Norway has been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age. The earliest Scandinavian settlers hunted reindeer and other game in these northern lands. Some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, the inhabitants turned to agriculture, especially around the Oslofjord. Artifacts show that in the Roman era, Norway had associations with areas to the south.
The Age of the Vikings -- Prehistory ended during the Viking era, roughly A.D. 800 to 1050. Much of what is known about this era wasn't written down, but has been conveyed through sagas passed by word of mouth or revealed by archaeological finds. Some scholars consider the looting of the Lindisfarne monastery in northern England in 793 the beginning of the "age of the Vikings."
"The Vikings are coming!" became a dreadful cry along the coasts of Europe. The victims expected fire and sword. Scandinavian historians are usually kinder to the Vikings, citing the fact they often went abroad to trade and colonize. From Norway, the Vikings branched out to settle in the Orkney and Shetland Islands (now part of Scotland). They also settled in the Scottish Hebrides and on the Isle of Man. Viking settlements were established on Greenland and Iceland, which had previously been uninhabited. The Norse communities on Greenland eventually died out. The sagas claim that in 1001, Leif Eriksson discovered "wineland of the good," a reference to the American continent. Many scholars, however, claim that the Vikings' long ships reached America long before Leif Eriksson.
The road to unification of Norway was rough. In 872, Harald Fairhair, after winning a battle near Stavanger, conquered many of the provinces; but other battles for unification took decades. Harald was followed by his son, Eric I -- "Bloody Axe," to his enemies. Eric began his reign by assassinating two of his eight brothers and later killed five other brothers. His one surviving brother, Haakon, succeeded him as king in 954. Haakon tried unsuccessfully to convert Norway to Christianity. After he died in the Battle of Fitjar (960), Harald II Graafell, one of Eric's sons, became king of Norway. Cruel and oppressive, he died in battle in 970.
Haakon, son of Sigurd of Lade, became the next king of Norway. He resisted Danish attacks and ruled for about 25 years, but died in a peasant riot in 995. After the Battle of Swold in 1000, Norway was divided between Denmark and the Jarl of Lade.
Olaf II Haraldsson was a Viking until 1015, when he became king of Norway. Although oppressive and often cruel, he continued to spread Christianity. Canute of Denmark invaded Norway in 1028, sending Olaf fleeing to England. Canute's son, Sweyn, ruled Norway from 1028 to 1035. Sweyn was forced out when Olaf II was proclaimed a saint and his son, Magnus I, was made king. Magnus was also king of Denmark, a position he lost when Canute's nephew led a revolt against him and he was killed. Olaf's sainthood firmly established Christianity in Norway.
Harald Sigurdsson (known as Harald III) ruled Norway from 1046 until his death in 1066. His death marks the end of the Viking Age.
A Sifter of Viking Secrets -- The world press gave scant attention to the death, in 1997, of Norwegian archaeologist Anne-Stine Ingstad, but she was a pioneer, sifting through the sandy soil above a Newfoundland beach to uncover the remains of a Viking outpost.
She was the wife of Helge Ingstad, whose discovery of the site in 1961 produced the first conclusive evidence that Vikings had made a North American beachhead 500 years before Columbus. Vikings sailed from a colony in Greenland to reach the North American continent (today's Canada). Icelandic sagas had described the voyages in detail, and few scholars doubted that Leif Eriksson and other Vikings had made such voyages and explorations. But until the Ingstads made their startling discoveries, no hard evidence of a Viking presence existed -- only a spate of spurious artifacts.
The initial discovery was met with skepticism. But once Anne-Stine Ingstad started to dig, most doubts evaporated. Her husband had used vivid geographic descriptions in Icelandic sagas to find the camp described by Eriksson and others. Once the site was discovered, she carried out excavations over several months. In time, she uncovered the foundations of eight buildings, including a large house almost identical to Eriksson's great hall in Greenland.
In 1964, she unearthed a tiny stone spinning wheel, suggesting that female Vikings had used the camp. In 1980, UNESCO designated the settlement, L'Anse aux Meadows, a World Heritage Site, along with the Pyramids of Egypt and the Grand Canyon.
