The Kingdom of Sweden is a Nordic country in Scandinavia, in Northern Europe. It is bordered by Norway in the west, Finland in the northeast, the Skagerrak Strait and the Kattegat Strait in the southwest, and the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Bothnia in the east. Sweden has a low population density except in its metropolitan areas, with most of the inland consisting of forests and mountainous wilderness. Natural resources of water, timber, and iron ore have made Sweden highly prosperous. Its citizens enjoy an extremely high standard of living in a country that is universally perceived as clean, modern, and liberal.
Following the decline of the Viking Age, Sweden became part of the Kalmar Union together with Denmark and Norway (Finland at this time was a part of Sweden). Sweden left the union in the beginning of the 16th century, and more or less constantly battled its neighbours for many years, especially Russia and the still united Denmark-Norway, which never completely accepted Sweden leaving the union. In the 17th and 18th centuries Sweden extended its territory through warfare and became a Great Power, twice its current size. The extended territory was subsequently lost within a century. Since 1814, Sweden has been at peace, adopting a policy of keeping free of alliances.
Sweden was traditionally less developed than Western Europe (though more affluent than much of Eastern and Southern Europe); industralization began in earnest only after 1870. During the late 19th century, Sweden was influenced by protestant temperance movements, mainly of American origin. As a result of their intense propaganda, it is often claimed that alcohol consumption was unusually high in Sweden at this time. However, there is no factual ground for believing that alcohol consumption was higher than in other comparable countries.
Sweden had been a major European exporter of iron, copper and timber since the middle ages. However, improved transportation and communication allowed it to utilize natural assets from different parts of the country on a far larger scale, most notably timber and iron ore. This contributed to rapid industrialization and by the 1890s the country had begun to develop an advanced manufacturing industry. In the early 20th century a welfare state began to emerge. Today, the country is defined by social-liberal tendencies and a strong national quest for equality, and usually ranks among the top nations in the UN Human Development Index.