Uppsala universitet
Skip links
På svenska

Linné on line arrow The History of Ideas arrow The Age of Liberty — Linnaeus’ day arrow Linnaeus’ Sweden

Linnaeus’ Sweden

Eighteenth-century Sweden was both larger and smaller than today’s Sweden.

Geographically the country was larger, because all of Finland and the city of Greifswald in northern Germany still belonged to Sweden. These areas were lost in 1809 and 1815, respectively. However, neither in terms of territory nor foreign policy was Linnaeus’ Sweden of the same scope and importance as during its time as a great power in the 17th century. During the period from about 1660 to 1720, Sweden had lost enormous amounts of territory. The constant warfare, in tandem with poor harvests and epidemics, had been a scourge to the people. See further The Age of Liberty—Linnaeus’ day.

In terms of population the Sweden of the Age of Liberty was a small country. In the middle of the 18th century the number of inhabitants amounted to just over two million, that is, less than a quarter of today’s population. Most people lived in southern Sweden. Northern Sweden was very sparsely populated, pure wilderness in large sections. There was little knowledge of the remote parts of the realm.

In the 18th century Sweden was a decidedly agrarian country. In 1760, for example, the number of people employed in manufacturing (the rudimentary industries of the time) was only about one percent of the population. Today most Swedes live in towns and cities; in the 18th century the great majority lived in the countryside. The towns that did exist were generally tiny. Only Stockholm, which had about 73,000 inhabitants in the early 1760s, could be considered a major city by international standards. Sweden’s then second and third cities, Göteborg and Karlskrona, each had just over 10,000 residents at that time. The population of the university towns of Lund and Uppsala only amounted to a few thousand.

Sten Carlsson & Jerker Rosén, Svensk historia 2: Tiden efter 1718 (1961; 4:e upplagan 1980)