History of Norway

Brief history of Norway summarized

norway flagSummarized, clear and simple vision of the history of Norway, from prehistory to the oil age, including the Vikings. Although modern Norway as we know it today has only existed briefly for 200 years, the history of the Nordic lands is long. There is much to learn from this ancient glacial land, from the earliest settlers to the modern age of engineering and technology.

Early history of Norway

The land now known as Norway emerged from the last Ice Age thanks to the heating effect of the Gulf Stream. The glacial lands became habitable around 12,000 BC

The extensive coastline and good conditions for hunting, fishing and hunting attracted a large number of people, who emigrated to these lands.

Although it is believed to have been inhabited before, the oldest human skeleton found in Norway has a carbon-14 dating back to 6,600 BC and was found in the waters of the Sognefjord in 1994.

While people from the north began to travel on basic wooden skis and use slate tools, the region around the Oslofjord (Oslofjord) became suitable for agriculture, thanks to tools and techniques from the southern regions.

Around 2,500 BC, agriculture spread rapidly north across the country, with oats, barley, pigs, cattle, sheep, and goats becoming quite common.

early history of norway - cave paintings in the Alta caves

The fertile areas around Oslo Fjord, Trondheim Fjord, Lake Mjøsa (near Lillehammer), and Jæren (near Stavanger) began to generate wealth for these emerging farming communities.

Later, speakers of Uralic languages ​​came to the north and began to mix with the indigenous population, leading to the creation of the Sami people.

Iron Age

During the Iron Age better tools were created and crops were more easily managed. New areas were populated as the population grew with increased harvests. With this, an entirely new social structure developed.

When children married, they stayed in the same house creating an extended family, which was known as a clan. This social system offered protection to family members from other clans.

In the event that conflicts arose, the issues were resolved in a ” thing ” (thing), a sacred place where all free men from the surrounding areas met and could determine the punishments for crimes. Common punishments for lesser offenses include fines, payable in food.

The word “thing” (thing) is still used today to refer to the council chambers. The Norwegian translation of the Norwegian Parliament, Stortinget, literally translates to “The Big Thing.”

norwegian parliament stortinget (the big thing)

Beginning in the 1st century AD, the expansion of the Roman Empire began to exert a significant cultural influence. The Norwegians created a runic alphabet and began to trade furs for luxury goods from other lands.

Some of the most powerful farmers became chieftains, and their power increased during the Great Germanic Migrations Period between 400 and 550, as local farmers wanted protection from Germanic tribes migrating north.

Viking Age

The Viking period is the most famous in Norwegian history, a time of expansion not only for Norway, but for the entire Nordic region.

Far from being barbarian invaders, the Vikings created complex social institutions, oversaw the arrival of Christianity in Scandinavia, and left a major impact on European history through trade, colonization, and exploration.

reconstruction of a snekke viking ship

The first record of the Vikings was the invasion, in the late 8th century, of Lindisfarne, an island off the northeast coast of England.

This invasion was an effective way of advertising itself to Europe, since at that time the Lindisfarne monastery was considered one of the great sanctuaries of the Christian Church in Western Europe.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle declared: ‘In this year fierce and foreboding omens came upon the land of the Northumbrians, and the wretched people trembled; there were excessive whirlwinds, lightning, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed by a great famine, and soon after that year, on January 6, the devastation of the heathens destroyed the Church of God at Lindisfarne.”

lindisfarne monastery ruins

Later, the Vikings proceeded to raid a monastery at Jarrow, Northumbria, with South Wales and Ireland being invaded soon after.

More than a thousand Old Norse words influenced modern English today, more than 1,000 place names in North East England and in the Scottish Isles.

The Vikings were well trained, loaded with good weapons and chain mail armor, and their belief that dying in battle would get them to Valhalla gave them a psychological advantage during battles.

Misconceptions about the Vikings continue to exist today. For example, the myth that Vikings wore horned helmets was actually a romantic invention of the 19th century.

Although many women stayed in their towns to look after their homes during Viking expeditions, some women (and even children) traveled with the men. One of the most fearsome Viking commanders was a woman, known as the Red Maiden (Rusla).

