In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Swedish Armed Forces

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Archives and Museums
  • Journals
  • Sweden in the Age of Globalization, 2000–

Military History Swedish Armed Forces
Gunnar Åselius
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 November 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0005


This article deals with the history of the Swedish armed forces. Swedish military history before the 16th century is omitted. Numerous general works on Swedish political and diplomatic history, biographies of monarchs, military leaders, and politicians as well as literature on the Swedish arms industry, the absolutist state during the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the constitutional struggle during the 19th century, or Swedish neutrality during the 20th century are also not included. The easiest way to understand the role of the armed forces in Swedish history is to take as one’s point of departure the shifting relations between the Swedish state, which until 1809 also included present-day Finland, and the surrounding world during the past 500 years. Several phases can be delineated. The reign of King Gustav Vasa (r. 1523–1560) saw the founding of a standing army and navy in Sweden and constitutes the first phase. During the century that followed—the second phase—Sweden entered into intensive territorial expansion during which the country found itself in constant struggle with other powers around the Baltic Sea. The period after 1660, when the Swedish Empire switched to a defensive strategy, forms a third phase, which ended with a major defeat in the Great Northern War (1700–1721). In the fourth phase (1721–1814), Sweden could be characterized as an aggressive revanchist middle power, trying to regain its former position in northern Europe without the ability to mobilize resources at the same level as rivals such as Russia or Prussia. The Napoleonic Wars and the loss of Finland and the territories in Germany signified a major catastrophe, for which the subjugation of Norway in 1814 could not compensate. Only from the early 19th century did Sweden begin to develop a small-power identity, viewing national survival rather than territorial aggrandizement as the chief mission of its armed forces. During the ninety years that followed, Sweden coexisted with Norway in a dynastic union, which contained both mutual security obligations and the potential for internal military conflict. The union with Norway should thus be regarded as a distinctive, fifth phase in the history of the armed forces (1814–1905). The rest of the 20th century following 1905 forms a continuous sixth phase, one in which Sweden constituted a neutral small power. Since 2000, globalization has revolutionized both relations with the surrounding world as well as the structure of the nation’s military forces, which is why it is possible to talk of a seventh phase. This article begins with presentations of general overviews, official histories, journals, etc., following which it is structured according to this chronology, and it includes a focus on (a) defense policy and strategy, (b) doctrine and operations, and (c) personnel. The last chronological section on the post-2000 period is treated less comprehensively. It should be pointed out that few works on the history of the Swedish armed forces exist in languages other than Swedish, which is why the ability to read Swedish—not too hard to acquire for a speaker of English—is strongly recommended. Finally, for language reasons, it has been impossible to include works on the Swedish armed forces before 1809 that have been published only in Finnish.

General Overviews

Most modern overviews have been produced as textbooks for cadets at the Swedish Military Academy at Karlberg, but they can be useful to civilian students as well, not least because many of these works are richly illustrated and contain useful maps. Artéus 2003 is the only work in English. Ericson Wolke 2007 and Ericson Wolke 2009 offer overviews of Swedish intellectual and operational military history, while Ericson, et al. 2003 portrays the history of Sweden’s wars in analyzing individual battles on land and sea from the Middle Ages to the Napoleonic period. Ericson Wolke and Hårdstedt 2009 focuses on the history of the Swedish navy from the 16th to the 21st centuries.

  • Artéus, Gunnar. A Brief History of the Swedish Armed Forces. Stockholm: Swedish National Defense College, 2003.

    A very short but informative overview of Swedish military institutions from the 16th to the 21st centuries, and the only modern such work available in English. Co-author Roth has written on the period after 1901.

  • Ericson Wolke, Lars. Krigets idéer: Svenska tankar om krigföring, 1320–1920. Stockholm: Medström, 2007.

    Ericson Wolke’s work is the only major overview of Swedish military thought and covers the period from the Middle Ages to the dawn of “machine warfare” in the interwar period. Places its subject neatly into a contemporary international and intellectual context and brings attention to the long-standing Swedish concerns—due to geographical circumstances—with light infantry tactics and amphibious warfare.

  • Ericson Wolke, Lars. Svensk militärmakt: Strategi och operationer i svensk militärhistoria under 1 500 år. 2d rev. ed. Stockholm: Försvarshögskolan, 2009.

    This is an accessible account with many useful maps that focuses on the operational level. Begins with the Vikings and concludes with Swedish troops in Kosovo and Afghanistan in the 21st century, written for students at the Karlberg Military Academy and the National Defence College.

  • Ericson Wolke, Lars, and Hårdstedt Martin. Svenska sjöslag. Stockholm: Medström, 2009.

    This is a follow-up volume to the previous work written by two of its authors, dealing with the Swedish navy from the 16th to the 21st centuries. In spite of the title it focuses as much on the navy as a system and a constituent part of Swedish society as on naval operational history; covers shipyards, ordinance, recruitment, base structure, etc., in great detail.

  • Ericson Wolke, Lars, Hårdstedt Martin, Iko Per, Sjöblom Ingvar, and Åselius Gunnar. Svenska slagfält. Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 2003.

    A volume authored by military historians of the National Defense College in Stockholm, containing fifty-four chapters on Swedish battles on land and sea from Visby in 1361 to the Swedish participation at Leipzig in 1813. Intended for a general audience but frequently cited as a reference work in scholarly publications. It has inspired military historians in Denmark and Finland to publish similar works.

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