The Middle Ages -- Wars with Denmark continued, and civil wars raged from 1130 to 1227. Norwegian towns and the church continued to grow. Under Haakon V in the 13th century, Oslo became the capital of Norway. The Black Death reached Norway in 1350 and wiped out much of the population.
From 1362 to 1364, Norway and Sweden had a joint monarch, Haakon VI (1340-80), son of the Swedish king, Magnus Eriksson. Haakon married Margaret, daughter of the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag. Their son, Olaf, was chosen to be the Danish king upon Valdemar's death in 1375. He inherited the throne of Norway after his father died in 1380, bringing Norway into a union with Denmark. The union lasted until 1814.
Union with Denmark -- When Olaf died at the age of 17, Margaret became regent of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. She ruled through her nephew, Eric of Pomerania, who had become king of Norway in 1389. He was recognized as a joint ruler at Kalmar. Margaret was actually the power behind the throne until her death in 1412. Eric of Pomerania tried to rule the three countries, but Sweden and Norway rebelled. Eric fled in 1439 and Christopher III of Bavaria became the ruler, imposing Danish rule.
Denmark led Norway into the Seven Years' War of the North in 1563 and took unfair advantage of its position in trade, in the military, and even in surrendering Norwegian land to Sweden.
During the Napoleonic Wars (1807-14), Denmark and Norway were allied with France, although it created much economic hardship. Famine was widespread. In 1814, Frederik VI of Denmark surrendered to Napoleon's opponents and handed Norway over to Sweden. That officially ended 434 years of Danish rule over Norway.
Secession from Sweden -- On May 17, 1814, an assembly adopted a constitution and chose Christian Frederik as the Norwegian king. May 17 is celebrated as Norwegian National Day. The Swedes objected and launched a military campaign, eventually subduing Norway. The Swedes accepted the Norwegian constitution, but only within a union of the two kingdoms. Christian Frederik fled.
Soon thereafter, Norway suffered through one of its greatest economic depressions. Norway's parliamentary assembly, the Storting (Stortinget), engaged in repeated conflicts with the Swedish monarchs. Bernadotte ruled over both Norway and Sweden as Charles XIV from 1818 to 1844.
By the 1830s, the economy of Norway had improved. The first railway line was laid in 1854. Its merchant fleet grew significantly between 1850 and 1880.
From the 1880s on, the Liberals in the Storting brought much-needed reform to the country. But by the end of the century, the conflict with Sweden was growing as more and more Norwegians demanded independence.
In August 1905, the Storting decided to dissolve the union with Sweden. Sweden agreed to let Norway rule itself. In October 1905, Norway held an election, and the son of Denmark's king was proclaimed king of Norway. He chose the name Haakon VII.
An Independent Norway -- Free at last, Norway enjoyed peace and prosperity until the beginning of World War II. Even though the economy was satisfactory, thousands of Norwegians emigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century. In 1914, Norway joined Sweden and Denmark in declaring a policy of neutrality. Despite the declaration, around 2,000 Norwegian seamen lost their lives in the war because of submarine attacks and underwater mines.
In 1920, Norway joined the League of Nations, ending its policy of isolation. At the outbreak of World War II, Norway again declared its neutrality. Nonetheless, Allied forces mined Norway's waters in 1940, and the Nazis attacked on April 9, 1940. Great Britain and France provided some military assistance, but Norway fell after a 2-month struggle. The government and the royal family fled into exile in England, taking 1,000 ships of the Norwegian merchant fleet. In spite of the resistance movement, Nazis occupied Norway until the end of the war in 1945. Vidkun Quisling, the Norwegian minister of defense in the 1930s, served the Nazis as leader of the puppet government.
Quisling was executed following the Nazi retreat from Norway. On June 7, 1945, the government-in-exile returned from Britain. The retreating Nazis had followed a scorched-earth policy in Finnmark, destroying almost everything of value. In the late 1940s, Norway began to rebuild its shattered economy.
After an abortive attempt to form a Nordic defense alliance, Norway and Denmark joined NATO in 1949. The Communist Party tried to secure recognition in Norway but failed.