The expeditions produced wealth and slaves, which the Vikings brought back to Scandinavia to work on the farms. As farmland became scarce and resistance against invasions in England increased, the Vikings began to seek targets further afield, such as Iceland, Greenland , and the island of Newfoundland.

During the 9th century, the greatest chieftains began a long period of civil war until King Harald Fairhair was able to reunite the country and create the first Norwegian state.

The early Vikings viewed Christianity as a heretical threat to their own pagan beliefs. Christian monks and missionaries were active in Scandinavia throughout the Viking Age, but it was not until the era of Olaf Tryggvason (963-1000) that he turned the tide.

It is believed that he built the first church in Norway. Additionally, he founded the city of Trondheim (then called Nidaros) and a statue of him can be found today atop the city’s main square.

After Tryggvason’s death, it was Olaf Haraldsson who began passing church laws, destroying pagan temples, building churches, and appointing priests.

As many chieftains feared that Christianization would rob them of power, it took centuries for Christianity to be fully accepted.

For many years people adopted both religions as an insurance policy in case one didn’t work out. Proof of this are the carvings of some of the oldest stave churches in Norway, in which figures from Norse mythology appear.

Middle Ages

After nearly a century of peace, civil war broke out in 1130 due to ambiguous rules of succession.

The newly created Nidaros Cathedral attempted to control the appointment of kings, leading the church to take sides in the various battles. In 1217, Haakon IV finally introduced a clear succession law.

Throughout the 11th and 12th centuries, the population increased dramatically and farms began to be subdivided, causing many landowners to give part of their land to the king or church on hard times.

Throughout the thirteenth century, a tax of about twenty percent of each farmer’s yield went to the landlords.

Norway ‘s Golden Age (at least until the more recent discovery of oil) is widely accepted as the late 13th and early 14th centuries, a time of peace and growing international trade with Britain and Germany, most notably the League Hanseatic who took control of trade through Bergen.

However, this time of prosperity came to an abrupt end in 1349 when the Black Death reached Norway and wiped out a third of the population in just one year.

Many communities were completely annihilated and the subsequent reduction in tax revenue weakened the king’s position, making the church increasingly powerful.

Political Unions

In 1380 Olaf Haakonsson inherited the thrones of Norway and Denmark and united them, beginning a long period of political alliances and wars between the Scandinavian countries.

17 years later, the Kalmar Union between Norway, Denmark and Sweden was created. Despite the fact that Queen Margrethe I followed a centralizing policy that favored the majority of the population of Denmark, Norway was economically too weak to withdraw from the Union.

Supported by Margaret I, Hanseatic merchants formed their own state within the city of Bergen, Norway, further weakening Norway’s status. Norway continued to play a minor role in the Union until Sweden declared independence from it in the 1520s.

This created a nation of Denmark and Norway ruled from Copenhagen. Frederick I of Denmark was in favor of Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation and initially agreed not to introduce Protestantism to Norway, but in 1529 he proceeded to initiate the process.

The Catholic resistance in Norway was led by Olaf Engelbrektsson, but found little support. Christian III introduced Lutheranism, demoted Norway to the status of a Danish province, and introduced the written Danish language, although the Norwegian dialects remained in place.

During the 17th century, Denmark entered into a series of turf wars with Sweden, while Norway’s economy grew thanks in part to the timber trade.

The population also grew, from around 150,000 in 1500 to around 900,000 in 1800. Many Norwegians made a living as sailors on foreign ships, especially the Dutch who came to get the timber.

To prevent deforestation, a royal decree closed a large number of sawmills in 1688; because this primarily affected farmers with small mills, by the mid-18th century only a few merchants controlled the entire lumber industry.

Mining, including the Kongsberg silver mines and the Røros copper mines, shipping, and fishing became the main engines of the economy. Throughout the entire period, Bergen was the largest city in the country, twice the size of Christiania (now Oslo) and Trondheim combined.

An independent nation

The economy suffered when Denmark and Norway supported France in the Napoleonic wars and soon Sweden took an interest in Norway.

Following the defeat at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, the Danish-Norwegian crown prince and resident viceroy of Norway, Cristián Frederico, initiated a Norwegian independence movement.

A national assembly was called at Eidsvoll, but instead of electing Frederick as absolute monarch, the 112 members opted to form a constitution.

