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The Kingdom of Sweden, found in Northern Europe, joins Denmark and Norway in forming the region known as Scandinavia. A progressive and economically powerful nation in the present-day, Sweden's early history was chronicled in the Norse Sagas, within which the first records of their legendary kings appeared. Although there is no precise date associated with the kingdom's formation, over time the loosely collaborated Viking chiefdoms gave way to a united Swedish people. Reaching the height of military and political power in the 17th century, Sweden reached its zenith under the stalwart leadership of revered king and general Gustavus Adolphus.

Geography and Climate[]

Extending from the southern Baltic Sea to the Arctic Circle in the north, Sweden is situated between the Nordic countries of Norway and Finland. A nation of great forests, the majority of the country is heavily wooded with indigenous pine, spruce, and birch trees. Sweden has an overall temperate climate which is surprisingly dry compared to neighboring regions, although there are distinct weather variations from north to south. The eastern coastline of Sweden has long provided an abundance of fishing resources, which contributed to the Swedes' capable seafaring ways throughout their history.


Long before the Vikings, Sweden was inhabited by tribal peoples who migrated throughout the region. As early as 12,000 BC, hunter-gatherers living in Sweden moved with the seasons and eventually formed small fishing communities utilizing primitive flint and slate tools. These early tribes developed more cohesive agricultural-based societies starting in the Neolithic era and continuing into the Nordic Bronze Age around 1700 BC. An influx of imported bronze allowed for the use of progressively more advanced tools and weapons during this period.

As the dawn of the Viking Age approached in the new millennium, Sweden was primarily inhabited by several large Germanic tribes. The original "Swedes" were initially only a singular tribe living in small kingdoms and chiefdoms throughout Svealand, the historical center of Swedish development. Neighbored by the Geats to the south and the Gutes on the isle of Gotland in the Baltic, the Swedes were eventually unified with their neighboring tribes, although the date of their unification is still a mystery. The collaboration of these early tribal kingdoms throughout the Viking era implies a gradual fusion of their territory.

The Vikings of Sweden[]

The conquests and expansion of the Vikings into central Europe wreaked havoc on unsuspecting settlements across the region. During the 7th and 8th centuries, the Vikings typically set sail from Scandinavia each spring in search of plunder, returning in the fall burdened with spoils. While their Danish counterparts were best known for raids in England and France, the Vikings of Sweden primarily sailed across the Baltic Sea and along the river inlets into the Russian frontier.

Moving into Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine during the 9th century, many of the Swedish Vikings settled in these eastern lands, where they came to be known as the Rus people. Although there are a number of theories as to the origin of their name, the most common belief is that it derived from the Swedish region of Roslagen, meaning "Land of the Rowers." After capturing the city of Kiev in the mid-9th century, the Rus formed a state that survived for nearly 400 years until the arrival of the Mongols in the 13th century. This "Land of Rus" is notably credited as the namesake for the modern nation of Russia.

Following long held tradition, the Swedish Vikings honored their most historic victories and revered leaders through the use of runestones. Inscribed with runic glyphs and symbols, these monumental stones provide some of the earliest records of the Vikings' exploits, and are scattered throughout the regions they once held dominion over.

Early Kingdoms[]

Throughout the first millennium AD, Sweden was a loose collaboration of independent provinces. Although a number of early kings are mentioned in the Norse sagas, attempting to separate legend from factual history leaves their lineage and succession still somewhat muddled. Olaf Skotkonung, son of King Eric the Victorious, ruled from 995 until 1022, and is considered the first to truly unite the Swedish tribes under one king.

In the mid-12th Century, noted regent Birger Jarl served Sweden as "Jarl" (the equivalent of an Earl or Viceroy) during the reign of King Eric XI. Birger is credited with ending longstanding hostilities with rival Norway by negotiating the Treaty of Lodose, going so far as to marry his own daughter Rikissa to the son of Norwegian King Haakon IV. Birger is also thought to have had a hand in selecting the location for Sweden's future capital, Stockholm, as the first written evidence of the name Stockholm came from Birger's own letters.

An unimaginable horror would strike Sweden in the 14th century with the arrival of the Black Death. A devastating pandemic that swept across Europe, the plague reached Sweden in 1349. Although Sweden was one of the last kingdoms to suffer the plague's effects, the disease ravaged the nation, by some accounts wiping out nearly half the population.

The Kalmar Union[]

From 1397 until 1523, Sweden was part of the Kalmar Union, which effectively united Sweden, Norway and Denmark under the rule of a single monarch. Although each of these nations was theoretically independent, in terms of foreign policy and action, the decisions of the Danish king were absolute. Sweden's involvement in the union was brought about by internal strife between then King Albert and the leading nobility, who had supported Albert during his succession until he attempted to reduce their assets and landholdings. Turning to Queen Margaret of Denmark, the nobility named her regent of their lands, and a force of Danish troops marched against Albert, defeating his armies in 1389.

