Military Subjects: Organization, Strategy & Tactics

The Swedish Army in the Napoleonic Wars

By Magnus Olofsson

Regular Army Units

In terms of recruitment, pay, social composition, training, and deployment the Swedish army’s regular forces were divided into two different types of units, indelta (difficult to translate, but approximately “allotted”; the implicit meaning is “the allotment [of state property and income]”) and värvade (“enlisted”). Any understanding of the Swedish army during the Napoleonic period must begin with these two different categories of troops; indeed thinking that titles as “Guards”, “Grenadiers”, “Carabiniers”, “Hussars”, et al., would imply, for example, as in other European armies, elite units consisting of select personnel or units trained for “heavy” or “light” cavalry duty respectively is apt to be misleading, since whether a unit in the Swedish army was indelt or värvad says more about it than any such titles. Since a majority of all Swedish army personnel (and fleet personnel too, but that subject will not be discussed here) were indelta and were raised, maintained, and trained through the so called indelningsverket (approximately “the allotment establishment”) this article will present this peculiar system in some depth.

The indelningsverk had been the cornerstone of the Swedish army and navy since the reign of Charles XI (1672 - 1697). By the 1670s, Sweden’s days of conquest were definitely over and as far as it could be foreseen would be on a perpetual strategic defensive to protect its Baltic possessions. Indeed, that Charles, only a teenager when he became king, begun his reign with having to fight a harrowing defensive war against Denmark and Brandenburg (from 1675 to 1679) in which Sweden only just escaped without having to make any larger territorial cessions, meant that he did not  have any illusions whatsoever about the difficulties that lay ahead for him and his ailing great power. When one considers that Sweden not only had outgrown its meagre resources, but that the war had left the public finances in disarray and had shown that both the army and the navy was in deep disrepair and in dire need of reorganization, it is clear that Charles was faced with a very difficult task indeed.

However, Charles, a strict Lutheran and a hard worker, set about reforming the Swedish army immediately after the peace in 1679. The most important issue for Charles was how to create a reasonably large standing army without putting the public finances under to much strain. The answer to this conundrum was found in the indelningsverk, which, when Charles had spent the rest of his grown life in implementing it, supported more than 35,000 soldiers at a relatively low cost. The creation of the indelningsverk was the most wide ranging army reform in Sweden since the mid 16th Century and was to be the cornerstone of the Swedish armed forces until 1901 when it was finally abolished.[2]

Before we continue to describe the indelningsverk it must be understood that this word was (and is) used for short for no less than three different systems of recruiting and paying army personnel: the rotering, the rusthåll, and the “true” indelningsverk. (Even more confusingly some of these systems have more than one name and occasionally the two latter are lumped together as one!)

The basic principle of the rotering was simple. The rotering (or rotehållet or the ständiga knektehållet) was an agreement between the crown of Sweden and the peasantry of each county (landskap) or district (län). Each county or district agreed to support an Infantry Regiment, usually 1,200 strong, in exchange for exemption from conscription, the traditional and unpopular system of infantry recruitment. Two farms, or more if the county was poor, formed a rote (a basic unit of administration; hence the name rotering) responsible for the upkeep of one soldier. Each rote provided their soldier with a cottage to live in, a small plot of land to cultivate, a small yearly cash salary and a somewhat larger payment in kind (grain, firewood, hay, etc.). The rote also paid for the uniform and weapons of their soldier.

The rusthåll was based on a somewhat different principle. At the creation of the indelningsverk, the largest farmsteads were exempted from land rent and rotering. In return the owners of these farmsteads were to support a horse or dragoon trooper with a cottage and all the other benefits of an infantry soldier in the rotehåll and pay not only his uniform and weapons, but also his horse and its accoutrements. As with the infantry, the horse and dragoon regiments, each 1,000 strong, would be based in a county or district.

The establishments of the regiments of foot and cavalry, known as their “number strength” (nummerstyrka) in Swedish army parlance, only included privates and corporals. The officers and NCO’s were instead supported through the “true” indelningsverk. Instead of a cash salary each officer was given a state owned farm to cultivate. Usually these farms were assigned land rents and payments in kind from several other nearby farms. The size of the farm and other benefits  increased with rank: an ensign’s farm was as large as an average sized peasants holding, a colonel’s a huge estate with many dependent farms.[3]

The main advantage of the indelningsverk - now meaning all three systems -  was that a reasonably large standing army could be kept at a relatively low cost and with only minimal administration; it was mainly due to this that it survived until 1901. It was very popular among the peasantry: owners of the larger farmsteads were rusthållare, and thus exempt from land rent, while poorer peasants were part of the rotehåll which protected them, their sons, and their farm hands from military service. And since an indelt soldier had a house and a plot of land, becoming an indelt soldier was a vast improvement in social standing for most young men among the rural poor and conferred the possibility of raising a family. The army never had a dearth of recruits; even when the indelta army was being bled white in the war of 1808-1809 young men were eager to join its ranks.

