From around the time of the Roman Empire until about 800 AD, many stone inscriptions can be found, written in Runes. Apparently, the petty kingdoms developed during these centuries.
The period from 800–1066 is referred to in Norwegian history as the Viking age. During this period, Norwegians, as well as Swedes and Danes, traveled abroad on longships, as raiders, explorers, settlers and traders.
By the middle of the 11th century, the Norwegian kingdom was firmly established, although there was still only a very rudimentary administrative framework. After the Black Death Norway entered into a period of decline.
1396–1537 Norway was a part of Kalmar Union.
From 1537 to 1814 Norway was a part of Denmark-Norway.
Denmark–Norway entered into an alliance with Napoleon, with the war leading to dire conditions and mass starvation in 1812. In 1814 Denmark-Norway was defeated in the Napoleonic wars and the king was forced to cede Norway to the king of Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel (January 14). Sweden and Norway adopted a loose union.
This period also saw the rise of the Norwegian romantic nationalism cultural movement, as Norwegians sought to define and express a distinct national character. The union with Sweden was dissolved in 1905.
Norway remained neutral during World War I. During both World Wars, Norway claimed neutrality, but it was invaded by German forces during World War II on April 9, 1940.
Norway joined NATO in 1949. Two plebiscites to join the European Union failed by narrow margins in 1972 and 1994. Norway has been a close ally of the United States. Large reserves of petroleum and natural gas were discovered in the 1960s, which led to a continuing boom in the economy.
Archaeological finds indicate that there were people in Norway as early as the 5th millennium BC (12,000 years ago). Archaeological research shows that they came from either southern regions (northern Germany), or from the north-east (northern Finland or Russia) . From there they settled along the coastline.
Later Scandinavia is known for its Iron Age culture. From around the time of the Roman Empire until about 800 AD, many stone inscriptions can be found, written in Runes. Apparently, the petty kingdoms developed during these centuries.
The period from 800–1066 is referred to in Norwegian history as the Viking age. During this period, Norwegians, as well as Swedes and Danes, traveled abroad on longships, as raiders, explorers, settlers and traders. Viking raids affected large parts of Europe. The Norwegian Vikings mainly traveled west, to the Britain and Ireland. Emigrants from Norway colonized Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands and Iceland. From Iceland, Greenland was also colonized, and voyages were even made to North America, where remains of Viking dwellings have been found in Newfoundland.
Several historic works, known as the kings' sagas were written in Norway and Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries, the best known of which is Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla (c. 1220). These provide our main sources for the early history of Norway. However, their accuracy for the earliest period is uncertain, and a much debated topic among modern historians. The stories about the earliest times are partly legendary in nature, and can hardly be taken as accurate history.
The period of the Viking age coincides with the first consolidation of a single Norwegian kingdom. By the time of the first historical records of these events, about the AD 700s, Norway was divided into several petty kingdoms. It is also assumed that Danish rulers often held sway in the Oslofjord-area.
King Harald Fairhair is the king who is credited by later tradition as having unified Norway into one kingdom. According to the sagas, he ruled Norway from approximately 872 to 930. Modern historians assume that his rule was limited to the coastal areas of southern Norway. Kings of Norway until King Olav IV, who died in 1387, claimed descent from Harald Fairhair. After Harald's death, the unity of the kingdom was not preserved, and for the next century, the kingdom was variously ruled, wholly or in part, by descendants of King Harald or by earls under the suzerainty of Denmark.
During this period, Christianity was introduced to Norway, probably mainly from the British Isles. In terms of church organization, Norway remained part of the Archdiocese of Bremen until 1152/53. The first Norwegian king to have adopted Christianity was, according to the sagas, Harald Fairhair's son, King Haakon the Good (c. 934–961. Haakon did not force his subjects to accept the new religion. His successors, Olaf Tryggvason (c. 995–1000), and Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olav) (1015–1028) resorted to forceful means to convert the Norwegian people. Olaf Haraldsson was probably the first King of Norway to extend his rule to the inland regions of eastern Norway, and to have ruled more or less the whole of the present-day country. His death in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 is traditionally considered a milestone in the history of the Christianisation of the country, although religion was not one of the issues at stake in that battle. After his death, Olaf was revered as a saint. He became the patron saint of Norway, and by the end of the century, Christianity was the only religion allowed in the country. In theory, later kings of Norway were said to hold the kingdom as vassals of St. Olav.
