History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Agricultural Yields

The yield of the fields in former days was very moderate compared to today’s modern agriculture methods. One reason for this was the distribution of farmland in the villages in the countryside. In former days each farmhouse were grouped together like a village. Each village had a certain amount of land belonging to the different farmers in the village. However, each farmer didn't have a coherent area of farmland. Instead each larger field of the belonging farmland was split up in several separate fields, one for each farmer in the village. So, each farmer in the village had a small field here and there instead of one large coherent area. This of course didn't promote a rational farming. See The redistribution of land holdings further down in this article. Each village also had common land the so-called commonage or "allmänning". In the 1500's there were no cultivation of forage. Instead the farmers in those days gathered straw, leaves, bark and reeds as winter forage for the cattle. This was normally not enough and it was common that the animal starved to death during the long and cold winters. At that time the milk cows wasn't larger than a one-year-old calf of today. However, the milk had then a percentage of fat that was higher then today. The people weren’t that underfed in the 1500's. The many people in the service of King had for example a daily intake of 4,000 calories. This means that the people of the 1500's had sustenance of food that weren’t to be seen again until the middle of the1800's. Some years there were bad crops, often due to poor weather. It could have been early or late frost, to much rain or drought, etc. Years of bad weather in combination with inefficient farming methods could suddenly turn the consequences of bad harvest into a life threatening situation for the population in the concerned area. The little harvest they could get from the fields during those circumstances wasn't enough to feed the families through out the whole winter. It was a necessity to fill the barns before the winter struck. During bad years of famine, the farmers had to emergency slaughter the cattle and there were no seed for sowing left over for the next season. If there were several years of famine following each other it would most certainly lead to a catastrophe with many people starving to death. In times of famine they had to use everything they could to feed the hungry. The bark bread used in times like these is well known. Then they made the flour last longer by mixing the inner part of the bark with the flour when making bread.

Years of Famine

The following years were serious years of famine in large parts of Sweden:

1649-1650

Serious famine in Sweden. The roads were full of beggars. A student from Värmland province, P. Gyllenius, writes in his diary that "people are lying dead in heaps on the roads and elsewhere due to hunger".

1696

An early frost destroyed a large part of the crops. The after-effect of the frost was especially severe in the northern half of Sweden (the Norrland region) and in the Mälardalen (Valley of Lake Mälaren, a region just west of Stockholm). However, worst off was the region of Finland (Finland was a region of Sweden until 1809). About a third of the population in Finland starved to death. The winter cold was so hard that that it was even difficult to loosen the bark from the trees. As a last resort they had to eat chaffs and grass roots.

1708-1709

Sweden was had two consecutive years of bad crops in 1708 and 1709.

1725

Once again Sweden had a year of bad crops. The cattle starved and through out the winter many farmers had to bake bread of flour mixed with bark and roots, so-called bark bread.

1770

In the beginning of the 1770's it was years of severe bad crops and about 100,000 people died.

1867-1868

In 1867 and 1868 Sweden had two consecutive years of bad crops. Worst of was the provinces of Norrland (the northern half of Sweden) and in Dalarna and Värmland provinces. The summer of 1867 was very wet with a lot of rain. The next summer, on the other hand, was very warm with a devastating drought. The lack of seed for sowing was severe and between a third and a half of all cattle had to be slaughtered in some areas. The drought of 1868 first of all hit the southern half of Sweden. These years of famine speeded up the Swedish immigration to America.

Years of Epidemic Diseases

Sweden has been hit by a numerous epidemic diseases over the years; diseases that seriously has influenced the life of the population. For more information about the diseases see: Names of diseases in earlier times

Dysentery (Rödsot or dysenteri)

Intense dysentery epidemics raged Sweden during the last 30 years of the 1700's. Between 1773 and 1784 about 15,000 people died per year of dysentery. In 1785 the Norrland region was hit by dysentery. Another devastating outbreak took place between 1808 and 1813 with 50,000 deceased. Between 1851 and 1860 about 26,000 died of dysentery.

