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the agrarian history of sweden

The Agrarian History of Sweden 4000 bc to ad 2000

Edited by Janken Myrdal & Mats Morell

stiftelsen lagersberg

nordic academic press

The publication of this work has been realized with the generous support of Stiftelsen Lagersberg, Eskilstuna, Sweden.

Nordic Academic Press P.O. Box 1206 SE-221 05 Lund

© Nordic Academic Press and the Authors 2011 Translations: Charlotte Merton Typesetting: Stilbildarna i Mölle, Frederic Täckström, Maps and figures: Stig Söderlind Cover: Anette Rasmusson Cover image: ‘The harvest’, a painted tapestry by Johannes Nilsson (1757–1827), from Breared in southern Sweden. Photo: Halland’s Regional Museum, Halmstad. Printed by ScandBook, Falun 2011 ISBN: 978-91-85509-56-0

Contents Introduction Janken Myrdal & Mats Morell


1. Early farming households, 3900–800 bc Stig Welinder


2. Agriculture in Sweden, 800 bc–ad 1000 Ellen Anne Pedersen & Mats Widgren


3. Farming and feudalism, 1000–1700 Janken Myrdal


4. The agricultural revolution in Sweden, 1700–1870 Carl-Johan Gadd


5. Agriculture in industrial society, 1870–1945 Mats Morell


6. The tension between modernity and reality, 1945–2010 Iréne A. Flygare & Maths Isacson


7. Swedish agrarian history – the wider view Janken Myrdal


Notes Statistical appendix Mats Morell, Carl-Johan Gadd & Janken Myrdal Bibliography Index

271 285

Theme texts: The rituals of agriculture

From peasant rebellion to parliamentary Estate A wealth of clearable land Changes in food consumption Women and men

302 330 38 98 158 188 224

Introduction Janken Myrdal & Mats Morell

Interest in agrarian history – part of the broader history of social evolution and people’s living conditions – is growing internationally. The agrarian history of Sweden, which is presented here for an international readership, is important to this international dialogue, not least because there is an extensive research base in the country and a recent, comprehensive work on the subject, which is presented in this book in abridged form. Nordic Academic Press, in willingly shouldering the publication of this book, has made an important contribution by making Swedish history, and Swedish research, available to a wider academic audience. This book is a compressed version of a five-volume work, Det svenska jordbrukets historia, published between 1998 and 2003. The project was prepared under the aegis of Nordiska museet, with Janken Myrdal serving as the principal editor and with seven contributing authors. Stiftelsen Lagersberg (the Lagersberg Foundation) funded the entire project, and has continued to fund the preparation of this international edition and its translation into English. The background to the five-volume work was the growing interest in agrarian history in Sweden in the early 1990s, not least thanks to Kungliga Skogs- och Lantbruksakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry, or KSLA), which in 1989 instituted a seminar on agrarian and forest history. After a couple of years, the idea of writing a standard work on Sweden’s agrarian history began to take form. The resultant project would run for over ten years, during which time the seminar acted as a vital sounding-board for the research required to complete the volumes. A variety of subjects that needed closer study were treated at the seminar, and the interchange between scholars from a wide range of disciplines spawned several new books along the way, with the history of cattle-farming, child labour


the agrarian history of sweden in agriculture, and swidden cultivation (slash-and-burn agriculture) amongst the important but hitherto neglected subjects. The five-volume work was partly inspired by the four-volume study of Danish agrarian history published in 1988 as Det danske landbrugs historie. Soon after the Swedish project began, the Norwegians were moved to write their agrarian history in a major, four-volume work, and the Finns their own in three volumes, while at the time of writing an Icelandic agrarian history is in preparation. Thus only a few years later, and after much mutual inspiration, the Nordic region now boasts no less than seventeen volumes of native agrarian history. Initially the authors concentrated on research to fill the gaps that had already been identified, after which writing and then publication followed at a steady rate. Throughout the process there was intensive discussion on terminology and thematic treatments, and the entire work took shape in a dialogue between all the authors, yet it was never a matter of writing by committee: with at most a couple of authors per volume, each could leave their mark on the actual content. In the full-scale Swedish version, the illustrations are crucial, and the authors themselves selected and interpreted them under the guidance of an art editor. For reasons of space, most of the illustrations have had to be omitted from the English version. For this abridged edition the authors have not merely compressed their earlier work and updated it with recent Swedish and European findings; they have in many instances shifted focus, and, more so than in the original volumes, the chapters are now closely related to developments in international agrarian research. The chapters are ordered chronologically, and each is complemented with a short overview of a more specialized theme. The ambition throughout has been to offer the broad outlines of Swedish agrarian history in a single volume. The book concludes with a synthesis of the entire work and reflections on the course of Swedish agrarian development and historical research against an international background. There is also an appendix with statistical data concerning primarily the early modern period onwards, and a bibliography of the most important works in the field, with particular focus on research published in the last decade. The aim of this book is to offer readers – be they students, general readers, those of Swedish descent, or professional agrarian historians – a comprehensive, logically arranged, and lucid introduction to Sweden’s oldest industry. Readers who wish to pursue


