Are the Swedes a nation of warriors?
‘No’ she said to me, seemingly outraged ‘We were not Vikings. That was the Danes and the Norwegians who plundered Europe. We were very different, instead we went westwards and traders as businesspeople, helping to found cities such as Kiev’.
The Swedish and the Danes have a surprisingly different culture given the geographic and linguistic similarities, something that has been remarked on before. Denmark takes great pride in its Viking heritage, with the National Museum of Denmark containing numerous relics to its Viking past, including longboats, the weapons used and details of trade with other nations.
Sweden on the other hand has a more ambivalent attitude to the Vikings. In the times of the Vikings there was no clearly-defined nation-states in Scandinavia, with the Swedes, Danes and Norwegians and Icelanders all part of the Viking empire as well as dependencies in modern-day England, France and Germany (Finland was not part of the Viking’s conquest).
The Guardian have been among those rewriting the Vikings as feminists and modern-day liberals. This article claimed that the Vikings had a ‘softer, more fashion-conscious side’ while this article bizarrely claims the idea that the Vikings engaged in mass rape and pillaging has been debunked because ‘the women would accompany them on their travels’.
The problem with ascertaining the Swedish versus the Danish/Norwegian conquests and why it is comparatively easier for politically-motivated academics to claim that the Vikings were latte-sipping hipsters is that there were less records of the Swedish Vikings conquest of Eastern Europe. Much of the research on the Danish and Norwegian Vikings comes from British historians writing at the time.
However for those looking for signs of the modern-day Vikings in Stockholm you will not have to go as far as you might think. Ranked as the third largest-arms producer in the world on a GDP per capita basis and the ninth largest on an absolute basis, Sweden is one of the military heavyweights of the world at least in terms of the weapons it produces.
Over 30,000 people are employed in the Swedish defence industry, with particular areas of expertise including missile defence systems, tanks and fighter jets. Major customers of the Swedish industry include Saudi Arabia, which was said to be hosting a Swedish factory.
Meanwhile in 2014 there was a major political scandal over the involvement of Swedish bankers and politicians in the creation of the proposed factory.
Another sign that the Viking spirit has not left the Swedes is the nation’s impressive performance in mma. MMAViking – a website that looks at mma in the nordics – has rankings that illustrate the impressive performance of many Swedish fighters.
While light-heavyweight Alexander Gustafsson may be the best-known Swedish warrior, the sport is incredibly popular in Stockholm, something illustrated well by this documentary on mma in Sweden.
With a large arms industry and an impressive performance in mma that gives it a top 10 ranking when controlling for population size I think it is fair to say that while the Viking spirit may be less visible in Sweden today, it has certainly not gone away.