Viking Age

History of Sweden between 790 AD - 1059

Until the 9th century, the Scandinavian people lived in small Germanic kingdoms and chiefdoms known as petty kingdoms. These petty kingdoms and their kings are mainly known from legends and scattered continental sources. The Scandinavian people appeared as a group separate from other Germanic nations, and at this time there was a noticeable increase in war expeditions (Viking raids) on foreign countries, which has given the name Viking Age to this period. At this time the seas were easier to travel than Europe's inland forests, and the wild buffer regions that separated the kingdoms of the time were known as marches.

Viking towns of Scandinavia 2
Viking Age towns in Scandinavia

While the Danes and Norwegians went south and west, the Swedes went east. The large Russian mainland and its many navigable rivers offered good prospects for merchandise and, at times, plundering. These routes brought them into contact with the Byzantine and Muslims empires. Since the East was rich and well-defended, Viking activity there centered mainly around peaceful trade instead of pillage like in Western Europe. During the 9th century, extensive Scandinavian settlements were made on the east side of the Baltic sea. The Tale of Bygone Years (dated to 1113) writes about how the tribe Varangians arrived in Constantinople, and of piratical expeditions on the Black Sea and on the Caspian Sea. The legendary expeditions by Rurik (Rørik) and Askold (Haskuld) established settlements that resulted in the first Russian states; Novgorod and Kievan Rus', a predecessor state of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The Slavic tribes in Russia were weak and submitted to the Vikings with little resistance, but also rapidly assimilated their conquerors. Political ties with Russia ceased by 1050.

The Varangians accumulated some wealth from its foreign trades. A centre of trade in northern Europe developed on the island Birka, not far from where Stockholm was later constructed, in mid Sweden. Birka was probably demolished already during the 11th century, but remains show its wealth in the 9th and 10th century. Thousands of graves, coins, jewelry and other luxury items have been found there. There are also other locations in Sweden where precious treasures have been found, revealing a widespread trade between Sweden and eastern countries down to Asia.

Many kings only ruled over parts of the present territory of Sweden,and so their validity as kings of Sweden may be questioned. The first undisputed king of Sweden was Eric the Victorious, who lived around 970–994. He was succeeded by King Olof Skötkonung (late 960s – circa 1020), the first Christian king of Sweden.

Previous historical period: Vendel Period (540-789) | Next historical period: Consolidation (1060-1396)

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Kastelholma Castle

First record of Kastelholma (or Kastelholm) castle is from the year 1388 in the contract of Queen Margaret I of Denmark, where a large portion of the inheritance of Bo Jonsson Grip was given to the queen. The heyday of the castle was in the 15th and 16th centuries when it was administrated by Danish and Swedish kings and stewards of the realms. Kastelhoma was expanded and enhanced several times.

In the end of 16th century castle was owned by the previous queen Catherine Jagellon (Stenbock), an enemy of the King of Sweden Eric XIV. King Eric conquered Kastelholma in 1599 and all defending officers were taken to Turku and executed. The castle was damaged under the siege and it took 30 years to renovate it.

In 1634 Åland was joined with the County of Åbo and Björneborg and Kastelholma lost its administrative status.