History of Norway in Brief

History of Norway in Brief – Guide 2024

The history of Norway is important to understand Norway’s past and present in a brief summary. A fascinating land, with a history characterized by the arrival of the Vikings in the Middle Ages, then passing to the Kalmar Union , together with Denmark and Sweden. Then ceded to Sweden, Norway achieved independence in 1905 . Theater of battles and land with a strong identity, today it is one of the best countries in the world for development and quality of life. Furthermore, it has wonderful landscapes and sites, which bring many visitors here every year. So let’s discover its history together in brief in our summary, better understanding the country during your trip to Norway!

The History of Norway

To understand the present it is important to know the past thanks to a summary of Norway’s history in brief. Furthermore, Norwegian history is interspersed with periods of independence and others of union with the Scandinavian kingdoms . The first human settlements date back to 8,000 BC, then reaching the Viking Age from the 8th to the 11th century, to Unification in about the 9th century, under King Harald I the Fair , who united Norway. From 1397, the country entered the Kalmar Union , with Sweden and Denmark, remaining united only with the Danish kingdom from 1523. During the 16th century the Protestant Reformation occurred, introducing Lutheranism. Following the Napoleonic wars, in 1814, Norway almost achieved independence, but was then ceded to the Swedish kingdom.

Until 1905 , while maintaining its autonomy internally, when it achieved independence with a popular referendum and the election of King Haakon VII . Since the 20th century, Norway throughout its history, in short, has experienced a period of strong growth, participating in both the First and Second World Wars, albeit with a neutral neutral role. Today, Norway is a constitutional monarchy , with a democratic system and a strong economy. A trip here also means a journey into its history, culture and traditions , between the Viking heritage and its folklore, as well as between breathtaking landscapes and experiences.

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The phases of Norwegian history

PeriodEpoche Storiche
Prehistoric age10.000 a.C. – 800 d.C.
Viking era793 d.C. – 1262
Kalmar Union1396 – 1523
Union with Denmark1536 – 1814
Union with Sweden1814 – 1905
Independence1905 – …

Norwegian prehistory

Norwegian prehistory, during its brief history, joins that of Scandinavian . Recent finds have established the presence of the Hamburg culture and hunters here as early as 12,000 years ago, when the highlands were frozen. Homes and hides were found in the Alta area , while other finds were found in the Bremsnes cave area and in Fosna. We have many rock carvings from the Stone and Iron Ages . Furthermore, literature, thanks to the 1200 works of Snorri Sturluson, also helps us reconstruct the history of the first kings, such as from the Heimskringla ; but uniting it to the legend.

In 1800 BC the Bronze Age began , starting cultivation towards Oslo and near the Jæren district and Lake Mjøsa, thanks also to today’s warmer climate. During 1000 BC the Uralic peoples arrive from the north, joining the Sami people . In 500 BC climate change begins, forcing the population to change their lifestyle and the Iron Age begins . At this moment in the summary of the history of Norway we see the pre-Roman and Celtic phase, which ended in the 9th century AD and also called the Merovingian Age .

Alta rock graffiti - the history of norway - norway history - norway history
Rock graffiti in Alta

The arrival of the Vikings

During not only Norway’s history in brief, but referring to that of all of Scandinavia, from about 790 to 1066 there was the expansion of the Norse peoples . Along the coasts of Europe, the Vikings began plundering, trading, and conquering new territories. Among the main places where they created settlements we find Northern Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Scotland, but also in Sicily and they reached as far as Canada. The first formation of the kingdom of Norway , during the summary of its history in brief, is between the 8th and 11th centuries.

The dating of the Viking period, moreover, conventionally begins from 793, when they sacked the English Lindisfarne Abbey . We could translate the term Viking as pirate , as it does not indicate a people. Thanks to the pirate raids of the Vikings, there was also an increase in the Scandinavian economy, led by influential chiefs and kings, called jarls or konungars . Thus they laid the foundations for new kingdoms , accumulating wealth.

Viking Ship Museum in Oslo
The Oseberg, at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo

Viking culture

During the history of Norway briefly in our summary, it was precisely the cultural impulses, due to the development of settlements and trade, that brought the Viking Age to an end. In fact, with the spread of Christianity in Scandinavia, centralized power also grows , coastal areas are reinforced and predatory expeditions lose their effectiveness, increasing their risks. With the beginning of a feudal -like system in Norwegian history, the rise of nobles and kings begins, ending the plundering in the 11th century.

The Germanic language and Old Norse become the mother languages ​​and the basis of today’s Scandinavian languages. The fjords and mountains become natural borders for Norway, where 29 small and independent kingdoms are born. These were unified during Norwegian history only in 872 , with the Battle of Hafrsfjord . In these kingdoms a king commanded, who in Hålogaland had the title of Jarl .

The union of the Kingdoms

An important figure in Norwegian history was Harald Fairhair , Hårfagre, son of Halfdan the Black. In 872 he conquered and united southwestern Norway. In this period, many cultural influences arrived from Ireland and England, even bringing Christianity under King Olav Haraldsson , who died in 1030 during the Battle of Stiklestad. Today, he is the patron saint of the country and we can observe his tomb in the Nidaros Cathedral, in Trondheim ; in the past an important place of pilgrimage.

