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The Swedes[]


The Swedes were a North Germanic tribe who inhabited Svealand ("land of the Swedes") in central Sweden and one of the progenitor groups of modern Swedes, along with Geats and Gutes.

The first author who wrote about the tribe is Tacitus, who in his Germania, from 98 CE mentions the Suiones. Jordanes, in the sixth century, mentions Suehans and Suetidi. According to early sources such as the sagas, especially Heimskringla, the Swedes were a powerful tribe whose kings claimed descendence from the god Freyr. During the Viking Age they constituted the basis of the Varangian subset, the Vikings that travelled eastwards (see Rus' people).


Their primary dwellings were in eastern Svealand. Their territories also very early included the provinces of Västmanland, Södermanland and Närke in the Mälaren Valley which constituted a bay with a multitude of islands. The region is still one of the most fertile and densely populated regions of Scandinavia.

Their territories were called Svealand - "Swede-land" ("The Voyage of Ohthere" in Seven Books of History Against the Pagans: Swéoland), Suithiod - "Swede-people" (Beowulf: Sweoðeod [hence Sweden]), Svíaveldi or Svearike - "Swede-realm" (Beowulf: Swéorice). The political unification with the Geats in Götaland, a process that was not complete until the 13th century, is by some contemporary historians regarded as the birth of the Swedish kingdom, although the Swedish kingdom is named after them, Sverige in Swedish, from Svea rike - i.e. the kingdom of the Suiones

The Æsir-cult centre in Gamla Uppsala, was the religious centre of the Swedes and where the Swedish king served as a priest during the sacrifices (blóts). Uppsala was also the centre of the Uppsala öd, the network of royal estates that financed the Swedish king and his court until the 13th century.

Some dispute whether the original domains of the Suiones really were in Uppsala, the heartland of Uppland, or if the term was used commonly for all tribes within Svealand, in the same way as old Norway's different provinces were collectively referred to as Nortmanni.



Eric the Victorious was a Swedish monarch as of around 970. Since he is the first Swedish king in a consecutive regnal succession, who is attested in sources independent of each other, Sweden's list of rulers usually begins with him. His son Olof Skötkonung, however, is considered the first ruler documented to definitely have been accepted both by the original Swedes around Lake Mälaren and by the Geats around Lake Vättern, which peoples were fundamental in forming the nation of Sweden.

Some sources have referred to Eric the Victorious as either King Eric V or Eric VI, modern inventions by counting backwards from Eric XIV (1560–68), who adopted his numeral according to a mythological history of Sweden. Whether or not there were any Swedish monarchs named Eric before Eric the Victorious is disputed, with some historians claiming that there were several earlier Erics, and others questioning the reliability of the primary sources used and the existence of these earlier monarchs. The list of monarchs after him is also complicated and sketchy in some early periods, which makes the assignment of any numeral problematic (see Eric and Eric and Erik Årsäll) whether counting backward or forward.

Eric's Kingdom[]

His original territory was in Uppland and neighbouring provinces. He acquired the epithet of Segersäll - Victorious or literally blessed with victory - after defeating an invasion force from the south in the Battle of Fýrisvellir which took place near Uppsala. A brother of Eric's named Olof allegedly being the father of Styrbjörn the Strong, Eric's main opponent in that battle, is part of the myth about them.

The extent of Eric's kingdom is unknown. In addition to the Swedish heartland round Mälaren it may have extended down along the Baltic Sea as far south as Blekinge. According to Adam of Bremen, he was also King of Denmark after defeating King Sweyn Forkbeard.

According to the Flateyjarbok, his success was largely due to an alliance with free farmers against an earl-class nobility, but archaeological findings suggest that the influence of that class diminished during the last part of the tenth century. Eric probably introduced a system of universal conscription known as ledung in the provinces around Mälaren.

In all probability he also founded the town of Sigtuna, which still exists and where the first Swedish coins were minted for his son and successor King Olof.

Saga Sources[]

Eric the Victorious is named in a number of sagas, Nordic tales of history with a predominant element of fiction. In various stories, he is described as the son of a Björn Eriksson and as having ruled together with his brother Olof. One saga describes his marriage to an infamous, possibly fictional, Queen Sigrid the Haughty, daughter of a legendary Viking, Skagul Toste, and how in their divorce he gave her all of Gothenland as a fief. According to Eymund's saga he then took a new queen, Aud, daughter of Haakon Sigurdsson, ruler of Norway.

Before that, Eric's brother Olof died, and a new co-ruler was to be appointed, but the Swedes allegedly refused to accept Eric's rowdy nephew Styrbjörn as such. Eric granted Styrbjörn 60 longships in which he sailed away for a seafaring existence as a Viking. He became the ruler of Jomsborg and an ally of Danish King Harold Bluetooth, whose daughter Tyra he married. Styrbjörn returned to Sweden with an army, although Harold and the Danish troops seem to have turned back. Eric won the Battle of Fýrisvellir, according to Styrbjarnar þáttr Svíakappa, after making sacrifice to Odin and promising that, if victorious, he would give himself to Odin in ten years.

Two skaldic verses by Thorvaldr Hjaltason describe the alleged battle. The first expressly mentions how an Eric has utterly defeated an enemy host at a fortification at Fýrisvellir, while the second specifies that the Vikings - "the army of Hunding" - were superior in numbers but nevertheless were handily captured when they attacked Svithiod, and only those who fled survived. The runestones of Hällestad and Sjörup in Scania, then a part of Denmark, do mention a battle at Uppsala characterized by the defeat and flight of the attackers. These stones have traditionally been associated with the battle, but they also present chronological problems and may be from the next century.

Unique Components[]


In medieval Scandinavia, husmän were either non-servile manservants or household troops in personal service of someone, equivalent to a bodyguard to Scandinavian lords and kings. This institution also existed in Anglo-Saxon England after its conquest by the kingdom of Denmark in the 11th century. In England, the royal housecarls had a number of roles, both military and administrative; they are well known for having fought under Harold Godwinson at the Battle of Hastings. The original Old Norse term, húskarl, literally means "house man"; see also the Anglo-Saxon term churl or ceorl, whose root is the same as the Old Norse karl, and which also means "a man, a non-servile peasant". These were well trained men who were paid as they were full-time soldiers. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle uses hiredmenn as a term for all paid warriors and thus is applied to housecarl but it also refers to butsecarls , and lithsmen as well. It is not clear whether these were types of housecarl too or different altogether.


A runestone is typically a raised stone with a runic inscription, but the term can also be applied to inscriptions on boulders. The tradition began in the 4th century and lasted into the 12th century, but most of the runestones date from the late Viking Age. Most runestones are located in Scandinavia, but there are also scattered runestones in locations that were visited by Norsemen during the Viking Age. Runestones are often memorials to dead men. Runestones were usually brightly coloured when erected, though this is no longer evident as the colour has worn off. Most Runestones are found in present day Sweden.