A HISTORY OF THE SWEDISH PEOPLE
Where did the Swedes come from?


There are numerous geographical studies, archaeological findings, historical accounts and written evidences which confirm much of Scandinavian history.  Most of the written history begins after 600 AD.  There is strong evidence that Swedish predecessors were an aggressive refugee "boat-people" who first came from the ancient city of Troy.  Located in northwest Asia Minor (present-day northwest Turkey), the ruins of Troy were discovered in 1870.  Troy (or Troi) existed over 4000 years, and was known as a center of ancient civilizations.  Its inhabitants were known as Trojans (or Thracians) in the period beginning about 3000 BC, which began by an "invasion of sea peoples" according to the Egyptians.  The Trojans were early users of iron weapons, and rode horses.  Evidence shows the city of Troy suffered through several wars with Greek and Egyptian armies.  Troy was finally laid in ruins about 1260 BC by the Greeks, leaving the city completely devastated, which is verified by the fact that the city was vacated to about 700 BC. 

Remaining about 70 years after the war, an estimated 30,000 Trojans/Thracians (called Dardanoi by Homer, Anatolians by others) abandoned the city of Troy, as told by various sources (Etruscan, Merovingian, Roman and later Scandinavian).  The stories corroborate the final days of Troy, and describe how, after the Greeks sacked the city, the remaining Trojans eventually emigrated.  Over half of them went up the Danube river and crossed over into Italy, establishing the Etruscan culturethe dominating influence on the development of Rome, and then battling the Romans for regional dominance.  The remaining Trojans, mainly chieftons and warriors, about 12,000 in all, went north across the Black Sea into the Mare Moetis or "shallow sea" where the Don river ends (Caucasus region in Southern Russia), and established a kingdom about 1150 BC, which the Romans called Sicambria.  The locals named these Trojan conquerors the "Iron people", or the Aes.  The Aes (also Aesar, Aesir, Æsir or Asir) built their famous fortified city Aesgard or Asgard, also described as "Troy in the north."  Various other sources collaborate this, saying the Trojans landed on the eastern shores with their superior weaponry, and claimed land.  The area became known as Asaland (Land of the Aesir) or Asaheim (Home of the Aes). 

Many historians knew the Aesir people as the Thraco-Cimmerians, since the Trojans were of Thracian ancestry (click here for Thracian origins).  They were known to the Romans as Thirasians.  The Greeks called them Thracians and later Trajans, the original people of the city of Troas (Troy), whom they feared as marauding pirates.  History attests that they were indeed a most savage race, given over to a perpetual state of "tipsy excess", as one historian put it.  They are also described as a "ruddy and blue-eyed people".  Russian historian Nicholas L. Chirovsky describes how the Thraco-Cimmerians arrived in this region, and how they soon dominated the lands along the eastern shores of the river Don.  These people were called Aes locally, according to Chirovsky, and later the Asir.

Evidence that the Aesir were Trojan refugees can be confirmed from local and later Roman historical sources, including the fact that the inner part of the Black Sea was renamed from the Mare Maeotis to the "Iron Sea" or "Sea of Aesov", in the local tongue.  The name remains today as the Sea of Azov, an inland sea in southern European Russia, connected with the Black Sea.  The Asir were known for their fighting with iron weapons.  They were known and feared for their warships, as well as their ferocity in battle, and quickly dominated the northern trades, using the Don river as their main route for trading with the people of the far north.   

