Photo: © Trine Kanter Zerwekh/Statens Vegvesen
Fjord Tours Facts / 25 Jul 2019

A Brief History of Norway

From ice age to modern age, Norway has gone through tumultuous times to become the country it is today. The Viking era, unions, wars and independence has shaped Norwegian society and people through thousands of years. Getting to know the complete history of Norway is an arduous task, so check out this Brief History of Norway.

Early History

Norway and it's neighboring countries have been covered in ice several times, but the last ice melted about 14000 years ago. After the ice melted, people from the South and North-East started migrating to Norway as the coastline offered good conditions for sealing, fishing and hunting. The first traces of farming and the start of the Neolithic period began about 4000 BC around the Oslofjord.

During the Nordic Bronze age (1800 – 500 BC) innovations in technology and farming better equipped Norwegians to grow crops and trade furs and skins. A climate shift at around 500 BC lowered the temperature and the forests started to mainly consist of birch, pine and spruce.

During the Nordic Iron Age (55 BC – 800 AD) new social structures evolved, such as clans. Conflicts would be decided at a thing, a sacred place where punishments for crimes and other political issues would be discussed. Cultural influences from The Roman Empire started in the first century AD and Norwegians adapted letters and created their own alphabet called runes. Norwegians started trading with romans, while powerful and wealthy farmers functioned as chieftains and ruled areas of several settlements and tribes.

This was a rather quick summary of Norway’s early history, let’s go on to something a bit more exciting….

Photo: Georg Hansen

The Viking Age

The Viking Age is generally considered to have lasted from 793 – 1066 AD. Throughout this period Scandinavians and Vikings expanded through trade, colonization and raids. The first “proper” raid was against Lindisfarne in 793 and is considered the beginning of the Viking Age.

The Vikings were great ship-builders and their ships had exceptional qualities compared to other ships of the time. The Vikings were also excellent navigators which enabled them to spread all over Europe and even to North America! Did you know that the Viking Leif Eriksson reached the American continent 500 years earlier than Christopher Columbus?

The Vikings were also well equipped, well trained and fearless fighters. They believed that by being killed in combat they would end up in Vallhall, and therefore had no fear when it came to battle. The Vikings also brought slaves back from their raids, ensuring that a workforce tended to the farms while the Vikings went plundering.

Alas, every “good” thing must come to an end. After hundreds of years with Viking plunderings and raids, the Viking Age ended in 1066 at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.

Middle Ages

From 1000 – 1300 the population of Norway increased from about 150.000 to 400.000. This period was characterized by land ownership by the king, church or the aristocracy. There were several wars in this period mainly about unclear succession laws. These wars ended in 1217 when Håkon Håkonsson was appointed king and clear laws of succession were introduced.

In Norway, as elsewhere in the world, the middle ages brought with it a rapidly increasing population, social and political changes, rural exodus and urbanization. The Black Death, also known as the Great Plague, put an end to this in 1349 killing of more than 50% of the population in Norway.

Unions

In the 14th Century Norway entered into a union with our neighbors in the south, Denmark. Political power was lost and “outsourced” and trade and commerce was was taken over by the Hanseatic League. For about 200 years the Hanseatic League controlled distribution of fish from Bergen to the Baltic area, Norway’s main export and income at the time.

Copenhagen (in Denmark) became the capital and the kingdom was named “Denmark-Norway”. The union was not exactly popular in Norway as Danish became the official language and government was moved abroad. Although the economy was growing and the population increasing, the fight for independence within the union was confirmed by establishing the University in Oslo in 1811.

The year 1814 is in many ways one of the most important years in Norway’s history. Norway was after the Napoleonic wars handed over to Sweden, and was now suddenly in union with their neighbors to the east. Norwegians longed for independence and a constitutional law was formed and signed at Eidsvoll on the 17th of May, 1814. By signing the Constitution Norway rejected a new absolute monarchy from abroad. Power would now be split between the king and the Parliament of Norway.

Independence and wars

The union with Sweden ended in 1905 as a result of a popular referendum. The parliament was divided in two and the Royal Palace and parliament building (Storting) was built. Today, these two buildings form the “heart” of the city centre in Oslo.

Norway declared itself neutral in both the First and Second World War. After being invaded by Germany in 1940, Norwegians showed strong national resistance towards the occupying force and with the help of allies, Norway was liberated in May 1945.

After the war Norway accepted the Marshall Plan and the country was rebuilt within a couple of years. Norway also became a member of NATO in 1952. Norwegians have always had a strong belief in being independent. This is probably one of the reasons why Norwegians have rejected the European Union in two popular referendums in 1972 and 1994.

Photo: Thea Hermansen

Norway Today

Crude oil was discovered on Norway’s continental shelf in 1969 and this has undoubtably had a major impact the economy and life standards in Norway. The petroleum industry is essential to Norway's economy and the Norwegian oil company Equinor (formerly Statoil) is among the 50 biggest companies in the world, bigger than Nestlé, BMW and Boeing.

The Oil Fund (Oljefondet) was established in 1990 with the aim to ensure responsible and long-term management of revenue from Norway’s oil and gas resources. The Oil Fund, or the Government Pension Fund Global, aims to benefit both current and future generations and it is one of the largest funds in the world.

Norway is a good place to live and frequently on top of lists for best living standards, happiest people and so on. Norwegians are famed for being tolerant with a dry sense of humor, as well as having a strong sense of community.

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