Conclusive archaeological evidence exists that the area now comprising Sweden was settled during the Stone Age, as the inland ice of the last ice age receded. The earliest inhabitants are thought to have been hunters and gatherers, living primarily off what the sea (later called the Baltic Sea) could offer.
Some evidence supports the theory that southern Sweden was densely populated during the Bronze Age, as remains of large trading communities from this period have been found.
In 1389, the three countries of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were united under a single monarch. The Kalmar Union was entered into as a personal, not a political union, and during the 15th century, Sweden resisted attempts to centralise rule under the Danish king, even to the point of armed rebellion. Sweden subsequently broke away in 1521, when Gustav Eriksson Vasa, known as king Gustav I of Sweden from 1523, re-established separation of the Swedish Crown from the union.
Recent Swedish history has been peaceful, the last war being the Campaign against Norway 1814 establishing a Sweden-dominated personal union with Norway. The union was peacefully dissolved in 1905, despite some sabre-rattling. Sweden remained a neutral country during World War I and World War II (with a small exception for the Winter War). It continued to stay non-aligned during the Cold War and is today not a member of any military alliance but has participated in NATO military trainings.
Parliamentarism was re-introduced in 1917 as king Gustaf V, after decades of struggle, accepted appointing Cabinets supported by majorities in the Parliament, followed by common and equal suffrage enacted 1918-21. Parliamentarism was upheld by his successor Gustav VI Adolf until a new constitution in 1975 abolished the monarch's political power. The monarch remains as the formal, but merely a symbolic, head of state with mainly ceremonial duties.
Social Democracy has played a dominant political role since 1917, after Reformists had confirmed their strength and the Revolutionaries left the party. Social Democratic influence over society and government is often described as Hegemony. After 1932 the Cabinets have been led and dominated by the Social Democrats except for: a few summer months 1936; six years 1976-1982; and three years 1991-1994.
In 1971, the Parliament or Riksdag became unicameral. Constitutionally, the 349-member, Riksdag holds supreme authority in Sweden. It may alter the constitution and its acts are not subject to judicial review. Legislation may be initiated by the Cabinet or by members of Parliament. Members are elected on the basis of proportional representation for a four-year term.
Grundlagen (the constitution) can be altered by the Riksdag, which requires qualified majority and confirmation after the following general elections.
The judicial system is divided between courts with regular civil and criminal jurisdiction and special courts with responsibility for litigation between the public and Government or Municipal authorities. Swedish law is codified and its court system consists of local courts, regional appellate courts, and a Supreme Court.
Sweden is divided into 21 counties or län. In each county there is a County Administrative Board or länsstyrelse which is appointed by the Government. In each county there is also a separate County Council or landsting, which is the municipal representation appointed by the county electorate. Each county further divides into a number of municipalities or kommuner, making a total of 289 municipalities, in 2002. There are also older historical divisions of the Swedish Realm, primarily into provinces and lands.
Sweden enjoys a mostly temperate climate despite its northern latitude, mainly due to the Gulf Stream. In the south of Sweden leaf-bearing trees are prolific, in the north ferns and hardy birches dominate the landscape. In the mountains of northern Sweden a sub-arctic climate predominates. In the part of the country north of the Arctic Circle the sun never sets during the summer, and in the winter night is unending.
The southern part of the country is chiefly agricultural, with forests covering an increasing percentage of the land the further north one goes. Population density is also higher in southern Sweden, with centers being in the valley of lake Mälaren and the Öresund region.
Aided by peace and neutrality for the whole 20th century, Sweden has achieved an enviable standard of living under a mixed system of high-tech capitalism and extensive welfare benefits. It has a modern distribution system, excellent internal and external communications, and a skilled labour force. Timber, hydropower, and ironore constitute the resource base of an economy heavily oriented toward foreign trade.
Privately-owned firms account for about 90% of industrial output, of which the engineering sector accounts for 50% of output and exports. Agriculture accounts for only 2% of GDP and 2% of the jobs. The government's commitment to fiscal discipline resulted in a substantial budgetary surplus in 2001, which was cut by more than half in 2002, due to the global economic slowdown, revenue declines, and spending increases. The Swedish Riksbank is focusing on price stability with its inflation target of 2%. Growth should pick up to 2.3% in 2003, assuming a moderate global recovery.
Sweden has one of the world's highest life expectancies and one of the lowest birth rates. The country counts at least 17,000 indigenous Samis among its population. Also some 50,000 of the ethnic Finns of Sweden consist an indigenous minority, although many more of the Sweden Finns descend from 20th century immigrants.