Norwegian History

Figure 1.--

Norway has an extremely colorful history. Norway was populated by the northern Germanic tribes that were unknown to the ancients. These people entered into written history as the Vikings as a result of their attacks on Britain. The Vikings exhibited a brutality that was striking in a not very gentle era. Ironically, the Vikings played an important role in the development of European democracy. Norway has had some destinctive monarchs in the medevil era. As a result of union with Denmark in the 13th century, however, there was for about 500 years no separate Norwegian monarch. Norway despite its long history, is a relatively young European nations in constitutional terms and the monarchy one of the newest. The current monarchy only dates to 1905 when Norway withdrew from the union with Sweden. The first Norwegian monarch in modern times was King Haakon VII who was elected in 1905 and served through the turbulant era of the first half of the 20th century. Norway adopting the Swedish approach, remained neutral in World War I and hoped to do the same when World War II brike out. Germany invaded and occupied the country. After the War, Norway reversed in neutrality policy and joined NATO. The country began building awlfare state in the inter-wars period and this process continued after World War II.

Northern Germanic Tribes

The origin of the first people to populate Norway are not clear. Many historians believe that they are Germanic tribes that migrated west from central Europe. The Northern tribes in what is now Scandinavoa were unknown to the ancients. Classical sources tell us a great deal about some Germanic tribes. Thus Roman and Greek sources describing the Germanic tribes are ilets about those inhabiting Scandanavia beyond Denmark.

Viking Raids

Norway has one of the most colorful histories of any European countries, full of savage Viking warriors rading Eropean tows from Scotland south to Spain and in the process discovering America centuries before Columbus. A primary source on the era Viking sagas (9th-10th century). The Vikings carried out far-flung explorations. Raids soon turned to settlement. They colonized the Scottish islands, parts of the English, Scottish and Irish mainlands. Here they both terrorized and mixed with the local population. They also settled Iceland and Greenland. The term Viking is in actuality a misnomer. The Vikings were the Scandinavians that conducted the raids, not the general population. Norway was not at the time a united country, but rather a collection of competitive fiefdoms.

Medieval Kingdom

King Harald Fairhair began the unification process. He defeated the major northern tribes at the battle of Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger) (872). About this time, Christianity began to appear in Nokrway. Gradually ir began to replace the traditional Norse gods. Several Norwegian kings were named Haakon, including Haakon I (The Good) (914?-961) who was raised a Christian in England and deposed his half brother, Eric Bloodaxe, to seize the throne and bring Christianity to Norway. Haakon IV (The Old) (1204-63) acquired Iceland and Greenland. During his reign, Norway was finally unified (1060).

Haakon VI and Union with Denmark

Haakon VI (1339-80) was the last separate Norwegian king for 500 years. There was a brief union with Sweden (1319- 1343). Haakon also served as king of Sweden and then engaded in war with Sweden. He married Margaret, the daughter of King Waldemar IV. Their son, King Olaf, became king of both Norway and Denmark. This provided the basis for the Union of Kalmar formalized by treaty (1450). For the next 500 years Denmark and Norway, along with Icealand and Greenland, were ruled as one country. The bubonic plague (Black Death) rocked Norway like the rest of Europe (1350). About half the population may have perished. The Union of Kalmar was envisioned as a merger of equals. As the kingdom evolved, however, Denmark became the dominant partner. Norway's junior status was formalized when the country became subservient to the Danish crown (1536).

Union with Sweden

A rivalry between Denmark and Swedem devloped (17th century). The rivalry eventually turned into open war in which Sweden emerged as the dominant Scandinavian power. Denmark ceded large areas of Norway tp Sweden, but the Danish king still held the crown. The Danes had fought with Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars. Sweden had oposed him. As a reward, the Congress of Vienna awatded Norway to the Swedish monarchy (1815). The Norwegians were permitted their own Parliament--the Storting. Norway proved a troublesome province. Disputes arose between the Sorting and Swedish monarchy in the 19th century. Political parties developed in the late 19th century and parlimentary democracy evolved--Labor, Liberal and Christian Democrat.