The Asir people dominated the area around the Sea of Azov for nearly 1000 years before moving north around 90 BC.  The time of their exodus from the Caucasus region, and their arrival at the Baltic Sea in Scandinavia, has been supported by several scholars and modern archaeological evidence.  As told by Snorri Sturluson (a 13th century Nordic historiographer) and confirmed by other evidence, the Asir felt compelled to leave their land to escape Roman invasions by Pompeius and local tribal wars.  The aggressive war-like Indo-European nomadic Trojan Asir tribes came north, moving across Europe, bringing all their weapons and belongings on the rivers of Europe in their boats.  The Asir were divided into several groups that in successive stages emigrated to their new Scandinavian homeland.  Entering the Baltic Sea region, they sailed north to the Scandinavian shores, only to meet stubborn Germanic tribes.  The prominent Germanic tribes in the region were the Gutar, also known as the Guta, Gutans, Gotarne or Goths by Romans.  These Germanic tribes were already known to the Asir, as trade with the Baltic areas was well established prior to 100 BC.

The immigrating Asir had many clans, and the most prominent were their Eril warriors or the "Erilar" (meaning "wild warriors").  The Asir sent Erilar north as seafaring warriors to secure land and establish trade.  The clans of Erilar (also called Jarlar, Eruls or Heruls by Romans) enabled the Asir clans (later called Sviar, Svea, Svear or Svioner by Romans) to establish settlements throughout the region, but not without constant battles with the Goths and other immigrating Germanic tribes.  The Heruls eventually made peace with the Goths who ruled the region.  The Svear population flourished, and the Heruls and Goths formed a powerful military alliance of well-known seafarers.  The Heruls then, gradually returned to their ancestral land, beginning in the 2nd century AD after they built a fleet of 500 sailing ships, and terrorized all of the lands and peoples of the Black Sea and parts of the Mediterranean, even the Romans.  They were the pre-Vikings.  In the 3rd century (267 AD) the Heruls controlled all of the Roman-occupied Black Sea and parts of the eastern Mediterranean.  There are several accounts about how the Herul warriors returned to ravage the shores of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, alone and together with the Goths.  The Romans noted that "the Heruls, a Scandinavian people, together with the Goths, were, from the 3rd century, ravaging the Black Sea, Asia Minor and the Mediterranean."  The Romans called the Scandinavian region "Thule", while Greeks knew it as "Scandia", and others called the area "Scandza".  The term Scandia comes from the descendants of Ashkenaz (grandson of Noah in the Bible).  Known as the Askaeni, they were first peoples to migrate to Northern Europe, naming the land Ascania.  Latin writers and Greeks called the land Scandza or Scandia (now Scandinavia).  The Goths are considered one of the descended tribes of those first settlements.

The first time Thule (Scandinavia) was mentioned in written documents was in the 1st century (79 AD) by the Roman citizen Plinius senior.  He wrote about an island peninsula in the north populated by "Sveonerna" or "Svearnas" people, also called Suetidi .  Later in 98 AD the learned civil servant Cornelius Tacitus wrote about Northern Europe.  Tacitus writes in the Latin book Germania about tribes of "Suiones" or "Sviones" in Scandinavia, who live off the ocean, sailing in large fleets of boats with a prow at either end, no sail, using paddles, and strong, loyal, well-armed men with spikes in their helmuts.  He wrote, "And thereafter, out in the ocean comes , Sviones (also "Svionernas" or "Svioner") people, which are mighty not only in manpower and weaponry but also by its fleets".  He also mentions that "the land of Svionerna is at the end of the world."  In the 2nd century (about 120 AD) the first map was created where Scandinavia (Baltic region) could be viewed.  Greek-Egyptian astronomer & geographer Ptolemaios (Ptolemy of Alexandria) created the map and at the same time wrote a geography where he identified several different people groups, including the "Gotarne", "Heruls", "Svear/Sviar" and "Finnar" who lived on peninsula islands called "Scandiai".  During the "Roman Iron Age" (1-400 AD) evidences are convincing for a large Baltic seafaring culture in what is now Sweden, Finland and Estonia.

