Swedish Soldiers

Sweden was once one of the superpowers of Europe but by 1672, when Carl XI came of age, its power was beginning to decline. The country was too poor to maintain the troops it needed to defend its borders. It had become a client state of France and was expending its energies in foreign wars to serve French interests. In 1680, Carl XI reorganized the Swedish military.

Under the new system, called the indelningsverket, each province was required to maintain one regiment of foot soldiers. For the cavalry, the government contracted with wealthy individuals to provide riders and horses. The new system gave Sweden an army of 25,000 foot soldiers (18,000 from Sweden and 7,000 from Finland) and 11,000 cavalrymen (8,000 from Sweden and 3,000 from Finland). As part of the reforms, roads were improved and hostelries were built for the mobilized troops.

The system was created just in time. The period following the death of Carl XI in 1699 was a bad time for Sweden. There were bad harvests, starvation, and unrest in the countryside. Denmark, Saxony, Poland and Russia signed a treaty under which they proposed to attack Sweden. In the spring of 1700, Sweden faced war on two fronts, in Holstein and in Livland. The Dutch writer, Justus Van Effen, after traveling in Sweden the year following Carl XI’s death, wrote:

I can even ensure, that in the whole of Sweden I saw not a single man between 20 and 40 years, other than soldiers. The cruel war that was so long and had so many battles and sieges in so many different lands had taken all the youth from this unfortunate land. In the north, it was even worse, we had young boys, 11 and 12 years old, who were driving the wagons we traveled with; they did the work as fast and well as their father and grandfathers should have done. In more than 20 stages, we were transported by young girls, who did their duty very well.

The resulting war lasted 20 years, until the Peace of Nystad in 1721. Toward the end of the war, the front line was no longer in Sweden’s overseas territories; Russian Cossacks were plundering and burning farms on the Swedish mainland. The war reduced the population of Sweden by 15%. Despite the horrors of the war, the new military system was successful, and endured for over 200 years, until 1892/1901.

The Rota System

To create the regiments of foot soldiers, each province was divided into rota (service lists). The farms in each rota were required to join forces in order to equip a soldier and provide him with a croft and house (the soldattorp). The soldier had to support himself and his family from his work on the croft, but also had to attend military drills and, in time of war, had to report for duty, wherever that might be. These soldiers were called indelta-armen (”tenement soldiers”).

Each of the farms in the rota was assessed a percentage of the soldier’s upkeep. This assessment was called a mantal (”man-count”). For example, two farms that were each assessed at one-half mantal were each required to contribute one-half to the support of the rota’s soldier. The mantal of a farm might be as low as 1/32. Farms smaller than 1/32 mantal could not feed a family, contribute to the upkeep of the rota’s soldier, and pay taxes as well.

Every rota had a name and number, often an animal name as Korp (raven), Dufva (dove), Myra (ant), or some item associated with the army: Kanon (cannon), Haubitz (howitzer) or Wapen (weapon).

The Rusthåll System

The system for cavalry soldiers was similar to the system for the infantry. The cavalry equivalent of the rota was therusthåll. A rusthållare, or farmer in a rusthåll, was the proprietor of an independent farm. He had a private contract with the government to provide a cavalryman, with horse and uniform. The cavalry soldier (ryttare) received a croft (ryttartorp) and land to farm, like the soldattorp of the infantry.

Soldiers

The rota chose the men who became soldiers, although the soldier could be rejected in the genaralmönstringen (”general-inspection”) that took place every year and often was attended by the king. Soldiers could be anyone. They could be from some other part of the country or from the nearest village, but often they came from the same village. Typically, they were drängar (farm-hands) or some other low status but handy person in the village. When the soldier was killed in war or was unable to serve for any other reason, he was replaced as soon as possible. When there where many wars in a short time, villages sometimes had to replace the soldier with the farmer himself or with one of the farmer’s sons.

When a soldier died or retired, the rota was responsible for the support of his widow. The new soldier was often pressured into marrying the old soldier’s widow. Because of the poverty among the peasantry, it was easier on everyone if the new soldier married the widow instead of some other. That way, the soldier’s croft only had to support two people instead of three (not counting the children). There were cases where the widow was 16 years older than her new husband. The same custom was common among priests, where the new priest was pressured to marry the old priest’s widow. The custom was called änkekonservering (”widow preservation”).

Whatever the soldier’s background, he acquired some status in the parish. The soldier was a person to count on. The farmers had to loan him a horse and carriage every Sunday so he and his family could get to the church. After church, he would exercise outside the church with other soldiers from the neighborhood. He got an annual salary, a piece of land, seed, cows and sheep, food, clothes, the loan of a horse to transport wood from the forest, and the use of a cottage. Still, although the uniform gave him some respect, he was required to be available to the farmers of the rota for work in the fields, so he once again became a dräng.

Related Information

Swedish Soldiers’ Names