Modern Kingdom (1905)

Norway and Sweden decided to separate after the turn of the 20th century. The whole process was very complicated and touchy. It seemed for a time that Sweden might use the army to retain Norway, but decided against it and the separation became official in 1905. The issue was decided bya referendum. Only 200 Norwegians out of 400,000 voters supported maintaining the union with Sweden. After separation it was up to the Norwegians to decide if they should have a republic or monarchy. A Norwegian consortium decided that the nation should remain a kingdom. Not suprisingly, given the historical and cultural ties with Denmark, the Norwegians asked a Danish prince if he would become the future King of Norway. He wisely replied that if this was the wish of the Norwegian people, he would consider it possible. A popular vote was arranged in Norway, of which a obvious majority, 259,563 in favor to 69,264, voted to his favor. His name was Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel, Prince of Denmark, and he was officially elected to become King of Norway by the Norwegian Government on November 18, 1905. Political life in the early 20th century was dominated by the rivalry between the Labor and the Liberals.

World War I (1914-18)

Norway declared its independence from after a referendum (1905). This was a reflection of the rising nationalism in Europe. The kings of the three Scandinavian countries met in Malmö to make a joint declaration of absolute neutrality (December 1914). Norway like the other Scndinavian countriesc remained neutral in World War I. The Royal family had ties to the British royal family, but there was some public sympathy for the Germans. Norway being the most westerly Scandinavian countr with a North Sea coast was most exposed to the War. Norway was an important maritime nation and its shipping industry was heavily damaged.

Inter-wars Era (1920s-30s)

Labor emerged as the dominant political party (1935). They would reshape the country, although Labor rule was interupted by the World War II German occupation.

World War II (1939-45)

Norwegian officials were intent on maintaining the country's neutrality as they had done in World War I. Norway had no professional army and only a poorly trained militia. Officals had seen the German newsreels of what had happened in Poland and were intent on maintaining the country's neutrality. In fact they persued this course even after the NAZI invasion was underway (April 1940). Control of Norway ptoved useful to the NAZIs as naval and air bases made it difficult for the Royal Navy to bottle up the U-boats in the North Sea. Norway was also an important source of raw materials. Later after the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Germans were able to launch devestating raids on Allied convoys delivering war materials to Murmansk and Archangel. The NAZIs much admired Norway as a rich source of Nordic Aryan breeding stock. The Resistance was active in Norway. The resistance aided by the British staged some important raids and kept the Allies informed of German military movements. They also saved about half of Norway's small Jewish population from the Holocaust. The Germans maintained a substantial army of occupation. Later in the War, the Allies tried to convince the Germans that they were planning an invasion, to discouraging the Germans from drawing down the occupation force to strengthen the Atlantic wall in northern France.

The Holocaust

Norway is a small country. It also had a small Jewish population. The Jewish population in 1940 totaled about 2,100 people, about 1,500-1,600 were Norwegian citizens. The Norwegian Jews were largely concentrated in Oslo and to a lesser extent Trondheim. The NAZIs after conquering Norway intalled Vidkun Quisling to head a puppet Government. Quisling also confiscated Jewish property and immediatey ordered the Norwegian police to begin arresting male Jews over 15 years old. The police took the male Jews of Oslo to Bredveit prison. They were then sent to the Berg internment camp near Tonsberg over the next 2 weeks. The women and children were arrested soon after (November 25). Virtuallyall those transported were killed, mostly at Auschwitz. About half of Norway's Jews were saved by the Norwegian underground, which helped them reach neutral Sweden which took them in. This saved about 900 Jews. The underground operation was conducted at great danger.

Post-War Era

After the War, Norway reversed in neutrality policy and joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country began building awlfare state in the inter-wars period and this process continued after World War II. This proved to be awidely popular development. The most divisive issue in post-War Norwegian politics has been the country’s relationship with Europe.


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Created: 3:39 AM 10/22/2007
Last updated: 3:39 AM 10/22/2007