The Romans were impressed with the war-like Heruls, and recruited them to fight in the Roman Army.  By the 5th century, the Heruls were in great demand as soldiers in the Roman Imperial Guards.  Herul factions were making settlements throughout Europe, fighting and battling everywhere they went.  In the late 5th century, the Heruls formed a state in upper Hungary under the Roman ruler Cæsar Anastasius (491-518 AD).  Later they attacked the Lombards, but were beaten, according to Greek-Roman author Prokopios, born at the end of the 5th century.  He was a lawyer in Constantinople and from the year 527 private secretary to the Byzantine military commander Belisarius on his campaigns against the Ostrogoths.  Prokopios says by the early 6th century (about 505), the remaining Herul state in upper Hungary was forced to leave.  Some of them crossed the Danube into Roman territory, where Anastasius allowed them to settle.  Historians mention that the remaining part of the Heruls sailed northwards, back to Thule to reunite with their Svear brethren.  Evidence of their existence during this time period can be found on the frequent appearance of runic inscriptions with the name ErilaR "the Herul".  Prokopios noted that there were 13 populous tribes in Thule (the Scandinavian peninsula), each with its own king.  He said, "A populous tribe among them was the Goths, next to where the returning Heruls settled".  Prokopios also mentions that "the Heruls sent some of their most distinguished men to the island Thule in order to find and if possible bring back a man of royal blood.  When they came to the island they found many of royal blood." 

The Herul brought with them a few Roman customs, one being the Julian calendar, which is known to have been introduced to Scandinavia at this time, the early 6th century.  When the Heruls returned to join the Svear in Scandinavia, the Svear state with its powerful kings suddenly emerges.  They became the dominant power and waged war with the Goths, winning rule over them.  By the middle of the 6th century, the first all-Swedish kings emerged.  This royal dynasty became immensely powerful and dominated not only in Sweden but also neighboring countries.  Gothic historian Jordanes writes of the Suehans (Sve'han) of Scandinavia, with fine horses, rich apparel and trading in furs around 650 AD.  The Swedish nation has its roots in these different kingdoms, created when the King of the Svenonians (Svears) assumed kingship over the Goths.  The word Sweden comes from the Svenonians, as Sverige means "the realm of the Svenonians".  The English form of the name is probably derived from an old Germanic form, Svetheod, meaning the Swedish people.  The next Svear conquests began in the early 8th century.  By 739 AD the Svear and Goths dominated the Russian waterways, and together they were called Varyagans or Varangians, according to written records of the Slavs near the Sea of Azov.  Like their ancestors, the Svear lived in large communities where their chiefs would send out maritime warriors to trade and plunder.  Those fierce warriors were called the Vaeringar, which literally meant "men who offer their service to another master".  We later know them by their popularized name, the Vikings.  They often navigated the Elbe river, one of the major waterways of central Europe.  To the east of the Elbe they were known as Varangians, and west of the Elbe they were called Vikings.  Thus begins the era known as the Viking Age, 750-1066 AD.  Once again the Svear began returning to the places of their ancestors, sailing rivers which stretched deep into Russia, establishing trading stations and principalities. 

Vikings never called themselves Vikings.  Unlike Varangian, the term Viking probably originated from Frankish chroniclers who first called them "Vikverjar" (travelers by sea), Nordic invaders who attacked the city of Nantes (in present-day France) in 843 AD.  The word "vik" means bay or fjord in Old Norse, and later meant "one who came out from or frequented inlets to the sea".  Viking and Varangian eventually became synonymous, meaning "someone who travels or is passing through," whether merchant, mercenary, or marauder.  Their activities consisted of trading, plundering and making temporary settlements (see Viking Routes).  Finnish peoples referred to the Swedish voyagers as Ruotsi, Rotsi or Rus in contrast with Slavic peoples, which was derived from the name of the Swedish maritime district in Uppland, called "Roslagen", and its inhabitants, known as "Rodskarlar".  Rodskarlar or Rothskarlar meant "rowers" or "seamen".  Those Swedish conquerers, settled in Eastern Europe, adopted the names of local tribes, integrated with the Slavs, and eventually the word "Rusi", "Rhos" or "Rus" came to refer to the inhabitants.  The Arab writer Ibn Dustah wrote that Swedish Vikings were brave and valiant, utterly plundering and vanquishing all people they came against.  Later, the Arabic diplomat Ibn Fadlan, while visiting Bulgar (Bulgaria) during the summer of 922, saw the Swedish Vikings (Rus) arrive, and he wrote:  "Never before have I seen people of more perfect physique; they were tall like palm trees, blonde, with a few of them red.  They do not wear any jackets or kaftaner (robes), the men instead wear dress which covers one side of the body but leaves one hand free.  Every one of them brings with him an axe, a sword and a knife."  Their descriptions are are similar to the dress, armor and battle style of Viking's Trojan warriors ancestors.  