Smallpox (Smittkoppor)

The 1700's were the century of smallpox in Sweden. Between 1749 and 1800 about 270,000 people died of smallpox. It was first of all the children that died of the disease. In 1825, 1833 and 1855 the Medelpad province was hit by smallpox epidemics.

Plague (Pesten)

The most known plague epidemic was the Black Death (Digerdöden) during the 1300's when 25% of the European population (about 25,000,000 people) died. In Sweden about 200,000 people died of the disease. Sweden had at the time a population of 500,000. The plague also hit Sweden in the 1400's and the 1500's and during the first half of the 1600's. The last outbreak was between 1710 and 1713. It started in Stockholm during fall of 1710 and spread to the rest of the country. In Stockholm about 22,000 people died (nearly a third of the city's population). This was the greatest catastrophe that has hit the city. When the disease had its firmest grip in October 1710 1,600 people died in the very same week.

Cholera (Kolera)

The cholera was the "plague" of the 1800's. Between 1834 and 1873 Sweden was hit by 9 cholera epidemics. The most severe of these outbreaks took place in 1834 when more than 25,000 people got cholera. About 50% of these died. Only in Stockholm died 3,500 persons. In the 1860's the cholera ravaged Norrland. Also in the 1850's there were severe outbreaks of cholera. Cholera was unknown in Europe before 1817.

TB, tuberculosis [Tuberkulos, TBC (lungsot)]

About 4,000,000 people per year died of tuberculosis (TB) in Europe in the middle of the 1800's. TB is the disease that has cased most casualties’ throughout the history, the plague included. The lung TB in Sweden reached its climax as a cause of death in 1875. Worst hit was Mälardalen (Valley of Lake Mälaren) west of Stockholm. About 10% of all death was caused by tuberculosis. As late as in the 1930's there was an annual death toll of 10,000 people.

Spanish flu (Spanska sjukan)

The Spanish flu is the term used for the serious epidemic influenza that swept the world between 1918 and 1919. It is estimated that the Spanish flu caused the death of 20,000,000 people. The epidemic was first reported in Spain, that is how the disease got its name. The outbreak started at the end of May 1918. The first cases in Sweden were reported in the beginning of July in 1918 in the province Skåne. More then 35,000 persons died in Sweden from the Spanish flu between 1918 and 1919. In Sweden, like in the rest of the world, is was above all people in the ages between 20 and 40 who died of the flu. During the second half of 1918 there were 516,013 cases of the Spanish flu reported in Sweden. Out of these 27,379 died. The population of Sweden at this time was 5,700,000. In 1919 about 200,000 got the Spanish flu, however the death toll was only 9,000 that year. The Spanish flu hit the northern part of Sweden especially hard. During a few weeks of February/March 1920 about 3% of Arjeplog's (province of Lappland) population died of the flu.

The Great Redistribution of Land Holdings (Skiftesreformen)

Since the Middle Ages the farming of land in the villages on the country side of Sweden was regulated by to the sun distribution of land (solskiftet). Every farmer in the village got a share in every field owned by the village. All farmhouses were grouped together like a village, often with a church in the center. Every field was divided into several small fields and each villager had his share in the respective field. This means that all farmers in the village had to use the same crop rotation, to plough, sow and harvest at the same time. It was imposable to get access to one's field if the field next to yours wasn't harvest at the same time. Even if an individual farmer wanted to change his farming he had no possibility to do so unless the others also did the same changes.

Storskifte

To modernize the farming and to get a better yield of the land there was a parliament act taken in 1749 called "storskifte" (The Great Redistribution of Land Holdings). The purpose was to gather each farmer’s fields into as few as possible (rather one large field then several small ones). In order to carry this out the land surveyors had do accurate valuations of the fruitfulness of the village's fields in order to redistribute them in a equitable way. The big breakthrough for the redistribution of the land holdings came in the 1770's. However the redistribution wasn't radical enough. There were many compromises. The land were still spilt into many fields, the individual farmer were still dependent of his neighboring farmers.

