmented into many petty kingdoms (also known as earldoms) ruled each by a local chieftain, although, according to semi-legendary history, there might have been renowned monarchs who ruled parts of the realms of what is now Sweden (along with Denmark and Norway) such as Ragnar Lothbrok or Björn Ironside (both allegedly belonging to the Royal House of Munsö) at certain times.

Map highlighting the distribution of permanent settlements in Younger Iron Age Sweden (550–1050 AD). Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The many early medieval polities that were scattered along central and southern modern day Sweden often fought against each other for regional domination, as it was also the case (up to a certain point) in neighbouring early medieval Norway and Denmark. The territorial extent of some of these historical earldoms correspond nowadays to some provinces in Sweden.

Early medieval Sweden was linked to other European kingdoms of the time through an intensive trading network established by the Swedish Vikings during their voyages around present-day Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and even the Caspian Sea in Asia.

Prominent trading centers in Viking Age Sweden were Birka (situated in the proximity of modern day Stockholm) or Uppåkra (located south of the city of Lund in Scania, then part of the Kingdom of Denmark, now in southern Sweden).

Recent studies related to the demographics of Scandinavia during the Late Iron Age suggest that the town of Uppåkra was the largest and most populous settlement in the region (surpassing as such Hedeby/Haithabu, southern Jutland, then pertaining to the Kingdom of Denmark, now located in Schleswig-Holstein, northern Germany). It is a certainty though that together with Hedeby, Uppåkra was one of the two most largest and inhabited urban centres in Viking Age Scandinavia.

Below you can watch a short 3D animation depicting the town of Uppåkra and its buildings during the Viking period:

An important religious pilgrimage site was the temple at Gamla Uppsala (now a village near the university city of Uppsala in the Uppland province). It was the site of the celebration of some animal sacrifices (also known as blóts) for the Norse divinities (but not only) coinciding more or less with the contemporary Christmas holidays (Yuletide) or even the date for Halloween.

Most of the Swedish Vikings of the period were either merchants, farmers, fishermen, carpenters, blacksmiths, etc. with only a minor proportion of the population going a Viking overseas (as it was also the case of the Danish Vikings and Norwegian Vikings).

The preferred destinations of the Swedish Vikings were Central and Eastern Europe (particularly contemporary Poland, Ukraine, and Russia). As a matter of fact, the Swedish Vikings were also state builders, having founded the Kievan Rus’ (or Garðaríki as it was known in Old Norse), a federation of Slavic principalities of the Early Middle Ages.

Map depicting the early territorial extent of the early Kievan Rus’ and the settlements of the Varangians in red. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Viking Age Sweden also had the biggest density of runestones erected on its territory than any other Scandinavian country. An estimated amount of 1,700 to 2,500 runestones are to be found along the Swedish countryside. These stones were carved using the types of the Runic alphabet (futhark) used prior and during the Viking Age in Scandinavia and overseas by the Norsemen.

Density of runestones in Sweden. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Even though the standard narrative of history highlights the achievements of the Danish and Norwegian Vikings in the west, there were also Swedish Vikings sailing, raiding, and ultimately settling alongside the former and latter in such places as Normandy (northern France) and England.

The hills of Gamla Uppsala in Sweden, an important religious site of the Swedish Vikings. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Given the fact that southern Sweden was under Danish sovereignty at the time of the Viking Era, there are two noteworthy defensive round forts (trelleborgen) in Scania that are very much resembling the ones in Denmark. These ring-shape citadels were built by the Danes as either trading centers or military bases for the invasion of England in the early 11th century. Two such structures are to be found to these days in Scania, southern Sweden, namely Borgeby, north of the city of Lund, and Trelleborgen in Trelleborg.

Political map of Sweden during the 12th century. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Nowadays, the history of the Viking Age in Sweden is a major touristic attraction for the Scandinavian country. There are several specialised museums on the matter, including the Foteviken open-air museum from Höllviken, Scania.

Reconstructed houses from the Viking period at Foteviken museum, Scania, southern Sweden, as photographed in 2009. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Documentation sources and external links:

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3 Responses to The History Of Sweden Throughout The Eventful Viking Period

  1. Erik Roth says:

    I would like to see the contents of the Soderman Law that prescribes weapons for Viking Swedes.

  2. DrBob Matthews says:

    Very interesting sociohistorical accounting

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