The Vikings included many peoples from around the Baltic Sea, including the Svear from Sweden, the Norde from Norway, the Danes from Denmark, the Jutes from Juteland (now part of Denmark), the Goths from Gotland (now part of Sweden), the Alands & Finns from Finland, and others.  The Svear Vikings traveled primarily east to the Mediterranean (what is now Russia and Turkey), where they had been returning regularly since leaving the region 900 years earlier.  Subsequent Viking raids and expeditions covered areas deep into Russia, the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, ending in the 11th century (about 1066) after the introduction of Christianity around the year 1000.  The kingships and provinces of Sweden then combined to form one country.  The dominant king during the Viking age was  the Erik family of Uppsala.  One of the first Swedish monarchs in recorded history was Olof Skotkonung, a descendant of the Erik family.  Olof and his descendants ruled Sweden from about 995 to 1060.  Sweden's first archbishop arrived in the 12th century (1164). 

Sweden's expansion continued during the 12th and 13th centuries through the incorporation of Finland into the Swedish kingdom after several crusades, mostly promoted by the Catholic church.  There was a struggle for power between the Sverker and Erik families, which held the crown alternately between 1160 and 1250.  However, during this period the main administrative units were still the provinces, each of which had its own assembly, lawmen and laws.  It was first during the latter part of the 13th century that the crown gained a greater measure of influence and was able, with the introduction of royal castles and provincial administration, to assert the authority of the central government and to impose laws and ordinances valid for the whole kingdom.  In 1280 King Magnus Ladulås (1275 - 1290) issued a statute which involved the establishment of a temporal nobility and the organization of society on the feudal model.  A council containing representatives of the aristocracy and the church was set up to advise the king.  In 1350, during the reign of Magnus Eriksson (1319 - 1364), the various provincial law codes were superseded by a law code that was valid for the whole country, and Finland became part of the Swedish kingdom.

In 1389, through inheritance and family ties, the crowns of Denmark, Norway and Sweden were united under the rule of the Danish Queen Margareta.  In 1397, the union of the three Scandinavian countries concluded under her leadership lasting 124 years. The whole union period, 1397 - 1521, was marked by conflict, and provoked a rebellion which in 1521 led to the seizure of power by a Swedish nobleman, Gustav Vasa, who was elected king of Sweden in 1523.  The foundations of the Swedish national state were laid during the reign of Gustav Vasa (1523 - 1560).  The position of the crown was strengthened further in 1544 when a hereditary monarchy was introduced.  Before that time the country had been an elective monarchy, and the aristocracy had been able to assert itself every time the throne fell vacant.  The church was turned into a national institution, its estates were confiscated by the state and the Protestant Reformation was introduced in several stages.
 