Cheap and popular as it was, the indelningsverk did have some glaring drawbacks. Firstly, it was never large enough. This meant that at the outbreak of each war the indelta forces had to be supplemented with reserve forces, straining the state’s and the peasantry’s finances. During the indelningsverks existence various systems of reserve recruitment were tested, found to be deficient, and discarded. Replacing wartime losses were also difficult and since each rote- or rusthållare had to replace both the loss of their soldier and his equipment, this could spell ruin for many farmers if losses were high.[4]

Secondly, the indelta army, though a regular army, was not really a true standing army. In peacetime the officers and soldiers of the indelta army would live on their assigned farmsteads tending their fields. Occasionally each squad or platoon would drill outside the church after Sunday service and each summer, before the harvest, each regiment would assemble and drill for a few weeks. Training was a problem and the indelta army was undoubtedly one of the worst trained in Europe when the Napoleonic Wars broke out. Furthermore, the indelta units could not be used for garrison duty, so these had to come from an other source. The solution to this problem was found in the värvade, or enlisted, units.

However, the indelta units did have one huge military merit: morale. The typical indelta soldier was a volunteer in his 30s or 40s, with ten or fifteen years of service, married, and belonging to the rural lower middleclass.  Fighting alongside peacetime neighbours whom he had known for years, this was not a man who would falter in combat or desert. Whatever the drawbacks of the indelningsverk or the quality of the Swedish army in general, indelta soldiers always displayed excellent combat morale and rarely surrendered or deserted.  

The värvade (”enlisted”) units consisted of professional soldiers who served for cash salaries. Their raison d’être were - as mentioned - to provide garrison troops in peacetime; in wartime they were usually used in the field, their garrison duties handed over to reserve troops. It should also be noted that the degree of professionalism the artillery arm demanded meant that there never were any indelta artillery units; the artillery arm was enlisted in its entirety.

Enlisted soldiers signed up for between three and twelve years service.  They received a cash bounty on enlistment and were paid with salaries. Since service in the enlisted units was unpopular and had low social standing it was often difficult to obtain willing recruits, in sharp contrast to the indelta units. The rules of enlistment therefore allowed prisoners-of-war,  the unemployed, vagrants, and minor criminals to be forcibly enrolled.[5]

The social makeup of the enlisted men were very heterogeneous. They were of a different social makeup compared to the men in the indelta units: typically, they were younger, in their 20s or 30s, fewer were married, and they often included foreigners among their ranks.[6] 

The main advantage of the enlisted units compared to the indelta was their training, though the differences should not be exaggerated. As the indelta units year were seasonal, i.e. training in summer and farming the other seasons, so were the enlisted units. During two or so summer months the enlisted units drilled, which meant that they were better trained than the indelta units, but during the rest of the year most time were spent on routine garrison duty; during that time it was common to give up to half the enlisted men furlough, but only those that had a civilian occupation to support themselves. This was for financial reasons: of all soldiers in the Swedish army only about half of the enlisted were employed as soldiers the whole year; a majority of the men spent most of their time pursuing civilian occupations.[7]



[2]  Arteus, G., Den gamla krigsmakten: en översiktlig beskrivning av den svenska försvarsorganisationen 1521-1901, Stockholm 1985, pp.11-12; Ericson, L., Svenska knektar. Indelta soldater, ryttare och båtsmän i krig och fred, 1995, pp.12-16 and 30-46; Grill, C., Statistiskt sammandrag af svenska indelningsverket, vol. 1, Stockholm 1855, facsimile ed. 1988, pp.39-40.

[3] Ericson, L., Svenska knektar. Indelta soldater, ryttare och båtsmän i krig och fred, 1995, passim.; Grill, C., Statistiskt sammandrag af svenska indelningsverket, vol. 1, Stockholm 1855, facsimile ed. 1988, pp.11-28 and 39-40; Nilsson, N-G., Rank or command. The use of brevet rank in the 18th century Swedish army and it’s consequences for the modern historian, from “Classes-strata-elites. Essays on social stratification in history”, Mörner, Magnus and Thommy Svensson (eds.), Göteborg  1988, pp. 103-104.

[4] Arteus, G., Den gamla krigsmakten: en översiktlig beskrivning av den svenska försvarsorganisationen 1521-1901, Stockholm 1985, pp.18-19.

[5] Kungl. Svea livgardes historia 1719 - 1976, pp.531-538 and 564-565.

[6] Kungl. Svea livgardes historia 1719 - 1976, pp.552-560; Lundh, H. L., Kungl. Göta artilleriregemente, vol. 1, Göteborg 1954, pp.83-91.

[7] Kungl. Svea livgardes historia 1719 - 1976, pp. 541-546.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: April 2008


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