The Germanic people also opened the trade market to Norway as they later controlled
much of the North Sea and Baltic Sea trade. These introductions placed many of the
Norwegian people into close contact with foreigners as most of the people lived
along the coasts as fishers or lived on nearby farmlands. Although direct contact
with foreigners was limited, the influence on the economic and way of life changed
dramatically over time. Farming and fishing goods were easily tradable as demand
rose for these goods and outside items were introduced to Norway, changing the lives
of the people on a regular basis. Again though, outside contact with the Sami and
Norwegians in the far north was limited.
As trade and boat technology expanded, the Viking Age arose in the late 700s and
thrived throughout the 900s and even into the 1000s. These sailor-soldiers were
well-equipped and well-trained for navigation, trade, and battles. The Vikings began
as traders, merchants, and navigators, but later shifted their priorities when they
realized the potential wealth in raiding towns and villages in foreign lands. Their
early success thrived because their diplomacy and ship technology allowed them to
establish huge trade networks (reaching as far as Iraq) as they began to dominate
trade along all of Europe's coasts.
During this time, most Vikings stayed in Norway for the short growing season then
spent much of the rest of the year trading their goods, including furs, amber, and
iron in exchange for steel, silver, and glass among others. Although trade was successful,
the Vikings also understood their dominance over the seas and their ability to easily
takeover or raid coastal towns and cities. This was when their focus shifted from
trade to seeking riches in the form of gold and silver, new lands to settle and
farm, and laborers to work the farms.
The Vikings pillaged cities and created settlements as their influence stretched
well beyond their northern seas. They were the first Europeans to reach North America
and they established or took control over a number of cities including Dublin, Ireland,
York, England, settlements in northern Scotland, settlements on the Norman coast
in France, Kyiv, Ukraine, the Shetland Islands, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland,
and they even landed in Newfoundland in modern day Canada (although they never permanently
settled there). Perhaps this adventurous spirit arose from the people's past,
overcoming vast geographic obstacles to settle lands.
Living on the seas for much of the year, the Vikings also left most work in Norway
to the women. Women ran the households and farms as their husbands would be gone
for long stretches of time, a very odd concept for the time. Perhaps this was the
beginning of women's rights in Scandinavia, or at least it was the beginning
of women taking on great responsibility over not just the house, but also the entire
homestead for long stretches of time. While the male sailor Vikings are viewed as
fierce, the women had to be just as strong and even today this equality is a prominent
aspect of Norwegian life. The Vikings were also very religious as they believed
in a number of Norse gods, including Thor, Odin, and Freya, which have not been
forgotten as Thursday, Wednesday, and Friday are named after them.
While wealth, discovery, settlement, and labor were some of the more well-known
goals of the Viking Ages, their outward power also shifted inward as some of the
more powerful Vikings sought to control Norway itself. This was led by Harald Fairhair,
who consolidated power in the country in 872, beginning a hereditary kingdom. This
consolidated domestic rule, but in the following century Viking rule elsewhere declined
dramatically as many European countries grew powerful enough to defend themselves,
hence ending Viking raids and truly ending Norwegian influence outside its borders
for a great number of years.
The power Harald Fairhair and his descendants established only lasted until 960
when the Earls of Lade took power over Norway with their ally, Denmark. Denmark
sent numerous Christian missionaries into Norway at this time and had some success
in converting the people, but many of the local chiefs fought this change. After
small battles, tensions rose and the leader of the Christian movement, Olav Tryggvason
was killed in 1000. The church immediately made him a saint and this sparked more
people to convert to Christianity. The introduction of Christianity also essentially
ended the Viking Age, which was in a slow decline throughout the 900s.
Even today the people are primarily Christian and many of the country's later
cultural influences came from Denmark and the south. The introduction of Christianity
also helped create some separation from the past as over time the Vikings became
viewed as pagans and savages, despite the fact that they were also the ancestors
of today's Norwegians.