Meeting in the Swedish town of Kalmar in 1397, the union was officially formed, under the stipulation that the monarch of the union would always be Danish. The Swedish nobility agreed to the union based on the promise by Margaret that their influence and holdings would be protected, and that Swedes would hold positions of authority within the country aside from the throne itself. A relative of Margaret's, Erik of Pomerania, was crowned as the first king of the new union, but his own ambitions quickly cast doubt on the promises made by Margaret.

Within 50 years, turmoil enveloped the union, as frequent conflicts initiated by the Danish king against Swedish trade partners riled the Swedish nobility and damaged the economy of Sweden. In 1440, King Eric was deposed, but this brought little peace to the union. Conflicts between Denmark and Sweden spilled over into the 16th century, until the rise of Gustav Eriksson.

Rise of Swedish Power[]

King Gustav I, also known as "Gustav Vasa," of the House Vasa, led a successful rebellion in 1521 against the Danish king Christian II, who ruled the Kalmar Union. Free from the grasp of the Danish monarch, Gustav was elected King of Sweden by the Riksdag in 1523, bringing an end to the union after more than a century.

It was the later rule of esteemed King Gustavus Adolphus who truly ushered in the "Great Power Era" of Sweden, a dramatic ascension of Swedish authority in Europe during the 17th century. Upon taking the throne in 1611, Adolphus found himself at the reins of a nation mired in conflict. His father Charles, having unseated the rightful king (and Charles's own nephew), Sigismund, in order to gain the crown, left Sweden on the brink of three wars. Adeptly navigating these domestic and foreign quarrels, Adolphus negotiated a fragile peace with Sigismund, while settling conflicts with Russia and Denmark in the following decade.

The most famous of Adolphus's military achievements came during the Thirty Years' War, a great conflict that culminated with the defenders of Protestantism facing off against the Catholic forces of the Holy Roman Empire. Under Adolphus, Sweden's military was bolstered and modernized, and he effectively protected the Protestant movement through several key victories in the war. Although not involved from the onset, in 1630, Adolphus led the armies of Sweden in defense of the German Protestant states against the forces of the Holy Roman Empire. Regrettably, Adolphus was killed in 1632 while leading a charge at the Battle of Lutzen, robbing Sweden of her most honored general.

Maintaining the prestige Sweden gained during the reign of Gustavus Adolphus was no easy task, but his successors Charles XI and XII were both skilled and respected leaders. Continuing the military improvements started under Adolphus, both kings came to utilize a specially trained force known as the Caroleans. The Carolean army emphasized quality over quantity, relying on skill and discipline rather than sheer force of numbers.

During the Great Northern War of 1700-1721, fought between Sweden and a united force led by Russia, the Caroleans overcame insurmountable odds, sometimes outnumbered 3 to 1, and still emerged victorious in repeated battles. Unfortunately, the Swedes were eventually overcome by the opposition forces, leading to an infamous retreat in 1718 known as the "Carolean Death March." When Charles XII fell in battle, an officer by the name of Carl Armfeldt retreated with his company of 5,000 men, marching headlong into a blizzard. Some 3,000 men died before the army finally made their way back to Sweden.

Swedish Industrialization[]

Before the mid-1800s, Sweden's economy was primarily based on agriculture, leaving the nation behind its neighbors in industrial development. With a vast wealth of natural resources, particularly lumber and iron ore, Sweden's economy underwent a rapid transformation from 1870 onwards. Expansions in rail development allowed Sweden to move vast quantities of raw materials to coastal ports, leading to rapid growth in the early 20th century.

Advent of Neutrality[]

Despite a history of armed conflict with its neighboring rivals, Sweden has maintained peaceful international relations since the Napoleonic Wars, when Sweden joined the coalition opposing Napoleon. In 1809, Sweden lost nearly a third of its eastern-most territory to Russia, land that became the predecessor to modern Finland. Since suffering this great loss, Sweden has maintained a policy of strict neutrality up to the present day.

During the First and Second World Wars that enveloped Europe in the 20th century, Sweden generally maintained its independence from German influence and was uninvolved in the overall conflict. However, Sweden did quietly support the resistance movement in Denmark by aiding the Danish Jews in their escape in 1943.

Modern Sweden[]

In the present-day, Sweden is known as a progressive nation with a high standard of living. Sweden's robust economy, which relies heavily on exported machinery, raw materials, paper and furniture, has allowed for the creation of a broad system of welfare and social security. Based on various studies, the benefits of this system, including universal access to healthcare and education, as well as legally mandated paid vacation time, have contributed to Sweden's standing as one of the "Happiest Countries in the World."