Fairhair’s successors reigned until 1319, with brief interruptions, and, in 1153, the archdiocese of Nidaros was founded. From 1130 to 1217 the Norwegian Civil Wars began . Furthermore, the period of 1200 sees the kingdom ranging from the area of ​​the Kola peninsula to the Isle of Man. From 1262 , Greenland and Iceland were also acquired as dependencies of the kingdom.

Sword in the mountains - storia della norvegia in breve - storia norvegia in breve
Sword in the mountains, monumento commemorativo a Hafrsfjord

The 400 Year Long Night

During Norway’s summarized history, from 1396 to 1814 , the country was relegated to a province in the period called The 400 Year Long Night by playwright Henrik Ibsen. At this moment in the country’s history we find two main phases which are the union of Kalmar and that with Denmark, in 1535.

The union of Kalmar

The Kalmarunionen , or the Kalmar Union, during Norwegian history was the unification decided by Queen Margaret I of Denmark . This unites the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway and Denmark in a personal union under one monarch, thus forming the Scandinavian state. It is a personal and non-collaborative union , as Margaret I united the entire Scandinavian region and also southern Holstein, today in Germany, and the countries renounced sovereignty, but not independence. Furthermore, interests and discontents, especially with Sweden, were divergent. This led to a conflict in the 15th century , which marked the end of the Union in 1523 . The Kalmarunionen is also historically considered a unique political case .

Kalmar Union Flags - History of Norway Summary - Summary about the history of Norway
Flags commemorating the Kalmar Union

The Union with Denmark

From 1536 to 1814, the country becomes a province of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom under the Danish crown and one governor: the Statholder . During this period of Norwegian history, the Reformation era began in 1536 , when Norwegian power weakened due to the dissolution of the country’s church. From 1596 to 1720 continuous wars begin, such as the Kalmar , Thirty Years’ , Northern and Gyldenløve War.

This war period ends in 1721 , with the end of the Great Northern War . In this year, until 1770, Norway sees a period of strong economic growth and peace , as well as the revival of nationalism . It was precisely this period, which began in 1770 and ended in 1814, that laid the foundations for the country’s independence. Furthermore, bondekultur , the agricultural culture, also developed and the influence of the French and American revolutions arrived. In 1814, these events lead to the birth of the constitutional assembly .

Garmo stavkirke - Norwegian history - Norwegian history - history of the Norwegians
Garmo stave church, la chiesa nel museo Maihaugen, a Lillehammer

The Kingdom of Sweden and Norway

In our summary of Norwegian history in brief, the period from 1814 to 1905 is called the United Kingdom of Sweden and Norway. At this moment, in fact, the two kingdoms were united under the house of Bernadotte with a personal union. Furthermore, the two countries were briefly united as early as 1449 to 1450, to counter Christian of the House of Oldenburg ; elected by the Danes as king under the Kalmar Union. The reunion of the kingdoms also became concrete due to the Napoleonic wars , creating perfect conditions for a geographical and political reversal in the Scandinavian area. In fact, during the course of history, the Danish-Novegian kingdom entered the Napoleonic wars alongside France in 1807, creating a negative effect on the Norwegian economy. The following year Sweden invaded the country and, in 1809, they signed the Treaty of Jönköping , allowing the borders to be left unchanged.

In 1813, after the Battle of Leipzig , Denmark-Norway was defeated by Christian VIII , thus ceding Norway to Sweden in the Treaty of Kiel . Due to a textual flaw , however, Norway’s dependencies, such as the Faroe Islands and Iceland, remain under Denmark. The heir to the Danish kingdom tried in vain to reconquer Norway, but encouraged independence in Eidsvoll by electing Christian Frederik as king. To this fact, Sweden reacts by declaring war until, with the Moss Convention , Frederik renounces his claims on Norway, returning to Denmark and accepting the democratic constitution.

Struve geodesic arc
L’Arco geodetico di Struve, ad Hammerfest


In 1814 , the Stortinget , the Norwegian parliament, elects the Swedish king as Norwegian ruler. The Swedish governor in Norway was called Stadtholder and had noble origins; he was often the crown prince. The Swedish-Norwegian union dissolved peacefully in 1905 following years of unrest. Sweden thus recognizes the independence of Norway. With a referendum held on 13 August 1905, the population expressed its opinion in favor of ending the union and the parliament offered the throne to Charles of Denmark. In fact, another referendum expressed that the government would be monarchical and, on November 18, he ascended the throne as Haakon VII .

Statue of Haakon VII in Tromsø - norwegian history norway in brief summary
Statue of Haakon VII, Tromsø

Norway during the World Wars

So let’s look at Norway’s role during the First and Second World Wars in the summary of its history in brief.

World War I

As a role during Norwegian history in World War I, the country declares itself neutral . During the war, however, the Norwegian merchant fleet supported and supplied Great Britain logistically , bringing goods and food in exchange for coal . This event leads to the birth of the term neutral ally.

