Since Christmas is almost here, we figured this week was as good a time as any to explore the history and culture of one of the world’s great northern countries – Norway.
- Capital (and Largest City): Oslo
- Population (2015): 5,205,434 (116th)
- Total Area: 385,178 km² (61st)
- Official Languages: Norwegian, Sami
- Currency: Norwegian krone (kr) (NOK)
The BC years were characterized largely by tribes based on farming, hunting, and fishing. Over time these tribes grew more advanced, entering both the Bronze and later the Iron Age. In the early centuries AD, the people of Norway even came into contact with the Romans (well, Roman occupied Gaul at least). It wasn’t until the fall of the Empire however that the disparate tribes became more organized and began to move towards the Norway we all know.
In the year 793, raiders from Norway attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne in Northeast England. This event set the ‘Viking Age’ into motion. Viking seafarers explored distant shores while also raiding settlements in Western Europe, and even founding some towns of their own. Over time, the Norsemen converted to Christianity, leaving behind gods such as Odin, Thor, and Loki. The Viking Age remains arguably the most talked about and storied time in both Norwegian and Scandinavian history as a whole.
The 14th century saw drastic changes for Norway. First, the country was united with Sweden under a single king. Following this, the Black Death swept through the land and killed more than half the population – leaving the economy reeling. By the end of the 14th century, something called the Kalmar Union had developed – which was a unified state that consisted of all Scandinavian countries (including Iceland). Margaret I of Denmark controlled the union through a tactical marriage to Eric of Pomerania (who also happened to be her sister’s grandson).
The Union lasted for over a hundred years until Sweden pulled out in the early 16th century. Norway tried to do the same, however the initiative was crushed and the Norway-Denmark union persisted, lasting all the way until 1814. During this time Norway dealt with the influx of Protestantism, land loss to the Swedes, the dominance of Denmark, and famine.
Along with much of Europe, Norway was thrust into the throes of war in the early 19th century. After an attack by the British, the union entered on the side of Napoleon. However, they were defeated and Denmark was forced to give up Norway to the victorious Swedes (Norway also lost their old provinces to Denmark in the agreement, which included Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands).
Tired of being subservient to other regional players, Norway sought to break away from Sweden. This began a protracted war where neither side was quite powerful enough to break the other. After naval blockades against Norway from the Brits and Russians, Norway was forced to agree to the coronation of Sweden’s king as their head of state.
A respite from constant warfare allowed Norway to experience a degree of economic growth. With this also came a period of cultural awakening, where the arts and literature flourished. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were characterized by a transition to a more democratic and liberal society, though some elements still remained staunchly conservative. Finally, in 1905, an agreement was reached with Sweden, and Norway was able to crown their own independent monarch and separate from the union.
While Norway was technically neutral in both World Wars, the country still suffered. In WWI, much of the merchant fleet was pressured into assisting the British, and as a result many Norwegian vessels were sunk. In WWII, the country was invaded by Nazi Germany. While the king and his government escaped to London, many Norwegians fought a resistance campaign against the invaders. This included sabotaging the German nuclear program and supplying many ships for Allied efforts.
Following the end of the war, Norway grew closer to other Western countries and the United States (even becoming a founding member of NATO in 1949). The discovery of petroleum reserves in the late 20th century helped establish the successful industry within Norway. Today the country is known for an egalitarian society and extremely high standard of living, like much of Scandinavia.
The history and geography of Norway has had a large impact on its culture. Norwegian farm culture has developed uniquely due to the harsh environment and remains a major part of life today in many parts of the country. Norway also has distinct cuisine, much of which is based around seafood. Fish is generally combined with dairy products and grains that are grown inland.
As we mentioned, progressive ideals have long been at the heart of Norwegian society. This includes rights for minorities, women, and others. This can also been seen in the monarchy itself, with absolute primogeniture in place (the eldest child is the heir regardless of gender).
Sports are also an important part of life in Norway, with cross country skiing and biathlon the most popular. The country has hosted two Winter Olympics and is a force to be reckoned with in the games. Soccer is also growing in popularity and has the most active participants, while the national ice hockey team is improving.
Norway is known across the world for its stunning geography, taking up the western and most northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The long rugged coastline holds many secrets while mountains dominate much of the interior. It’s perhaps the famous Norwegian fjords that are best known. Despite fjords existing across the world, no other country is perhaps as identified with the staggeringly beautiful waterways.
Oslo is by far the biggest city in the country, with a population of about 650,000. While not as large or important as nearby Copenhagen or Stockholm, Oslo is a major northern centre for trade, government, and culture.
Did you know?
- ‘Norway’ means ‘path to the North’
- The country is #1 in the world in wealth and well-being
- A penguin was knighted in Norway
- The cheese slicer was invented in the country
- Salmon sushi was actually brought to Japan from Norway
- Trolls are an important part of Norwegian folklore
- Stripping is considered an art-form when it comes to taxes
- Public universities are free to both domestic and international students
- Spaying or neutering dogs is illegal except in special cases
- The first time an airplane was hijacked in Norway, the hijacker gave up his weapon in return for beer
While it’s the Vikings that stay in the imagination, there’s a lot more to Norway than just fearsome seafarers. Stay tuned for more as we explore the best Norwegian destinations and delve into the country’s currency.
Stay tuned to the Current for our Country of the Week. We’ll explore the familiar and the foreign, plus uncover some hidden gems (see them all HERE).
Stay informed. Stay Current.