Swedish Trivia[]

  • Renowned Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, namesake of the Nobel Prize, held over 300 patents and was responsible for numerous scientific breakthroughs including the invention of dynamite.
  • Twentieth century Hollywood film star Greta Garbo, born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1905. Immigrating to the United States in 1925, she is widely considered one of the greatest female movie stars of all time.
  • IKEA, the international furniture retailer founded in Sweden, is known for its wide range of ready-to-assemble products, often accompanied by vague, pictographic assembly instructions.

Karl XII[]


The last King of Sweden during the Great Power Era, Karl XII ascended to the Swedish throne aged just fifteen, after the untimely death of his father. Soon after he became king, a three-part coalition sided against him, headed by the rising power to the east, Russia. One of the most capable commanders in Europe at the time, Karl subdued two of the coalition’s members before heading for Russia. Winning battle after battle, Karl appeared to be unstopable - up until the Battle of Poltava, which resulted in not only Swedish defeat, but the destruction of the Swedish Empire. Demoralised, the Swedish Army headed home and planned an invasion of Norway. However, Karl was shot and killed while sieging Fredriksten Fortress, ending any chance of Sweden reestablishing dominance.

Early Years[]

Karl’s childhood mostly consisted of the upbringing of a military king - his father, Karl XI, had initiated a series of reforms to the army for efficiency. He created an elite fighting force, the Caroleans, who were famously never drilled in retreat tactics. Karl learnt how they fought, and more importantly, how to command them. The strict discipline of the Swedish Army made it easier for generals to rely on plans to win battles - the young Karl used this to his advantage. When he was fourteen, his father died after a period of illness, causing a regency council to take over while Karl assumed the throne. After seven months, he became the unquestioned monarch of Sweden - the divine right doctrines of kings past had carried on. Karl was a king that answered only to God.

The Great Northern War[]

In 1700, a coalition of three Baltic powers - Denmark-Norway, Poland-Lithuania and Russia - was formed against the Swedish Empire, hoping to take advantage of its young and inexperienced king. However, the coalition were only half right - though young, Karl was far from inexperienced. Karl had been brought up with military discipline, inspected armies with his father and was himself well trained in combat. Furthermore, the Swedish army, though small, was extremely well-trained and ready to take on these growing powerhouses. Focusing on the enemy bit by bit, Karl managed to force Denmark-Norway into surrender in a matter of months. Russia, a growing empire in the Baltic, was marching an army to seize parts of Swedish territory in Livonia. Karl managed to defend the Baltic territories against the Russians by masterful defence at the Battle of Narva, despite being outnumbered four to one. By attacking under the cover of a blizzard, Karl was able to split the Russian army and catch them on the retreat. A lot of the Russian soldiers died after drowning in the Narva river, and left the battlefield in flight, having had a massive and disproportionate defeat inflicted.

Having seen off the Russians, Karl chose not to chase them, but instead invade Poland-Lithuania, which hadn’t seen much action thus far. After winning a decisive battle at Kiszow, Karl deposed Augustus II and imposed a puppet king on the Commonwealth. With the two smaller powers defeated, Karl could now turn his attention to Russia, the real threat in the region.

Invasion of Russia[]

After managing to get Stanislaw I coronated as the head of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Karl embarked on strengthening his army for the inevitable Invasion of Russia. However, Russia had managed to break the Swedish power in the Baltic already - and had established St Petersburg on marshland near core Swedish territory. Allying himself with the Cossacks, Karl’s army looked as if it would easily be able to take Russia, by penetrating it right to the core. Karl set off in 1707, after fully replenishing, with allies across the theater for this bloody war. Despite the Russian army being updated to the new European model, Karl still managed to win at the Battle of Holowczyn, despite still being outnumbered. The Swedish army bombarded the Russian encampment during the night, and marched across the river, with Karl himself leading the charge. The Russians quickly routed, leaving Karl with a choice as to what to do - instead of capturing the Russian’s glorious new city of St Petersburg, he chose to continue with his campaign and invade the Russian heartlands. However, one of the other Swedish armies had been ambushed by Peter I, leading to Karl having to slow down slightly in his advance. The Cossacks had been striving for revolt ever since Karl sent word of his coming, but it never fully came to be - the revolt was put down by the Russians, and by the time Karl’s army was forced to go into Ukraine due to the harsh winter climate, the area was largely under Russian control. This was a huge setback to his plans, which relied on causing as much internal strife as possible.