introduction any particular issue will find plenty of suggestions for further reading in the notes and bibliography. Even if the agrarian population and the circumstances of agricultural production are the heart of the book, it is inevitable that, faced with six thousand years of history, the importance of the various themes will vary considerably according to the period under discussion, and that there will be some overlap between periods. Choosing a terminology that holds good for all ages – and chapters – is a delicate matter, and was the source of lively debate between the authors in the preparation of the Swedish version. With translation came new excitement, for the agrarian history of each country has produced a series of specific terms, often legally or socially defined, on which developments in historiography largely depend. Many are resistant to translation. We have Britain’s customary tenant and Sweden’s skattebonde; Norway’s odelsrett and Denmark’s gårdmand. These problems are rarely insurmountable, given that the similarities are often greater than the individual terms might lead us to think, but in some instances the terminological variations reflect very real differences in meaning: translating the Swedish bonde into English is always a challenge, for it does not always equate with peasant. We have used English terminology as far as possible, but have elaborated on the original Swedish terms wherever their precise meaning is important to our argument. Both the five-volume edition and the condensed, updated version presented here are part of a wider trend that in recent years has seen agrarian and rural history become lively fields of European research. It is part and parcel of this that their historiography has become a subject in its own right. Indeed, two important works have recently been published that together treat agrarian historiography for much of Europe: The Rural History of Medieval European Societies and Rural History in the North Sea Area.1 Neither book mentions Swedish research of any date, and for this reason we felt it appropriate to open the book with a brief account of the Swedish literature.2

The beginnings of agrarian history in Sweden The publication of books and pamphlets in Sweden accelerated from the 1730s onwards, and among the major beneficiaries of this explosion were agricultural texts. The 1770s saw a further increase, when the first large works on Swedish agrarian history were also published. Shorter


the agrarian history of sweden references to the history of agriculture were made in several books published in the late eighteenth century, its inclusion primarily justified on the grounds of political and economic utility. A utilitarian focus, and above all the rancorous debate on contemporary agrarian policy, was central to the hundred-page epic, Landtbrukets öden i Sverige (‘The fate of farming in Sweden’), published in 1776 by the lawyer and librarian Fredrik Mozelius in the proceedings of the Royal Patriotic Society. As he wrote in his introduction, ‘In the present century, philosophical as it is rightly called, the history of its industries has, as it were, been instilled with life since the founding of scientific and agricultural societies in the majority of European countries.’ Engelbert Jörlin, a farmer’s son, who in 1777 published an even longer text in the same series, departed from the narrow utilitarian trend. A disciple of Linnaeus, he had a predilection for scientific systematization, and attempted to compile evidence of the types of animals and cereals that had been farmed since the Middle Ages. At the end of the eighteenth century, Magnus Blix, judge and controversialist, published his polemic Swenska jordbrukets historia i kortaste sammandrag (‘Swedish agricultural history in briefest outline’). Blix argued that Swedish agriculture was in decline, and drew a number of salutary lessons from France, where in his view the Revolution had been made possible by a similar degeneration. Some years later he was countered by Pehr Nylandh, a land-surveyor, who defended the recent large-scale redistribution of land and other measures taken by the Swedish state to improve agriculture. There was then a pause of almost a hundred years before the next general summary of Swedish agrarian history saw the light of day: Peter von Möller’s Strödda utkast rörande svenska jordbrukets historia (‘Miscellaneous writings on Swedish agrarian history’), published in 1881. Despite being written by an amateur, a country gentleman from Halland, this work had modern scholarly ambitions. An ambitious and systematic survey of Swedish agriculture, it is if truth be told the first Swedish work of agrarian history that is worth reading for more than its historiographical value. At the time Möller was writing, cultural history had become firmly established. In 1881–2, August Strindberg, who had already made a name for himself as a novelist, published Svenska folket i helg och söcken (‘The Swedish people at work and play’), in which he dismissed Sweden’s kings-and-battles history. The book met with considerable resistance from established historians, and the ensuing debate mirrored the dispute over cultural history then raging


introduction in Germany. Strindberg, however, was far more radical in his emphasis on the common people than Karl Lamprecht in Germany, who only wanted to reduce the dominance of political history. Soon a number of currents in cultural history became apparent. One example was Hans Hildebrand’s project on medieval cultural history, which saw the publication of volume after volume over many years – a level of productivity that matched Troels Lund’s in Denmark. Ethnology also became immensely popular, as is borne out by the existence of such Swedish institutions as Nordiska museet and the open-air museum Skansen, located in the middle of Stockholm’s main park.

Swedish agrarian history in the early twentieth century It would be some time before the study of everyday life – of which agrarian history is just one branch – found acceptance as an academic subject. It was only at the start of the twentieth century that academics began to turn their attention to agricultural history, and even then such research was considered a form of folklivsforskning, later better known as ethnology. Ethnology was to be of great importance in Sweden, as it was in several Germanic countries and Hungary, and played a crucial role in shaping national identity. In Sweden, its leading figure was Sigurd Erixon. His favoured approach, adopted by his disciples, was to chart the regional differences across Sweden, although it should be noted that he also emphasized cultural flow across national borders, and thus was not interested in bald attempts to identify ‘Swedishness’. Classic ethnology had its heyday between the 1930s and the 1950s. A subject equally significant for agrarian history was human geography, inspired by an international, and more specifically French, research tradition in which geographers pieced together ambitious accounts of entire regions, including their history. Swedish human geographers had at their disposal a source material of unique quality: seventeenthcentury high-resolution maps and tax registers of grain and livestock. The first boom in historical human geography coincided with that in ethnology. Scholars in both disciplines published a number of works, some addressing particular themes or implements, others specific regions, producing in the process the first wave of agrarian history, and ensuring the subject rested on broad, scientific foundations. In other branches of Swedish history – political history, economic history, and archaeology – agrarian history played a limited role in



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