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.

Popular sites founded between 790 AD and 1059 in Sweden

Drotten Church Ruins

Drotten Church was built around 1050 and it was the second largest church in Lund. The building was about 50m long and probably made for bishop’s church. Archaeologists have also found evidences of even earlier stave church on the site, built probably in the 990 by Danish King Svend Tveskæg. Drotten Church was rebuilt several times and since 1150 it functioned as a parish church and later an abbey church. The church w ...
Founded: ca. 1050 | Location: Lund, Sweden

Skara Cathedral

Skara Cathedral is the seat for the bishop of the Church of Sweden Diocese of Skara. It is also one the largest churches in Sweden. The history of cathedral is traced from the 11th century and it was inaugurated as a cathedral around 1150. The current appearance is from the 13th century. The current Gothic design dates to the 1886-1894 restoration under the leadership of architect Helgo Zettervall. The furnishings are uni ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Skara, Sweden

Trelleborgen Viking Fortress

Trelleborg is a collective name for six Viking Age circular forts, located in Denmark and the southern part of modern Sweden. Five of them have been dated to the reign of the Harold Bluetooth of Denmark (died 986). The city of Trelleborg has been named after one of these fortresses. Today Trelleborgen is part of a Viking Age fortress complex, which has been reconstructed. There is a Viking musem with souvenir shop ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Trelleborg, Sweden

Frösö Runestone

Frösöstenen is the northern-most raised runestone in the World and Jämtland"s only runestone. It originally stood at the tip of ferry terminal on the sound between the island of Frösön and Östersund. The stone dates to between 1030 and 1050. It has now been relocated to the lawn in front of the local county seat due to the construction of a new bridge, between 1969 and 1971, on the origi ...
Founded: 1030-1050 | Location: Frösön, Sweden

Great Copper Mountain

Great Copper Mountain (Stora Kopparberg) was a mine that operated for a millennium from the 10th century to 1992. It produced as much as two thirds of Europe's copper needs and helped fund many of Sweden's wars in the 17th century. Technological developments at the mine had a profound influence on mining globally for two centuries. Since 2001 it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a museum. Archae ...
Founded: ca. 1000 AD | Location: Falun, Sweden

Rök Runestone

The Rök Runestone is one of the most famous runestones, featuring the longest known runic inscription in stone. It is considered the first piece of written Swedish literature and thus it marks the beginning of the history of Swedish literature. The stone was discovered built into the wall of the church in the 19th century and removed from the church wall a few decades later. The church was built in the 12th century, ...
Founded: 800 AD | Location: Ödeshög, Sweden

Runestones U-970 & U-969 at Burial Ground

These two stones are only a few meters apart on the side of a small burial mound at the side of an burial ground. Much of the burial ground is now used as pature for a 4-H Club. U-970 Translation - 'Vide raised the stone after..(missing).. Öpir....' Additional Info - Öpir is the runemaster who carved the stone and is one of the most prolific runemasters in the area. Both this stone and U #969, just a ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Uppsala, Sweden

Resmo Church

Resmo Church was built in the early 11th century and it is one of the oldest still used church in Sweden. The apsis, nave and western tower date from the original church. Wooden arches and the sacristy were added in the 18th century. There were originally two towers, but the eastern one was demolished in 1826. There are some frescoes remaining from the late 12th century. The interior originate mainly from the 18th centur ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Mörbylånga, Sweden

Hulterstad Viking Burial Ground

Hulterstad has served as a Viking burial ground. Noteworthy graveyards can be found there, together with the usual Viking structure - the burial ship. It stands a few meters away from the Hulterstad Church, which is believed to be as old as the graveyard. The burial ground comprises over 170 individual burials but only one stone ship, which is also partially damaged. Hulterstad is situated on the western fringe of the Sto ...
Founded: 800-1000 AD | Location: Mörbylånga, Sweden

Aspa Runestones

There are four runestones located at Aspa, which is about six kilometers north of Runtuna, where a road has passed a creek since prehistoric times. One of the stones is the oldest surviving native Scandinavian source that mentions the kingdom of Sweden beside the runestones DR 344 and DR 216. Another stone Sö 137 is raised in memory of a Viking who had spent time in the west.
Founded: 11th century | Location: Nyköping, Sweden

Sparlösa Runestone

The Sparlösa Runestone, listed as Vg 119 in the Rundata catalog, is the second most famous Swedish runestone after the Rök Runestone. It was discovered in 1669 in the southern wall of the church of Sparlösa. Before their historical value was understood, many runestones were used as construction material for roads, walls, and bridges. Following a fire at the church in 1684, the runestone was split in rebuild ...
Founded: c. 800 AD | Location: Sparlösa, Sweden

Levene Church

Leven Church was built in the 11th century as a manor chapel for the near Levene manor. It was enlarged in the 1600s by J. H. Reuter. The font and small bell date from the original church. Levene church has royal connections. Three sisters of King Carl Gustav were confirmed at this church. Governor Johan Hindrikson Reyter greatly assisted the expansion of the church in the 17th century and had a family crypt built. The c ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Stora Levene, Sweden

Håga Mound

The Håga Mound (Hågahögen) or King Björn's Mound is one of the most magnificent remains from the Nordic Bronze Age. Håga mound is approximately 7 metres high and 45 metres across and it was constructed ca 1000 B.C. by the shore of a narrow inlet of the sea (the land has been continually rising since the Ice Age). It was constructed of turfs that had been laid on top of a cairn which was built o ...
Founded: ca. 1000 BC | Location: Uppsala, Sweden

Karlevi Runestone

The Karlevi Runestone, designated as Öl 1 by Rundata, is commonly dated to the late 10th century. It is one of the most notable and prominent runestones and constitutes the oldest record of a stanza of skaldic verse. The runic inscription on the Karlevi Runestone is partly in prose, partly in verse. It is the only example of a complete scaldic stanza preserved on a runestone and is composed in the "lordly meter" the dr ...
Founded: ca. 950-1000 AD | Location: Mörbylånga, Öland, Sweden

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.