The Battle of Poltava[]

Poltava, a small town in modern-day Ukraine, was the unlikely site for the battle that would change European history forever. With a mild climate, rich in agricultural goods, the site was perfect for the Russians to camp. Karl, still commanding the Swedes, had been injured, and so he had to leave the battle to his other generals. Though the Swedes were once more outnumbered, this was no real problem, as the Swedes had already won most battles despite being outnumbered. However, Karl’s army was tired of the war, and hungry due to the destruction of supply lines. One in three of his soldiers had been killed since the start of the war. The battle would depend on strategy more than anything else.

Under the cover of nightfall once more, Karl’s army charged at the Russian lines. However, all too early, the alarm bell sounded at the encampment, leading to the Russian forces effectively counterattacking the Swedes. Not able to cross the river to the Russian camp, the Swedes relied on artillery fire to push back the Russians. However, without Karl’s presence on the battlefield, disagreements between the generals lead to a huge split in the Swedish forces, and after midday, the Swedes were forced into retreat. Karl and his remaining men were forced to go into hiding in the Ottoman Empire, not able to pass through Russian lands to get to Sweden.

Ottoman Exile[]

Aiming to get away from the Russians, Karl took refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the long-time rival of Russia. Upon arriving, he was welcomed, having provoked a short war between the Ottomans and the Russians, with Peter’s pursuit of Karl. The Ottomans crushed the Russians in the war, and signed off an easy peace treaty with the Russians shortly afterwards. Karl was given a large sum of money in the Ottoman budget, and the then-Sultan, Ahmed III, provided Swedish women and children as a gift for the king-in-exile. Eventually, the Swedish community got so large that a small village had to be established. However, before long, the Ottoman people believed that Karl had outstayed his welcome, and began to show signs of unrest. Karl agreed to leave the Ottoman Empire after this, and after traveling across Europe to Swedish Pomerania in just fifteen days, the king was finally back in Sweden.

Assassination at Fredrikstad[]

Once more back in Sweden, Karl planned an invasion of Norway to route his Danish rivals. During his absence, several states had declared war on him, so he decided to deal with them one at a time. In 1716, Karl began his invasion, and managed to capture Christiania (modred-day Oslo), though he was not able to break the main fortress there due to the lack of heavy artillery. He then attempted a capture of the border town of Fredrikshald, but the Norwegians forced them to abandon their siege by setting the city on fire. In 1718, Karl invaded Norway for the last time, on the verge of capturing Fredrikshald. He began a siege of Fredrikstad Fortress, with the latest artillery to boot. However, on December 11th, Karl was shot in the back of the head - though it is not known to this day who killed him. While unlikely, there is a theory that he was assassinated by someone in his ranks - there is even a conspiracy that it was down to the Swedish nobility, who wanted him gone for his domestic policy. Though the killer is unknown, one thing is for sure - the era of great power had come to an end for Sweden.

Carolean Death March[]

One of Karl’s remaining forces, sieging Trondheim, was forced to retreat, with circumstances made worse by Karl’s death. Demoralised, the Caroleans marked through Norway back to Sweden, though the onset of a severe winter storm was a huge setback. With a lack of food and general supplies, a lot of the Caroleans died in the upcoming storm. The situation was not much better elsewhere - in the years to come, Russia would gain all of Finland from Sweden, and the empire would lose many of its core territories. Kings would very soon be limited in what they could do, like other European monarchies. As for Karl, his body was taken back to Sweden, where he was buried. His death was effectively the end of the Swedish Empire - never again would it grow so big. Karl, having spent so many years at war to see what he created, destroyed, is remembered as one of the greatest military strategists of all time, and is immortalised in the hearts of Swedes to this day.


Along with the other assassination theories, there is one that suggests that Karl could have been killed by a button off a Carolean’s coat, given the similarity in size.

Karl is also immortalised in the Sabaton album Carolus Rex, which has a fair few tracks about him. Check it out!

Unique Components[]


An elite army of Swedish soldiers, these soldiers served the Swedish crown from roughly 1660–1718. Arguably the most effective soldiers of their time, the Caroleans were a small group, but made up for their fewer numbers with innovative tactics and staunch discipline. The Caroleans were strictly offensive troops, and never practiced nor drilled any kind of retreat maneuver. They would charge towards the enemy lines, only responding with their own fire once they were close enough to be sure to hit. The raging, all out charge demoralized many an army, and the Caroleans caused many lines of enemy troops to break and flee.

War Academy[]

Historically, the government departments that ran armies in the 18th Century were far from being defence ministries or anything approaching a general staff. A central war planning function was almost unheard of, and often generals were quite unwilling to deal with the authorities at home, preferring to control everything themselves. In Europe the army organisations dealt with pay and rations: often spending time making sure that colonels did really raise regiments they were being paid for.