After Olaf's death, Norway was ruled from Denmark, as part of the "North Sea Empire" of King Knut the Great. However, Knut was the last Danish king to rule Norway for more than three centuries, and already in 1035, Olaf's son, Magnus the Good took the throne. His successor, King Harald Hardrada attempted the invasion of England in 1066, but was beaten and killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge, an event which is generally considered the end of the Viking Age.
These maps are mainly based on later saga sources, from the 13th century. Their historical accuracy is questionable.
According to the succession practices of the time, all sons of the king had the same right to inherit their father, and this also included illegitimate sons. This led to periods when there were several kings at the same time, several times three, on one occasion even four. The division of the kingdom does not appear to have been geographical, when there were more than one king, all were kings of the whole country, but they divided the royal income. The unclear succession laws, and the frequent divisions of the kingdom, combined with social and economic conflicts, were some of the main causes of the civil war era, the name given to the period between 1130 and 1240. The civil wars started with the disputed succession after King Sigurd the Crusader, who died in 1130, and flared up at shorter or longer intervals for over a century. In the 1160s, the Church got involved, and made King Magnus Erlingsson the first Norwegian king to be crowned, in 1163/1164. The first written succession law was written at this time, stipulating one king, who had to be of legitimate birth. However, this law never came into force, as King Magnus was defeated and killed by Sverre Sigurdsson, who became King Sverre. Sverre was excommunicated by the Church, and the country was placed under an interdict. Although constantly challenged by various pretenders, Sverre fended off his rivals, and when he died in 1202, he was the first King of Norway to have died of natural causes since 1130. By this time, the warring factions had coalesced into two groups: The birchlegs, King Sverre's party, and the bagler, who were supported by the Church, and tried to place descendants of King Magnus Erlingsson on the throne. From 1208 to 1217, the country was divided between these two factions by a peace treaty. In 1217, the kings of both factions died, and both accepted the young King Haakon Haakonsson as king. Haakon defeated the last royal pretender in 1240, thus ending the civil war era.
The extent to which the civil wars adversely affected the general population at the time has been debated by recent historians. What is clear is that the country came out of the civil wars in 1240 as a much more unified and consolidated kingdom than it had been in 1130. The rule of King Haakon and his successors until 1319 has sometimes been called the golden age of the Norwegian medieval kingdom, by later historians. Under King Haakon Haakonsson, a centralised administration was for the first time built up, with a chancellery in Bergen, which became the first capital city of the country. Clear succession laws were put into place, stipulating one single ruler, who had to be of legitimate birth. The Old Norse language, which had first been written with the Latin alphabet in the 12th century, was used in administration, as well as for the composition of original literature, and the translation of foreign literature. Haakon also brought Iceland and Greenland under Norwegian rule, in the early 1260s, at which point the kingdom of Norway reached its largest territorial extent. Haakon died in 1266 while on campaign against Scotland, defending his claim to the overlordship of the Hebrides and the Isle of Man. His successor, King Magnus the Lawmender gave up that claim in the treaty of Perth, but secured Scotland's recognition of Norwegian rule over Orkney. King Magnus promulgated the first national law-code for all of Norway in 1274, a rare thing in Europe at that time. During the late 13th century, the Norwegian kings attempted to play the part of a great power in international politics, forging wedding alliances with Castile in 1258, and Scotland in 1281. King Eirik II was one of the many claimants for the throne of Scotland in the "Great Cause", claiming succession from his daughter, Margaret. In 1295, he forged an alliance with France and Scotland against England, whereby Norway undertook to supply the King of France with 300 ships and 50 000 troops. It is clear that Norway could not have the manpower to fulfil the terms of this treaty, however, it was never put to the test.