Swedish Dragoon
Swedish Dragoon (mounted infantryman) from
the late 1600's (after the 30 Years War)
"BET KINDCHEN BET, MORGEN KOMMT DER SCHWED"
"PRAY LITTLE CHILD PRAY, TOMORROW COMES THE SWEDE"

-German lullaby from the 30 Years War

Since the dissolution of the union with Denmark and Norway, Swedish foreign policy had aimed at gaining domination of the Baltic Sea, and this led from 1560 onwards to repeated wars with Denmark.  The efforts of the higher nobility to take back power from the successful Swedish kingships (1560 - 1632) failed in the long run, and the crown was able to maintain and strengthen its position.  In 1630 Sweden entered the historical "30 Years War" (1618-1648) with an attack against Germany for more control more of the Baltic region.  With little success, Sweden left the war in 1634, but continued battling with Denmark for regional superiority.  Sweden finally defeated Denmark in the two wars of 1643-45 and 1657-58.  These victories led to Sweden becoming a great power in northern Europe, having control of most of the Baltic region, including continued rule over Finland.  The country even founded a short-lived colony in what is now Delaware in North America.  Sweden's defeat in the Great Northern War (1700 - 1721) against the combined forces of Denmark, Poland and Russia, lost most of its provinces along the Baltic Sea and was reduced to largely the same frontiers as present-day Sweden.  Finland was finally surrendered to Russia in 1809.  To this day, much of western Finland is populated by Swedes, and several cities have both a Swedish and Finnish name with about 8% of Finland's population speaking Swedish.

Swedish CrownBy 1810, Sweden succeeded in obtaining Norway, which was forced into a union with Sweden in 1814 after a short war.  This union was peacefully dissolved in 1905 after many internal disputes.  Since the short war fought against Norway in 1814, Sweden has not been involved in any war and has also since the First World War pursued a foreign policy of nonalignment in peacetime and neutrality in wartime, basing its security on a strong national defense.Swedish FlagNonetheless, Sweden joined the League of Nations in 1920 and the United Nations in 1946, and within the framework of these has taken part in several international peacekeeping missions.  A new form of government was adopted in 1974 where all public power was derived from the people, who were to appoint the members of Parliament in free elections.  Parliament alone was to pass laws and was entitled to levy taxes.  The government was appointed by and responsible to Parliament, and the King was still the head of state, but his functions are reduced to purely ceremonial ones.  Sweden continued to grow as an economic power throughout the 1980's, and in January of 1995 joined the European Union (EU).   Now in the new millennium, Sweden is controlled by a Social Democratic government, and the monarchy of King Carl XVI Gustaf.

Dates: 
BC means "Before Christ" which is equivalent to BCE "Before Common Era" (some say "Current" era). 
AD means "Anno Domini" (in the year of our Lord) which is equivalent to CE "Common Era".
 

Where did the Finns come from? 

The Finns probably originated from somewhere between the middle Volga and the Ural mountains (middle western Russia).  Four thousand years ago a few tribes of hunters and fishermen settled there.  Those tribes were destined to become the European branch of the Finno-Ugric people.  Those people groups set off in opposite directions.  The future Hungarians went south, while the Finns moved northwest where, about 500 BC, one can find traces of their first settlements along the southern coast of the Baltic.  Finnish people are of Finno-Ugrian stock, mainly of western origin (Indo-European) as well as those of the other nations which were proceeding northwards in pre-historic times.  For example, they are closely related to the Baltic and Germanic people groups, and are loosely related to the Estonians across the Gulf, the Magyars who settled in Hungary, and the Siberians in Russia.  Prior to the 14th century, only the most Southwestern part of the country was known as "Finland" and its inhabitants as Finns.  Finnish people consisted of different tribes like Karelians, Tavastians and Finns who are the ancestors of today's Finnish population.

There is a rock base beneath Finland, part of a great land mass called the Finno-Scandian shield, the oldest and most unyielding stone in the world.  The retreating ice age left behind over 30,000 islands and more than 60,000 lakes.  In many places the land is swamp and lake, bog and marsh.  Finland, in fact, means "the land of fens, or swamps" and the Finns call themselves and their country "Suomi" (soo-wah-mee), "suo" meaning bog or marsh.  In the Middle Ages, the country was commonly called Österlandet (Eastland) or Finland, and the South-Western part became Finland Proper.  Finland is the name used in most languages.

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