History of Norway

From Academic Kids

According to Icelandic sagas, the "Nor" in Norway is from king Nor Thorrasson, who after he found his sister, went home to his territory. (See Orkneyinga saga.) There is no evidence of this; it is extremely insecure and should merely be taken as mythology. According to sober etymology, the country's name means "the northern way" (the way north). This northern way is actually a strait between the island Karmy and the mainland. The first king of Norway, King Harald Fairhair, lived on the island while he unified the realm. This strait had some importance, since it was the only practical ship route up north. The strait was called "the way north", and so the kingdom got its name - in Old Norse Norvegr or *Norðvegr, in Anglosaxon Norþweg, in mediaeval Latin Northvegia. The present name of the Kingdom of Norway in Norwegian Nynorsk is "Kongeriket Noreg", which is only a couple of letters removed from the original "northern way"; "Nor(d)-(v)eg".


Earliest times

Settled since the end of the last ice age, modern-day Scandinavia contains finds from the Stone age and Bronze age, such as rock carvings. From the time of the Roman Empire until about 800 AD, Scandinavia is known for its Iron Age culture. Many stone inscriptions can be found, written in Runes. Then Scandinavia became famous in the Middle Ages for its fearless warriors, explorers and traders, the Vikings. Between AD 800 and AD 1100, the Vikings discovered and settled Iceland and Greenland, and conquered parts of France, Britain, and Ireland, and were also known to travel as far as Constantinople, Greece, Northern Africa and Newfoundland. By utilising their excellent boats and organisation they became master traders and warriors.

Snorre Sturlason (c. 1200) was the name of a writer whose history writings Heimskringla and Younger Edda give information about the early kings. The stories about the earliest times are legends, which can not be taken as accurate history. However, they may have their origin in some historical facts, but the understanding is highly debated among scholars. (See Anglo-Saxon kingdom genealogy, Jakten p Odin, Ynglinga saga, House of Yngling)

The Viking kings

See also: Viking Age

By the time of the first historical records of Scandinavia, about the 700s AD, some 29 petty kingdoms existed in Norway. A number of small communities were gradually organised into larger regions in the 9th century, and in 872 King Harald Fairhair unified the realm and became its first supreme ruler. King Harald had many children, and his heirs ruled Norway with short interruptions until 1319. Religious influence from Europe (especially England and Ireland) led to the adoption of Christianity. Central in this was King Olav Haraldsson ("The Holy") who died in the battle of Stiklestad, 1030. He became Norway's patron Saint Olav, and his tomb at Nidaros cathedral Trondheim became the most important pilgrimage destination in Northern Europe. The archdiocese of Nidaros was established in 1153. Around 1200, the Norwegian king ruled over land from Man in the Irish Sea to the Kola Peninsula in the east. Greenland and Iceland were incorporated as dependencies in 1262.

The Kalmar Union and the union with Denmark

Norway was relegated to a virtual provincial status from 1356 until 1814; this period was called "the 400-year-night" by Ibsen during the national romantic period as Norwegian national awareness was rediscovered in the 19th century. It can be broken into two main periods:

  • The union of all Scandinavia referred to as the Kalmar Union and
  • The Danish Period or Union with Denmark.

The Kalmar Union (1356-1536)

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. 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 Union with Denmark (1536-1814)

Norway and its possessions quickly sank to the status of provinces under the Kingdom of Denmark-Norway. The Danish period can be separated into subperiods:

  • The Reformation in Norway (1536-1596) - Norway's power was further weakened by the dissolution of the independent Norwegian church in the reformation of 1537.
  • The Period of Peace and Economic Growth (1721-1770) - During the 18th century, Norway enjoyed a period of great prosperity and became an increasingly important part of the united kingdoms.

Union with Sweden

Main article: Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway

Missing image
Constitution Day celebration march in Narvik, 2005.

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). Owing to an omission in the treaty, 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. 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.

See: Norway in 1905

Norway in World War I

Norway remained neutral during World War I, however 1156 Norwegian sailors were lost during the U-boat war. Despite their neutrality, the Norwegian government went to considerable lengths to accommodate Britain, on account of both British pressure and an anti-German sentiment. These accommodations came in the form of the very large Norwegian merchant fleet, who delivered essential supplies to Britain, who in return supplied Norway with vital coal. This led to Norway occasionally being called The Neutral Ally.

Norway in World War II

Main Article: Norwegian Campaign See also: Norwegian resistance movement

As World War II erupted, Norway insisted on remaining neutral despite warnings from some political factions that the country's strategic importance was too great for Nazi Germany to leave it alone, and attempts from the same factions to obtain political consensus to build up sufficient defences to withstand an invasion long enough for Allied reinforcements to arrive from France and Britain, (the specially raised British Independent Companies, who were the immediate forerunners of the Commandos).

In a surprise dawn attack on April 9th, 1940, Germany launched Operation Weserbung. 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 Blcher using cannons and torpedoes. 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. Despite the strength of the German invaders and the lack of air support, 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. Many servicemen, and civilians who would join them, also escaped to Britain where they served invaluably with the British Forces and the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

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 of 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 7th, 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 (see the next paragraph), 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 legitimate government in exile. Many became members of Quisling's National Socialist party (Nasjonal Samling – NS), some out of misguided idealism. Numerous opportunists joined his movement initially, while Germany seemed to be winning the war. Several thousand 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)[1] ( In May of 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. They could probably have held out for months, which would have devastated Norway. Fortunately, the Wehrmacht commander Bhme saw that resistance was futile, and surrendered on the order of Hitler's successor Dnitz on the May 8.

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 2 and was a founding member of the United Nations. The first UN Secretary General, Trygve Lie, was a Norwegian.

A side effect of the large German garrison was the birth of many children born to Norwegian women and German soldiers. Some of these women suffered recriminations after the war, as did their innocent children in many cases. The children might be stigmatized as "German kids" or Nazi kids by inconsiderate people. Norwegians who publicly regretted instances of maltreatment, were occasionally accused of being too conciliatory.

After the liberation, active members of the National Socialist party and those who had collaborated with the enemy were persecuted and sentenced. About a dozen Norwegians were executed for treason or for war crimes.

Post-war highlights

Foreign and military policy

See main articles on Foreign relations of Norway and Military of Norway

Following the failure of neutrality in World War 2, in 1949 neutrality was abandoned and 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 referenda held in 1972 and on November 28, 1994, Norway rejected joining the European Union, though it remains associated with it through being part of the wider European Economic Area.

Militarily, while Norway and Britain both maintain independent forces, some common defence policies evolved as well as certain integration of training and deployment of both nations' Special Forces.

Economic development

Norway resumed whaling with low quotas in 1993, despite protests from environmental organizations. Norway is a firm believer in sustainable development of its natural resources, and considers a quota of approximately 500 whales a year out of about 120,000 whales reasonable.

Social policy

Cultural development


Main article: List of Norwegian monarchs

Norway's kings in modern times, with periods of reign are:

See also

External links

  • Norway ( - Article from the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia which details much about Norway including history.
  • History of Norway ( - Overview to Norwegian Norwegens

ko:노르웨이의 역사 nl:Geschiedenis van Noorwegen no:Norges historie sv:Norges historia


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