In 1299, King Haakon V took the throne, and moved the capital of the country to Oslo. Haakon led an active foreign policy, aimed at increasing Norway's influence in Scandinavia. These policies, which included complex dynastic ties between the Nordic royal houses, were to lead Norway into several centuries of unions with her neighbours. At his death, Haakon left no male issue, and the throne went to his daughter's son, the King of Sweden, Magnus Eriksson. The union with Sweden was only a personal union, and it was agreed that Magnus' two sons would inherit one kingdom each. King Magnus abdicated, and his son, Haakon, became King of Norway. However, Haakon, who married Margrethe, the daughter of the Danish king, also vied for the throne of Sweden. Haakon and Margrethe's son, Olaf, became King of Denmark in 1376. On his father's death in 1380, Olaf also succeeded to the Norwegian throne, as King Olav IV. With brief exceptions, Norway and Denmark were to be ruled by the same king until 1814.
After the Black Death Norway entered into a period of decline. The Royal line died out and the country entered into two unequal unions from 1396 until 1814; this period was called "the 400-year-night" by Henrik Ibsen during the national romantic period as Norwegian national awareness was rediscovered in the 19th century. It can be broken into two main periods:
King Haakon V died without male heirs in 1319. His daughter married a Swedish prince, whose son Magnus Eriksson inherited both kingdoms. Magnus's son Haakon VI and his infant son Olav IV were Norway's last native kings until Harald V ascended to the throne in 1991. Margrethe, the queen mother, succeeded in uniting Norway with Denmark and Sweden in the Kalmar Union (1397–1523), which ended after 180 years when Sweden seceded in 1536. Norway's power was weakened during this period by the loss of a large part of the population during the Black Death pandemic of 1349–1351.
The elite in Norway was so weakened that it was not able to resist the pressures from the Danes. More and more decisions were taken in Copenhagen and the Norwegian Riksråd was eventually disbanded. The Danish crown was represented by a governor styled Statholder, but it was always important for the King to maintain Norway's legal status as a separate hereditary kingdom. The Danish period can be separated into subperiods:
In 1814 Denmark-Norway was defeated in the Napoleonic wars and the king was forced to cede Norway to the king of Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel (January 14). The Norwegian dependencies Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands were kept by Denmark. In an attempt to retain control over Norway despite the treaty, the Viceroy and hereditary prince of Denmark-Norway encouraged representatives of various social and political factions to gather at Eidsvoll to declare independence, adopt a constitution and elect hereditary prince Christian Frederik as king. May 17 is still celebrated as the day of the new democratic constitution of independent Norway. Sweden responded later the same year by waging war on Norway. In the peace negotiations, Christian Frederik agreed to relinquish claims to the Norwegian throne and return to Denmark if Sweden would accept the democratic Norwegian constitution and a loose personal union. The Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) then elected the Swedish king as king of Norway on November 4 1814. When residing in Sweden, the king was represented by a governor-general styled Stattholder, often noble, repeatedly even the Crown Prince (then called Viceroy). The stattholder office, vacant after 1856, was abolished in 1873.
The union was peacefully dissolved in 1905 after several years of political unrest when Sweden recognised Norwegian independence. The parliament offered the throne to Prince Carl of Denmark, who accepted it after a referendum confirmed the monarchy and rejected a republican form of government. On November 18 he ascended the throne under the Norwegian name of Haakon VII.
As World War II erupted, Norway insisted on remaining neutral. In a surprise dawn attack on April 9, 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserübung. The German forces attacked Oslo and the major Norwegian ports (Bergen, Trondheim, Kristiansand and Narvik) and quickly gained footholds in those cities and the surrounding areas. The Norwegian Army, manning a fort in the Oslofjord, sank the German cruiser Blücher. This delayed the Nazi German invasion long enough for King Haakon, his government and the parliament to escape the city with much of the treasury, and to resist the invaders. The Norwegian armed forces, together with allied British, French and Polish forces, kept up an organized military resistance for two months, longer than any other country invaded by Germany, except for the Soviet Union. Eventually, on June 7 the Norwegian forces had to surrender and King and government left Norway to form a government in exile in London.
The Norwegian national socialist politician Vidkun Quisling attempted a coup the same day, but was met with such strong resistance from the people that Nazi Germany deposed him within a week and installed a bureaucratic administration in lieu of a government. In September 1940 the German Reichskommissar Josef Terboven formed a cabinet with himself presiding, and with most ministers recruited among members of Quisling's Nazi party, plus some independent collaborators. In 1942 this administration was replaced with a semi-independent puppet government headed by Quisling, who was promoted to "minister president" by the Reichskommissar. Quisling's name has come to mean "traitor" in several languages.