Although the Danes succeeded in introducing Christianity in Norway (leading to the
construction of the country's famous stave churches in the 1100 and 1200s),
their political hold on the country wasn't as successful and Norway again gained
independence. Although peace continued into the early-1100s, the country fell into
chaos numerous times, generally over succession questions or due to the church's
involvement in politics. This ended in 1217 with the crowning of Haakon Haakonsson
(Haakon IV) as king.
Under Haakonsson's rule, and the rule of his successors, the focus of the country
turned to economic development as farmlands expanded and trade became a focus of
the country's economy. Also during this time taxes increased as the government
and church consolidated much of the land. This made many of the Norwegians tenants
on the farms instead of actual land owners, although their day to day lives changed
little due to these changes.
While this time was very stable and economically sound in Norway, it only lasted
for about a century. By the mid-1300s the Black Death had killed nearly a third
of the population and shortly after this the Germans took over many of the country's
ports as they gained a monopoly on the region's trade. The Norwegian king had
little power to end this advance since he lost much of his population, and hence
much of his fighting force and income, which primarily came through taxation.
The German-controlled Hanseatic League took over the city of Bergen, other cities
in Norway, as well as cities across the North Sea and Baltic Sea. Essentially all
trade had to go through these Hanseatic League cities, shifting all monetary power
and trade into the hands of the German merchants. This pushed the Norwegians into
poverty as they became farmers and herders living on the land, rarely active in
the trade itself.
During this time the Norwegians also suffered a political blow when, in 1380, Olaf
Haakonsson inherited both the Norwegian and Danish thrones. Despite being the son
of the Norwegian king, he was also the son of a Danish princess and he shifted power
to Copenhagen as Denmark and Norway were united politically. Haakonsson died at
the age of 16, at which time his Danish mother, Margaret I took power over the countries.
She further consolidated power in her capital of Copenhagen, placing Norway as the
lesser brother in this union. In 1397 she used her claim on the Swedish crown to
add that country to the union, which became known as the Kalmar Union.
The Kalmar Union pushed Norway further into poverty. The country no longer had control
over their economic situation due to the Hanseatic League, then they lost control
over their political situation due to the Kalmar Union. The people truly became
farmers and herders struggling to survive as they had little political voice. Additionally,
the people had little true ownership as the lands were almost entirely owned by
government and the church.
This power decline was magnified when Margaret I declared war on the ethnic Germans,
hence rising taxes on the already impoverished Norwegians and putting the country
back on the battlefield. This also created internal chaos as it was the ethnic Germans
who controlled the external trade in Norway through the Hanseatic League. Eventually
this war was settled as the Germans retained rights on the city of Bergen and in
exchange they paid taxes to the central government in Copenhagen. However, little
was gained by the Norwegian people.
From the beginning of the Kalmar Union in 1397 until the 1500s Norway suffered politically
and economically. This dynamic changed slightly in 1523 when Sweden became powerful
enough to remove itself from the Kalmar Union, leaving Norway alone united with
Shortly after this, in 1529, Denmark introduced Protestantism to Norway against
the people's wishes, a movement that was further pushed under the rule of Christian
III a few years later. This forced conversion of the people continued to suppress
the people. Also, because the Catholic Church in Norway owned much of the country's
land, the Danish king took personal possession of these lands, removing additional
power from the Norwegian people. During this time the government became highly centralized
as local governments lost rights and power to the king in Copenhagen. At this time
Norway was downgraded from a kingdom to a province of Denmark. However, the introduction
of Protestantism remained and today many of the Norwegians remain Lutheran.
Despite the political and economic suppression, from the early 1500s into the 1600s
the people and culture dramatically changed in Norway. The Norwegian people became
quite strong and determined as they clung closely to their Norwegian identity and
worked together as one united people. They continued to live off the land as fishers
and farmers as the outside world and trade was still dominated by foreign powers
(although the Hanseatic League fell in the 1500s, the Danes maintained control of
Bergen and international trade). This lifestyle as fishers and farmers became the
backbone of what it meant to be Norwegian. This lifestyle also formed the root of
the culture and identity of the people and even today Norwegians living an ultra-modern
life in Oslo understand, appreciate, and respect this rural lifestyle as the root
and core of the historic culture. During this same time the economy improved as
did healthcare, giving the people a louder voice and more power.