Enskifte

In the province of Skåne in southern Sweden, the owner of the Svaneholm Estate, Baron Rutger Maclean, had been practising a more radical approach to the redistribution reform. Between 1782 and 1785 he divided the land of the estate into quadratic parts and the farmhouses in each village on his land was moved to each square, i.e. to each farm's beloning arable land. On the Svaneholm Estate each farm was, in other words, now placed on each farmer's arable land and thereby each farm got a coherent area of farmland. The land that belonged to the Svaneholm Estate with its villages and farmers was so-called "frälseland"; Land owned by the nobility (frälsejord - Noble land). Farmers on "frälsejord" paid their taxes to the nobility (the landowners). Only the nobility could own "frälsejord". Farmers or crofters/tenants ("torpare") on "frälsejord" owned the farmhouse but they paid rent for the land to the landowner in form of a certain amount of days worked per year. "Days worked" or daily labor meant that the tenant had to do a certain number of a full days' work per year on the landowner's land or estate as a payment for the tenancy. Instead of paying cash for the tenancy they paid with manpower. More information about Land ownership - farmers & crofters. This way of distribute the land (The Svaneholm way) became the model of the next redistribution reform, the "enskiftet" which was establish for the southern region in 1803-04. The "enskiftet" was a further development of the "strorskiftet". The basic difference in the "enskifte" was that the farmhouses were moved into each farmer’s farmland. The "enskifte" was best applied on the plains of southern Sweden. Besides it was unpractical with two types of redistribution reforms in the whole of Sweden, "storskifte" and "enskifte".

Laga skifte

In 1827 there was a distribution statute that could be practiced in the whole of Sweden called "laga skifte". The "laga skifte" was accomplished by the middle of the 1800's. This reform involved the movement of many farmhouses from the villages into each farmer's farmland. The farmers were reimbursed for the cost of tearing down the old buildings, moving them and rebuilding them at the new place. Thereby a lot of countryside villages disappeared from the map. After the redistribution reforms many farms have once again been split into smaller land holdings through property inheritance. Due to the large increase of the population during the second half of the 1800's the farms often were divided between the heirs which then ended up in smaller units. Top of page

Agricultural Yields and Years of Famine - Sweden

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History Hans Högman
Copyright © Hans Högman 2019-05-21

Agricultural Yields

The yield of the fields in former days was very moderate compared to today’s modern agriculture methods. One reason for this was the distribution of farmland in the villages in the countryside. In former days each farmhouse were grouped together like a village. Each village had a certain amount of land belonging to the different farmers in the village. However, each farmer didn't have a coherent area of farmland. Instead each larger field of the belonging farmland was split up in several separate fields, one for each farmer in the village. So, each farmer in the village had a small field here and there instead of one large coherent area. This of course didn't promote a rational farming. See The redistribution of land holdings further down in this article. Each village also had common land the so-called commonage or "allmänning". In the 1500's there were no cultivation of forage. Instead the farmers in those days gathered straw, leaves, bark and reeds as winter forage for the cattle. This was normally not enough and it was common that the animal starved to death during the long and cold winters. At that time the milk cows wasn't larger than a one-year-old calf of today. However, the milk had then a percentage of fat that was higher then today. The people weren’t that underfed in the 1500's. The many people in the service of King had for example a daily intake of 4,000 calories. This means that the people of the 1500's had sustenance of food that weren’t to be seen again until the middle of the1800's. Some years there were bad crops, often due to poor weather. It could have been early or late frost, to much rain or drought, etc. Years of bad weather in combination with inefficient farming methods could suddenly turn the consequences of bad harvest into a life threatening situation for the population in the concerned area. The little harvest they could get from the fields during those circumstances wasn't enough to feed the families through out the whole winter. It was a necessity to fill the barns before the winter struck. During bad years of famine, the farmers had to emergency slaughter the cattle and there were no seed for sowing left over for the next season. If there were several years of famine following each other it would most certainly lead to a catastrophe with many people starving to death. In times of famine they had to use everything they could to feed the hungry. The bark bread used in times like these is well known. Then they made the flour last longer by mixing the inner part of the bark with the flour when making bread.

Years of Famine

The following years were serious years of famine in large parts of Sweden:

1649-1650

Serious famine in Sweden. The roads were full of beggars. A student from Värmland province, P. Gyllenius, writes in his diary that "people are lying dead in heaps on the roads and elsewhere due to hunger".