King Haakon and his government fled to Britain on June 7, the same day the allied forces that had retaken Narvik abandoned it and the French forces returned to a quickly disintegrating France. The continued existence of a legitimate Norwegian government gave the exiles considerably more room for action than the French. The worldwide operations of the large Norwegian merchant fleet was a material aid to the Allies.
The Norwegian resistance movement began on a small scale right after the invasion, but gained in strength, especially after the installation of Quisling's puppet government in late 1940 and its attempt to enforce the native brand of fascism, and to enroll labour, teachers and officials in its organizations (for an anecdote of Norwegian civil resistance, see paper clip).
The resistance became very active towards the end of the war, closely and continuously supported by the British SOE. Norwegian resistance (generally termed the 'Home Front'), and its military branch (milorg) kept many German divisions tied down in occupation duty, and Norwegian spotters contributed to the destruction of numerous German warships and installations. The Norwegian resistance also smuggled people in and out of Norway during the war (typically to Scotland via the 'Shetland Bus', and to neutral Sweden), and, with the SOE, managed to destroy much of the world's supply of heavy water and cripple the Vemork heavy water plant at Rjukan, thus perhaps preventing Germany from developing an atomic bomb (Operation Gunnerside).
Not all Norwegians sided with the government in exile. 2% of the population became members of Quisling's National Socialist party (Nasjonal Samling – NS). Numerous opportunists joined his movement initially, while Germany seemed to be winning the war. 6000 young Norwegians joined German Waffen-SS divisions to fight against the Soviet Union on the Eastern Front.
Following the 1941 raid by British Commandos on the minor port of Vaagsoy, Hitler further reinforced Norway, mistakenly thinking that the British might invade northern Norway to put pressure on Sweden and Finland. By the end of the war the German garrison was 372,000 strong (the Norwegian population at the time numbering a little over 3 million) In May 1945 when the milorg was advised they no longer need act covertly, they were found to number some 50,000 members.
During the entire occupation, the German authorities built the so called Festung Norwegen. Innumerable bunkers, pillboxes, air strips and submarine hangars dotted the coast to fend off any invaders. Coupled with the large number of German soldiers in Norway, the Allies (especially the Norwegian government in exile) were worried that the remnants of the Nazi party would flee to Norway and make their last stand there.
The Norwegian merchant ships that were in Allied waters at the time of invasion were requisitioned by the exiled Norwegian Government in London. The Norwegian Shipping and Trade Mission was established in London shortly thereafter, and the name abbreviated to Nortraship, following a suggestion from the British Postal Services. The main duties were those of war transports, supply services etc. including the supply of food, ammunition and reinforcements to the front lines, besides evacuating the wounded. Nortraship had 1,081 ships with 33,000 sailors. 570 ships were lost (these numbers vary according to source), along with 3,734 sailors.
By the end of the war, Norwegian naval vessels were also fighting alongside the British. Norway was counted among the victors in World War II and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN Secretary General, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian. After the liberation, active members of the National Socialist party and those who had collaborated with the enemy were prosecuted and sentenced. Twenty-five Norwegians, including Quisling, were executed for treason and/or war crimes, and 12 Germans were executed for war crimes.
In 1949 Norway became a member of NATO.
The discovery of oil and gas in adjacent waters in the late 1960s boosted Norway's economic fortunes.
The current focus is on containing spending on the extensive welfare system and planning for the time when petroleum reserves are depleted. In referendums held in 1972 and on November 28, 1994, Norway rejected joining the European Union, though it chose to remain associated with it through being part of the wider European Economic Area.
Norway has advanced in its standard of living beyond many of its European counterparts, in large part to its affluent economy. As a result, for the last several years the United Nations has ranked Norway as having the highest standard of living in the world. This ranking compares nations' level of education and income, combined with expected length of life.
Norway also ranked 2nd in a study conducted by World Economic Forum on the gender gap in 58 nations based on measuring the level of equality with men in five areas: Economic participation, economic opportunity, political empowerment, educational attainment, and health and well-being.
Research conducted at Sichuan University, Department of Cardiology has provided new information about life sciences.(Report)
Apr 21, 2010; Research findings, 'Quantification of chronic aortic regurgitation by vector flow mapping: a novel echocardiographic method,' are...