Also in the 1500s many ethnic Norwegians moved further north, taking lands from
the Sami people. This forced many of the Sami onto settlements, which were taxed,
as their reliance on reindeer husbandry became less important without the ability
to freely roam the lands. This also began a slow conversion process to convert the
Sami to Christianity, a process that lasted until 1693 when the last Noaidi, or
Sami priest, was killed. This forced settlement was a complete shock on the Sami
culture and way of life and in many ways the people have not recovered as many Sami
today live in towns or cities and remain Christian. However, the people clung to
many other aspects of their culture and today reindeer herding is again a symbol
of the culture, the language continues to thrive, and their traditional foods continue
to be eaten.
Through the 1600s the people of Norway, both ethnic Norwegians and Sami, were simply
citizens of Denmark and in many ways second rate citizens. However, Norway benefited
from this relationship in a number of ways. As Danish power and wealth grew, the
Norwegians were the recipients of some of this additional wealth. The Norwegians
also gained new technology via Denmark, improving the economy. Even in poor times
for Denmark, the Norwegians gained in many ways. Denmark's numerous wars in
the early 1600s demanded Norwegians fight, but they also bankrupted Denmark, leading
to the sale of Norwegian lands, most of which were former church lands owned by
the Danish government in the 1600s, back to the Norwegian people. This put the land
and finances directly into the hands of the Norwegian people, despite their lack
of political power at the time. Europe was also ravaged by wars in the 1600s and
early 1700, which led to greater wealth in Norway through the export of food and
timber from the region.
This great growth in Norway paused in 1709 with their entrance into the Great Northern
War. This war was fought by the Russians and Denmark-Norway on one side against
Sweden for control over the region and the Baltic Sea. Denmark-Norway and Russia
won the war in 1720-1721, but Russia truly led the battle and, although Sweden lost
power as a result of the war, in a way Denmark-Norway also lost power to the growing
empire of Russia.
The rest of the 1700s were quiet as Norway continued their growth and progress.
Land ownership grew as did demand for Norwegian goods. The people revisited their
past by becoming ship builders, which they exported to numerous European nations.
Also during this time education was stressed, a movement that continued into the
1800s as the University of Oslo was founded. However, this progress was again put
on hiatus in 1807 when Denmark-Norway joined forces with Napoleon Bonaparte and
The Napoleonic Wars led to shipping blockades as Norway was surrounded by war enemies:
the United Kingdom and Sweden. The Norwegian economy essentially shut down during
this time and the war ended in defeat. As a part of the peace negotiations in 1814,
Denmark lost control of Norway, but Sweden took power over the country, keeping
the Norwegian people under foreign rule. In this exchange of power, Norway lost
all of their overseas territories, including Greenland and Iceland, which fell under
the jurisdiction of Denmark.
Union with Sweden
Having gained a very strong sense of identity under Danish rule, the ethnic Norwegians
continued their unity and growing identity in 1814 when they immediately demanded
independence from Sweden. Despite a loss of rights under Denmark, the people fared
well, but being placed under their historic enemy of Sweden made the people uneasy
so independence demands began immediately. This led to an elected assembly who wrote
a constitution in 1814, creating a constitutional monarchy. This constitution was
nominally accepted by Sweden, although independence was not granted at the time.
The capital was also moved from Trondheim to the city of Christiania, whose name
was changed to Oslo.
Swedish rule continued to upset the people as tensions rose through the 1800s. Sweden
also eliminated the nobility and upper class in Norway, unintentionally creating
a society dominated by the people themselves as they had no traditional nobility
to turn to. Oddly, this led to an increase in political activity among the people.
As localized political activity rose, so too did the people's identity and independence
movements. In the process the Swedes were used as the antithesis of what it meant
to be Norwegian as the simple rural life of the Norwegians became a source of pride
and identifying feature of their culture.