1696

An early frost destroyed a large part of the crops. The after-effect of the frost was especially severe in the northern half of Sweden (the Norrland region) and in the Mälardalen (Valley of Lake Mälaren, a region just west of Stockholm). However, worst off was the region of Finland (Finland was a region of Sweden until 1809). About a third of the population in Finland starved to death. The winter cold was so hard that that it was even difficult to loosen the bark from the trees. As a last resort they had to eat chaffs and grass roots.

1708-1709

Sweden was had two consecutive years of bad crops in 1708 and 1709.

1725

Once again Sweden had a year of bad crops. The cattle starved and through out the winter many farmers had to bake bread of flour mixed with bark and roots, so-called bark bread.

1770

In the beginning of the 1770's it was years of severe bad crops and about 100,000 people died.

1867-1868

In 1867 and 1868 Sweden had two consecutive years of bad crops. Worst of was the provinces of Norrland (the northern half of Sweden) and in Dalarna and Värmland provinces. The summer of 1867 was very wet with a lot of rain. The next summer, on the other hand, was very warm with a devastating drought. The lack of seed for sowing was severe and between a third and a half of all cattle had to be slaughtered in some areas. The drought of 1868 first of all hit the southern half of Sweden. These years of famine speeded up the Swedish immigration to America.

Years of Epidemic Diseases

Sweden has been hit by a numerous epidemic diseases over the years; diseases that seriously has influenced the life of the population. For more information about the diseases see: Names of diseases in earlier times

Dysentery (Rödsot or dysenteri)

Intense dysentery epidemics raged Sweden during the last 30 years of the 1700's. Between 1773 and 1784 about 15,000 people died per year of dysentery. In 1785 the Norrland region was hit by dysentery. Another devastating outbreak took place between 1808 and 1813 with 50,000 deceased. Between 1851 and 1860 about 26,000 died of dysentery.

Smallpox (Smittkoppor)

The 1700's were the century of smallpox in Sweden. Between 1749 and 1800 about 270,000 people died of smallpox. It was first of all the children that died of the disease. In 1825, 1833 and 1855 the Medelpad province was hit by smallpox epidemics.

Plague (Pesten)

The most known plague epidemic was the Black Death (Digerdöden) during the 1300's when 25% of the European population (about 25,000,000 people) died. In Sweden about 200,000 people died of the disease. Sweden had at the time a population of 500,000. The plague also hit Sweden in the 1400's and the 1500's and during the first half of the 1600's. The last outbreak was between 1710 and 1713. It started in Stockholm during fall of 1710 and spread to the rest of the country. In Stockholm about 22,000 people died (nearly a third of the city's population). This was the greatest catastrophe that has hit the city. When the disease had its firmest grip in October 1710 1,600 people died in the very same week.

Cholera (Kolera)

The cholera was the "plague" of the 1800's. Between 1834 and 1873 Sweden was hit by 9 cholera epidemics. The most severe of these outbreaks took place in 1834 when more than 25,000 people got cholera. About 50% of these died. Only in Stockholm died 3,500 persons. In the 1860's the cholera ravaged Norrland. Also in the 1850's there were severe outbreaks of cholera. Cholera was unknown in Europe before 1817.

TB, tuberculosis [Tuberkulos, TBC (lungsot)]

About 4,000,000 people per year died of tuberculosis (TB) in Europe in the middle of the 1800's. TB is the disease that has cased most casualties’ throughout the history, the plague included. The lung TB in Sweden reached its climax as a cause of death in 1875. Worst hit was Mälardalen (Valley of Lake Mälaren) west of Stockholm. About 10% of all death was caused by tuberculosis. As late as in the 1930's there was an annual death toll of 10,000 people.

