This essay focuses on the political, economic, and cultural history of imperial Sweden during the 17th and early 18th centuries, when Sweden was the leading expansionary power in the Baltic region. It is based on lectures that were written for two expeditionary cruises in the Baltic Sea during the year 2000.
Sweden was an unlikely imperialist in the early 17th century. I begin by looking at how Sweden created its Baltic empire – the key leadership roles played by Gustavus Adolphus, the empire’s founder, Axel Oxenstierna, his public administrator, Charles XI, the empire’s consolidator, and Charles XII, the expansionist whose recklessness led to the empire’s fall. I turn next to an analysis of 17th-century Sweden’s sources of wealth and power – foreign conquest of Baltic ports to control
natural resources and trade (amid rivalries with Denmark and Poland), productive domestic agriculture, mining, forestry and fishing, and extensive taxes on foreign trade. I close by examining why Sweden’s empire collapsed by 1721 – Charles XII’s military errors, the lack of defensible natural borders, ethnic heterogeneity, and the rise of Russia. I append a time line, a bibliography, and a description of sites that I visited in Sweden and the Baltic.
A Cruise to the Hanseatic Cities of the Baltic Sea, Aboard the Clipper Adventurer Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Lübeck, Germany, Copenhagen, Denmark, Gdansk, Poland, Visby, Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden, Tallinn, Estonia, Helsinki, Finland, St. Petersburg, Russia,