It was written over the course of five weeks and adopted on May 17, 1814, a date now celebrated as Norwegian Constitution Day.

The Constitution divided the nation’s power between a King, a position to which Cristián Frederico was appointed, and a new parliamentary body.

Just a few weeks after the signing of the Constitution, King Carl John of Sweden invaded Norway and, due to economic problems, Norway accepted Swedish rule, albeit with its constitution intact.

Instead of a day to celebrate independence, May 17 became a major political rally every year under the Swedish government.

Norwegian Americans

In search of a better life, Norwegians began leaving rural Norway for North America in 1825, with mass emigration over the next 100 years.

By 1930, approximately 800,000 people had left Norway, most of them settling in the American Midwest, where Norwegian heritage and traditions remain strong to this day.

Improvements in agricultural technology and transportation infrastructure, particularly the railway that connected Oslo to Trondheim for the first time, contributed to the growth of the economy in the late 19th century.

The shipping industry boomed, and by 1880 there were 60,000 Norwegian seamen.

In 1913, Norway became the second country in Europe, after Finland, to give women the vote after years of campaigning by liberal politician Gina Krog.

Although Norway adopted a policy of neutrality from 1905, the Norwegian merchant marine supported the British in World War I.

The interwar period was dominated by economic instability caused by, among other things, a succession of short-term governments, strikes, lockouts, and deflation.

An occupied nation

Nazi German forces occupied Norway from the beginning to the end of World War II. The German aim was to use Norway to control access to the North Sea and the Atlantic, and to station air and naval forces to prevent convoys from traveling between Britain and the USSR.

The government-in-exile, including the royal family, escaped to London. The policy was suspended and the government coordinated action with the Allies, maintained control of a worldwide diplomatic and consular service, and operated the huge Norwegian merchant navy.

He organized and supervised the resistance in Norway, which numbered 40,000 by the end of the war.

The home front relied on sabotage, raids, clandestine operations, and intelligence gathering to hamper German operations.

One of the most successful actions undertaken by the Norwegian resistance was the heavy water sabotage, which paralyzed the German nuclear power project and has since been immortalized in various books and television series.

The economic consequences of the German occupation were severe. Trading partners were lost, and although Germany intervened, it was unable to fully replace the lost export business and, in fact, confiscated more than half of what was produced in Norway.

Combined with a drop in productivity, Norwegians quickly faced food shortages, so many turned to growing their own crops and raising livestock.

In the last years of the war, Hitler’s scorched earth policy left a lasting impact on Finnmark. Transport infrastructure and houses were burned to the ground with populations fleeing to the mountains and living in caves.

In early 1945, returning Norwegian forces slowly retook the region and helped the remaining population cope with the harsh Arctic winter and occasional German air raids.

Postwar recovery

The years immediately following the war saw an increase in Nordic collaboration, including the creation of the Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) and the Nordic Council.

Norway began negotiations for the creation of a Scandinavian defense union, but instead chose to become a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

The Labor Party retained power throughout this period and pursued a policy of public planning. The construction of new railways, hydroelectric plants, aluminum factories and a steel mill helped the country to recover, as did the hosting of the 1952 Winter Olympics in Oslo.

Throughout the postwar period, fishing and farming became more mechanized, while farm subsidies rose to third highest in the world. Heavy industry grew in the 1960s and Norway became Europe’s largest aluminum exporter.

The oil age

In 1969, oil was discovered in the Ekofisk field, which would eventually become one of the largest oil fields in the world.

The emerging industry not only created jobs in production, but a large number of supply and technology companies were established.

High oil taxes and dividends from the state-owned Statoil company earned the government significant revenue.

Stavanger, in particular, boomed as an international workforce descended on the city, but the oil boom wasn’t all big news.

In 1977, Ekofisk suffered a major blowout and 123 people were killed when the Alexander Kielland accommodation platform capsized in 1980.

Regulation increased, and by 1990 Norway was Europe ‘s largest oil producer.

The population rejected EU membership in a referendum held in 1994, but the country joined the European Economic Area and the Schengen Agreement.

These decisions contributed to the increase in the population, which went from 4.2 million in 1990 to 5.3 million in 2018.

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