Second World War

Norway, during the brief summary of its history, with the beginning of the Second World War still tries to remain neutral. However, warnings come from some political factions , as its geographical position makes it a strategic objective for Nazi Germany , which could have taken some places. Norway could therefore only wait for aid from Great Britain and France. The attack came on April 9, 1940 , when Germany began Operation Weserübung . The Germans attack Oslo and the ports of Bergen , Narvik , Trondheim and Kristiansand.

Thus they quickly took control of the surrounding territories and the main Norwegian cities. In the Oslo fjord, at the Oscarborg fortress , the Norwegians shot down the cruiser Blücher on the same day , slowing the Germans long enough to allow the king, parliament and government to leave the city. On 16 April the Ango-French Namsos troops landed , but evacuated on 2 May.

cannone a Ergan Coastal Fort a bud
Cannon at the Ergan Coastal Fort, WWII Museum in Bud
The Norwegian Campaign

The German invaders were numerous, but the Norwegians managed to resist for two months, until their surrender on 17 June. On 7 June the king and government leave Tromsø , forming a provisional government in exile in England, in London . Norwegian civilians and soldiers left the country, aiding the British army and intelligence services. Vidkun Quisling , head of the National Socialist Party in Norway, during the story in brief in the summary, attempts a coup, clashing with popular resistance . The German army deposed him within days, starting an administration with governor Josef Terboven, until 1942 , when he was replaced by a puppet government under Quisling, until the end of the war. The Reichskommissariat Norwegen lasted until 1945 , with the surrender of Germany.

Civil disobedience was always active, as was the resistance. In Scotland they rebuilt the Norwegian army, liberating Finnmark . The Norwegian operation for Germany throughout history was a success, even occupying Denmark and with few losses. The British also suffered a lot of damage during the naval battles, but the Royal Navy had a larger fleet than the German one, also thanks to the very large Norwegian merchant navy. At Narvik there was a great British success and the Norwegian occupation was also costly for Germany due to the numerous Allied raids.

scultura a narvik
Statue of Narvik

The post-war period

With the German surrender on May 9, 1945 , during the brief history of Norway in our summary, the Labor Party and the King returned to the country . Furthermore, in 1944 the country shared a border with the USSR and therefore joined the Atlantic Pact , but declared not to accept foreign troops during periods of peace in the territory. For over 20 years, Labor remained in government, implementing an economic and planning policy in the history of the Norwegians, following the British welfare model . Thus the electrotechnical industries and the nationalization of mines increased. The Labor model saw its first crisis, together with the same party in all the Scandinavian countries, in 1963 .

Losing many seats, the bourgeois coalition with conservatives, liberals and the Christian Popular Party begins. The Prime Minister and leader of the Center Party is Per Borten , who has been committed to joining the EEC throughout Norwegian history, while still affirming loyalty to the EFTA. After accusations of having published confidential news, he resigned in 1971. Power still passes to the Labor Party, with Trygve Brattelli until 1976 , then leaving the position to Odvar Nordli .

Norwegian Parliament oslo
Il Norwegian Parliament a Oslo

Modern Norwegian history

Thanks also to traditional activities and North Sea oil , its economy is thriving and growing rapidly. Norway, in its history in brief in the summary, does not enter the European Monetary Union and the bourgeois parties are strengthened. In 1981 the Labor era ended with a centre-right coalition, with conservatives and Christian-popular leaders led by Kaare Willoch . There are many problems in reconciling the Scandinavian social democratic model , starting a phase of political instability for 20 years. In 1986 Willoch resigned, leaving Gro Harlem Brundtland at the helm of the government .

This ultra-liberal policy , however, brought about strong instability, devaluing the currency with many demonstrations in 1989. In 1993 it had a new electoral success, but still failed to enter the EEC. Brundtland was in office until 1996, then replaced by Thorbjorn Jagland , Labor Party, who resigned a year later for Kjell Magne Bondevik, of the Progressive Party. In 2001 , despite not being in the EU, she joined the Schengen Convention .

royal palace oslo - history of norway norwegian in brief summary
Statue of King Karl III, at the Royal Palace in Oslo

Norway Today

Today, Norway thanks to its history, as we have seen briefly in this summary, is a Scandinavian country characterized by well-being and economic stability . Furthermore, promulgated in 1914, the Norwegian constitution is the second oldest in history and still in force today. In Norway there are also national minorities, such as the indigenous Sami population . The country is often in the rankings of the best places in the world to live and the Kingdom of Norway is a parliamentary monarchical state and the capital is Oslo. It is part of the UN, NATO and the European Economic Area.

Its territory today is mostly in the Scandinavian peninsula, reaching to the Svalbard Islands , Bouvet Island and Jan Mayen Island . Another important resource for Norway is certainly tourism. In fact, there are many travelers who go here every year to discover wonderful places and its deeply rooted traditions. From the North Cape , to Lofoten , its fjords or discovering the museums of Oslo : there are countless reasons to visit this wonderful Scandinavian country!

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Read also: History of England in Brief – Guide 2024

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