Spanish flu (Spanska sjukan)

The Spanish flu is the term used for the serious epidemic influenza that swept the world between 1918 and 1919. It is estimated that the Spanish flu caused the death of 20,000,000 people. The epidemic was first reported in Spain, that is how the disease got its name. The outbreak started at the end of May 1918. The first cases in Sweden were reported in the beginning of July in 1918 in the province Skåne. More then 35,000 persons died in Sweden from the Spanish flu between 1918 and 1919. In Sweden, like in the rest of the world, is was above all people in the ages between 20 and 40 who died of the flu. During the second half of 1918 there were 516,013 cases of the Spanish flu reported in Sweden. Out of these 27,379 died. The population of Sweden at this time was 5,700,000. In 1919 about 200,000 got the Spanish flu, however the death toll was only 9,000 that year. The Spanish flu hit the northern part of Sweden especially hard. During a few weeks of February/March 1920 about 3% of Arjeplog's (province of Lappland) population died of the flu.

The Great Redistribution of Land

Holdings (Skiftesreformen)

Since the Middle Ages the farming of land in the villages on the country side of Sweden was regulated by to the sun distribution of land (solskiftet). Every farmer in the village got a share in every field owned by the village. All farmhouses were grouped together like a village, often with a church in the center. Every field was divided into several small fields and each villager had his share in the respective field. This means that all farmers in the village had to use the same crop rotation, to plough, sow and harvest at the same time. It was imposable to get access to one's field if the field next to yours wasn't harvest at the same time. Even if an individual farmer wanted to change his farming he had no possibility to do so unless the others also did the same changes.

Storskifte

To modernize the farming and to get a better yield of the land there was a parliament act taken in 1749 called "storskifte" (The Great Redistribution of Land Holdings). The purpose was to gather each farmer’s fields into as few as possible (rather one large field then several small ones). In order to carry this out the land surveyors had do accurate valuations of the fruitfulness of the village's fields in order to redistribute them in a equitable way. The big breakthrough for the redistribution of the land holdings came in the 1770's. However the redistribution wasn't radical enough. There were many compromises. The land were still spilt into many fields, the individual farmer were still dependent of his neighboring farmers.

Enskifte

In the province of Skåne in southern Sweden, the owner of the Svaneholm Estate, Baron Rutger Maclean, had been practising a more radical approach to the redistribution reform. Between 1782 and 1785 he divided the land of the estate into quadratic parts and the farmhouses in each village on his land was moved to each square, i.e. to each farm's beloning arable land. On the Svaneholm Estate each farm was, in other words, now placed on each farmer's arable land and thereby each farm got a coherent area of farmland. The land that belonged to the Svaneholm Estate with its villages and farmers was so-called "frälseland"; Land owned by the nobility (frälsejord - Noble land). Farmers on "frälsejord" paid their taxes to the nobility (the landowners). Only the nobility could own "frälsejord". Farmers or crofters/tenants ("torpare") on "frälsejord" owned the farmhouse but they paid rent for the land to the landowner in form of a certain amount of days worked per year. "Days worked" or daily labor meant that the tenant had to do a certain number of a full days' work per year on the landowner's land or estate as a payment for the tenancy. Instead of paying cash for the tenancy they paid with manpower. More information about Land ownership - farmers & crofters. This way of distribute the land (The Svaneholm way) became the model of the next redistribution reform, the "enskiftet" which was establish for the southern region in 1803-04. The "enskiftet" was a further development of the "strorskiftet". The basic difference in the "enskifte" was that the farmhouses were moved into each farmer’s farmland. The "enskifte" was best applied on the plains of southern Sweden. Besides it was unpractical with two types of redistribution reforms in the whole of Sweden, "storskifte" and "enskifte".

Laga skifte

In 1827 there was a distribution statute that could be practiced in the whole of Sweden called "laga skifte". The "laga skifte" was accomplished by the middle of the 1800's. This reform involved the movement of many farmhouses from the villages into each farmer's farmland. The farmers were reimbursed for the cost of tearing down the old buildings, moving them and rebuilding them at the new place. Thereby a lot of countryside villages disappeared from the map. After the redistribution reforms many farms have once again been split into smaller land holdings through property inheritance. Due to the large increase of the population during the second half of the 1800's the farms often were divided between the heirs which then ended up in smaller units. Top of page

Agricultural Yields and

Years of Famine - Sweden