This lack of a nobility also meant people had greater movement in the social, political,
and economic realms. A weak noble no longer meant a lack of leadership as anyone
could rise up, lead, and demand changes. The people's voices also began to be
heard; in the past arguing with a noble was generally a lost cause, but now differing
opinions were allowed. Although Norway is a Constitutional Monarchy today, this
freedom of movement remains an important part of the culture and way of life today.
In addition to the changing Norwegian identity and protests again Sweden, the 1800s
were a time of rapid advancements in technology based on the Industrial Revolution
and beyond. This movement increased urbanization and factory work, while also creating
social rights, workers' rights, and unions. As industry grew so too did healthcare
as the population began to rise rapidly, which led to emigration movements, primarily
to Minnesota and the Dakotas in the United States. Many of these leaving workers
were simply replaced with new technology. Railroads were built throughout the country
as communication and infrastructure vastly improved. The modern movement, which
today Oslo is somewhat a symbol of, truly began at this time.
Independence & World Wars
Despite the positive changes and improved relations, Sweden still nominally controlled
Norway. This union between the two countries finally ended when Sweden granted Norway
independence by offering the Danish prince, Carl, the Norwegian crown. He accepted
this role and took on the name King Haakon VII of Norway, finally giving the country
independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1905. Norway's centuries-long battle
for rights and freedom was quickly displayed in the early 1900s; new legislature
granted all women the right to vote by 1913 and Norwegians began exploring the world
without restriction as Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole
Unfortunately, World War I broke out shortly after independence and after came the
world financial crisis, giving the new nation a struggle in its early years. Norway
remained neutral during World War I, but traded extensively with the United Kingdom.
Then came the Great Depression and a flailing economy; this led to a number of Norwegian
governments being dissolved, a trend that continued into the late 1930s, although
the monarchy continued to hold nominal power.
Norway's neutrality continued with World War II, but the Germans invaded Norway
in 1940 none-the-less. The Norwegians were quickly taken over with little to no
resistance. During much of the war years Norwegian Vidkun Quisling was the Prime
Minister of the country as he worked closely with Nazi Germany (although most of
the government fled to London). Few people agreed with the German-leaning government
as thousands of Norwegians were imprisoned; additionally, most political leaders
within the country refused to work with the Germans, essentially shutting down any
German political movements in Norway.
After the war, relations throughout Europe improved as economic changes were underway.
This was also true in Norway as the economy boomed and little reconstruction was
needed since little fighting took place on Norwegian soil. Oslo was also chosen
to host the 1952 Winter Olympics, which encouraged new construction and put Norway
on the world map.
In the post-war years Norway gave up its neutrality as it became more active in
international politics and became quite anti-communist due to Soviet advancements
and demands. This also shifted Norwegian political and economic focus to the west,
although they rejected membership in the European Economic Community in 1972 (a
predecessor to the European Union).
Oil Age & Modern History
In the mid-1960s oil was discovered in the North Sea and this became a huge part
of the Norwegian economy, although it also led to sea border disputes. In recent
years Norway has also become a leader in social and environmental movements as many
people seek to protect the environment in the oil fields as well as inland where
dams are being built in large numbers.
Among these social movements, came the establishment of the Sami Parliament in 1989.
This parliament gave the Sami greater rights over their lands and greater say in
the country as a whole. Many of the issues that led to the formation of this parliament
came in the way of protecting their landscape and environment, movements which are
still common in the country today from both the Sami and the ethnic Norwegians.
In more recent years the economy has grown, although it struggled greatly in the
1990s. In addition to social and environmental issues, economic issues are at the
forefront of Norwegian politics today, especially in the form of the European Union
(EU). Norway has rejected European Union membership, although they have become a
part of the European Economic Area (free trade zone) and the Schengen Area (same
customs area, so there is no need for a passport if a person travels to or from
Norway and another Schengen country).
Today Norway continues to progress as they remain a leader on numerous social and
environmental issues. They also remain quite independent as they maintain their
own currency and are politically removed from the European Union (EU).
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