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Country of the Week: Sweden

In Countries by Continental StaffLeave a Comment

This week we’ve traded the deserts and mountains of Chile for the white snow of Sweden. Once known as the land of Vikings, today Sweden stands as a strong, successful, and independent country.

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The Stockholm City Hall – Across from Gamla Stan (the old town)

  • Capital (and Largest City): Stockholm
  • Population (2014): 9,747,355 (90th)
  • Total Area: 450,295 km² (57th)
  • National Language: Swedish
  • Currency: Swedish krona (kr) (SEK)

Vikings and Monarchs

Much of what we know of early Swedish history begins with numerous Germanic and Norse tribes. Some of these tribes traded fox skins and other goods to the Romans who called them the Suetidi. The Romans told many tales of them, saying that they were the tallest men they had ever seen. Centuries later their descendants would go on to strike fear throughout Europe.

The Viking Age in Sweden is generally believed to have begun in the 8th century, lasting for around 300 years. While Viking raiders and explorers are known to have sailed to England, France, Iceland, and even Newfoundland, those based in Sweden generally raided south and east. The Baltics, Finland, Russia, Belarus, and even what is now modern day Iraq all felt the brunt of the Norsemen from Sweden.

It’s not known exactly when during the Viking Age the Swedish monarchy began. Following its inception however, Sweden became a kingdom and Christianity eventually replaced the pagan religions in the 12th century. While Sweden went through many changes, it did not become a recognizable power until the birth of the Swedish Empire.

Starting in the 17th Century, Sweden had begun to grow into a great European power.  Second in land only to Russia and Spain, Sweden ruled over Finland and parts of the Holy Roman Empire – among other lands. The expansion of the Swedish Empire caused animosity with neighbouring Norway. An 1814 military campaign against its neighbour would be the final war officially fought by Sweden.

By remaining neutral throughout the 2 World Wars, Sweden avoided the widespread devastation that hit many other countries in the region. Today, Sweden is a member of the EU, though it prides itself on being a non-aligned country (despite its close relationship with NATO and the West). Sweden is a rich country with a high standard of living for its citizens.

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A traditional Swedish meal – Köttbullar (meatballs), lingonberries, and potatoes

Who are the Swedes?

Sweden – and the Swedish outlook in general – is seen as egalitarian. This dates as far back as the Middle Ages, where serfdom was not practiced even though it was commonplace throughout the rest of Europe. Today, Sweden is a generous welfare state – financed through high income taxes.

In areas such as music, literature, and film, Sweden has many famous exports throughout the world. Swedish actors appear in major Hollywood films; Stieg Larsson’s Millennium crime novels are some of the world’s best selling works of fiction, and Swedish musicians have entertained millions – from ABBA to modern DJ’s.

Sport is also an important part of Swedish culture and heritage, with half of its citizens involved. Soccer and ice hockey are the most popular for spectators, with the Tre Kronor (the men’s hockey team) seen as one of the best in the world.

Mountains, Cities, and the Cold

Sweden has a varied and stunning landscape. Separating the country from Norway stands the Scandinavian mountain chain (Skanderna) – stretching all the way up to the Arctic Circle. Though not especially high, these mountains are known for extremely steep and precipitous drops.

The temperature and environment vary considerably throughout the country. From arctic conditions to rolling farmland, Sweden has it all. Because of its northern latitude, daylight can range from as many as 18 to as few as 6 hours – and that’s just in Stockholm.

Stockholm – the Swedish capital – is a gorgeous city situated in the middle of a bay. The city centre stretches across 14 islands which run along the Stockholm archipelago. Whether winter or summer, the sites include stunning harbours, countless museums, the royal palace, and more.

Last Word

Since the Viking Age, Sweden as forged its own path. From being the dominant power in Northern Europe to working towards an egalitarian society – Sweden has accomplished a great deal in its long history. If you ever find yourself with a drink in Sweden, raise your glass and say skål (cheers)!

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Kebnekaise national park. Named for the tallest mountain in Sweden.

Stay tuned to the Continental Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems.

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