Ancient History & First Settlements

The oldest human skeleton ever discovered in Norway was found in shallow water off Sogne in 1994 and has been carbon dated to 6,600 BC.The first farming and thus the start of the Neolithic period, began ca. 4000 BC around the Oslofjord, with the technology coming from southern Scandinavia.[5] The break-through occurred between 2900 and 2500 BC, when oats, barley, pigs, cattle, sheep and goats became common and spread as far north as Alta.

The Bronze Age started in 1800 BC and involved innovations such as plowing fields with ards, permanents farms with houses and yards, especially in the fertile areas around the Oslofjord, Trondheimsfjord, Mjøsa and Jæren. Some yields were so high that it allowed farmers to trade furs and skins for luxury items, especially with Jutland. A climate shift with colder weather started about 500 BC. The forests, which had previously consisted of elm, lime, ash and oak, were replaced with birch, pine and spruce. The climate changes also meant that farmers started building more structures for shelter. Knowledge of iron was introduced by Celts, resulting in better weapons and tools.

The Iron Age allowed for easier cultivation and thus new areas were cleared as the population grew with the increased harvests. A new social structure evolved: when sons married, they would remain in the same house; such an extended family was a clan. They would offer protection from other clans; if conflicts arose, the issue would be decided at a thing, a sacred place where all freemen from the surrounding area would assemble and could determine punishments for crimes, such as paying fines in food. From the first century AD a cultural influence from the Roman Empire took place. Norwegians adapted letters and created their own alphabet, runes. Trading with Romans also took place, largely furs and skins in exchange for luxury goods.

The Viking Age

The Viking Age was a period of Scandinavian expansion through trade, colonization and raids. The first raid was against Lindisfarne in 793 and is considered the beginning of the Viking Age. This was possible because of the development of the longship, suitable for travel across the sea, and advanced navigation techniques.

Vikings were well-equipped, had chain mail armor, were well-trained and had a psychological advantage over Christian counterparts since they believed that being killed in combat would result in them going to Valhalla. In addition to gold and silver, an important outcome from the raids were thralls, which were brought to the Norwegian farms as a slave workforce. While the men were out at sea, the management of the farm was under the control of the women.

The lack of suitable farming land in Western Norway caused Norwegians to travel to the sparsely populated areas such as Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands and the Hebrides to colonize—the latter which became the Kingdom of the Isles. Norwegian Vikings settled on the west coast of Ireland ca. 800 and founded the island’s first cities, including Dublin. Their arrival caused the petty Celtic kings to ally and by 900 they had driven out the Norwegians.

Norwegians discovered Iceland in ca. 870 and within sixty years the island had been divided between four hundred chieftains. Led by Erik the Red, a group of Norwegians settled on Greenland in the 980s. His son, Leif Ericson, discovered Newfoundland in ca. 1000, naming it Vinland. Unlike Greenland, no permanent settlement was established there.

Norse Mythology

While in the middle age it is believed that the Norse and people of Germanic origin before they were converted to Christianity, they had their own religion which was very complex and sophisticated. Norse mythology was one of the expressions of this religion.This was the origin of Norse mythology. They are what these people believed and their religion had no specific name, and this made it seem like a tradition practice. They believed in their gods’ deities such as the Odin, Thor, Loki, and Freya.

It was the traditions of the people of Scandinavian countries that gave birth to this religion. The Norse people believe that there are two types of gods namely the Æsir and the Vanir and other mythical beings such as the giant, dwarfs and other creatures.

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Middle Ages

Christianization and abolishing the rites in Norse mythology was first attempted by Olav Tryggvason, but he was killed in the Battle of Svolder in 1000. Olav Haraldsson, starting in 1015, made the things pass church laws, destroyed heathen hofs, built churches and created an institution of priests. Many chieftains feared that the Christianization would rob them of power in lieu of their roles as Goðar in traditional Norse Paganism. The two sides met in the Battle of Stiklestad, where Haraldsson was killed. The church elevated Haraldsson to sainthood, allowing Nidaros (today Trondheim) to become the Christian center of Norway. Within a few years the Danish rule had become sufficiently unpopular that Norway again became united.

From 1000 to 1300 the population increased from 150,000 to 400,000, resulting both in more land being cleared and the subdivision of farms. While in the Viking Age all farmers owned their own land, by 1300 seventy percent of the land was owned by the king, the church or the aristocracy. This was a gradual process which took place because of farmers borrowing money in poor times and not being able to repay. However, tenants would always remain free men and the large distances and often scattered ownership meant that they enjoyed much more freedom than their continental peers. In the 13th century about twenty percent of a farmer’s yield went to the king, church and landowners.

14th Century or The Golden Age

The 14th century is described as Norway’s Golden Age, with peace and increase in trade, especially with the British Islands, although Germany became increasingly important towards the end of the century. Throughout the High Middle Ages the king established Norway as a state with a central administration with local representatives.

In 1349 the Black Death spread to Norway and had within a year killed a third of the population. Later plagues reduced the population to half the starting point by 1400. Many communities were entirely wiped out, resulting in an abundance of land, allowing farmers to switch to more animal husbandry.

The Hanseatic League took control over Norwegian trade during the 14th century and established a trading center in Bergen. In 1380 Olaf Haakonsson inherited both the Norwegian and Danish thrones, creating a union between the two countries. In 1397, under Margaret I, the Kalmar Union was created between the three Scandinavian countries. She waged war against the Germans, resulting in a trade blockade and higher taxation on Norwegians, which resulted in a rebellion. Margaret pursued a centralising policy which inevitably favoured Denmark, because it had a greater population than Norway and Sweden combined. There was one revolt under Knut Alvsson in 1502. Norwegians had some affection for King Christian II, who resided in the country for several years. Norway took no part in the events which led to Swedish independence from Denmark in the 1520s.

Norwegian Rule and Independence

Norway fell under unions and the rule of Denmark and Sweden over the next few hundred years.The Constitution of Norway was signed at Eidsvoll on May 17 in the year 1814. Now celebrated as the Norwegian day of independence, referred to of Syttende Mai (much like The 4th of July in the United States). The constitution declared Norway to be an independent kingdom in an attempt to avoid being ceded to Sweden after Denmark–Norway’s devastating defeat in the Napoleonic Wars.

The celebration of this day began spontaneously among students and others from early on. However, Norway was at that time in a union with Sweden (following the Convention of Moss in August 1814) and for some years the King of Sweden and Norway was reluctant to allow the celebrations. For a few years during the 1820s, King Karl Johan actually banned it, believing that celebrations like this were in fact a kind of protest and disregard — even revolt — against the union. The king’s attitude changed after the Battle of the Square in 1829, an incident which resulted in such a commotion that the king had to allow commemorations on the day. It was, however, not until 1833 that public addresses were held, and official celebration was initiated near the monument of former government minister Christian Krohg, who had spent much of his political life curbing the personal power of the monarch. The address was held by Henrik Wergeland, thoroughly witnessed and accounted for by an informant dispatched by the king himself.