By the 1960s, oil prospecting in the North Sea had yielded rich finds, which led to a profound restructuring of Norwegian trade and industry. In 1972, Norway voted not to enter the Common Market, following a bitter political dispute.
Norway had a non-Socialist government from 1981 to 1986. In 1986, Labor Party leader Gro Harlem Brundtland headed a minority government as Norway's first female prime minister. She introduced seven women into her 18-member cabinet. Soon, however, tumbling oil prices and subsequent unemployment led to a recession. The Labour government lost the 1989 elections. A center-right coalition assumed control of government. In November 1990, Brundtland returned to office as prime minister, this time with nine women in her 19-member cabinet. In 1991, Olav V died and was succeeded by his son, Harald V.
Today the Norwegian government faces many of the same problems that confront other nations: violent crime, drugs, immigration control, unemployment, acid rain, and pollution. Concern about acid rain and pollution, much of which comes from Great Britain, was so great that riots erupted when Margaret Thatcher visited Norway in 1987.
Although some Conservatives objected, Norway applied for membership in the European Union (E.U.) in 1993. The country also began to assert itself more on the international scene. Thorvald Stoltenberg, the minister of foreign affairs, was named peace negotiator for ravaged Bosnia-Herzegovina and, in clandestine meetings held outside Oslo, helped effect a rapprochement between the PLO and Israel. All these history-making events were eclipsed by the XVII Olympic Winter Games, held in Lillehammer in February 1994. In November 1994, Norwegians rejected a nonbinding referendum on E.U. membership. Following that, everyone waited for the Norwegian parliament to vote on whether the country would join. The parliament deliberately avoided the issue and did not vote on the matter. The referendum, though nonbinding, remains in force, and Norway is still not a member of the E.U. But that does not mean the country has no economic links with the rest of Europe. In 1994, Norway reinforced its commitments to membership in the EEAA (European Economic Area Agreement), an association initiated in 1992 to ensure its access to the E.U.'s single market. It includes cooperation in a variety of cultural and economic areas.
In 1995, Norway won the Eurovision Song Contest for best songs evocative of a country, repeating its sweep of a decade earlier and ensuring that the event would be held there in 1996. As the host country, Norway captured second place.
By 1998, Norway was having its share of troubles, as oil prices plunged to their lowest levels in a decade. Turmoil in financial markets knocked the krone lower and prompted the central bank to double interest rates to 10%. The popular prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who took over the office in 1997, stunned the country by taking a temporary leave from office. His doctors said he was having a "depressive reaction" to too much work and stress. In late 1998, Bondevik came back to his job -- and is now running the country.
Today Norway continues pushing forward with major engineering projects. The country is connecting its sparsely inhabited outcroppings and linking its interior fjord-side villages in an effort to stem the flow of people to larger towns and villages. At Hitra, a largely barren island off the west coast, a new 5.5km (3 1/2-mile) tunnel (the world's deepest and second longest) has been built at a cost of $41 million. It links mainland Norway to a hamlet with some 4,100 residents. On the North Cape, at Norway's Arctic tip, a $140-million bridge and tunnel was constructed to Mager Island, home to only 3,600 people (and more than that many reindeer). An additional $135 million went into the earth in the mountains east of Bergen to link the towns of Aurland (pop. 1,900) and Laerdal (pop. 2,250). Its 24km (15-mile) tunnel casts the previous world record holder, the 16km (10-mile) St. Gotthard tunnel in Switzerland, into a distant second place.
A more artistic bridge opened in December of 2001. The designer? None other than Leonardo da Vinci, in 1502. The 99m (325-ft.) laminated timber bridge links Norway and Sweden over a highway at the town of Aas, 26km (16 miles) south of Oslo.
In 2001, Norway ranked first (with the U.S. in sixth place) as the best country in the world in which to live. The judge? The United Nations Human Development Report. Australia followed Norway in second place, with both countries moving narrowly ahead of Canada. The annual survey is based on statistical profiles of what people can expect in life beyond economic growth.
The year 2001 also was witness to the marriage of Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Mari Tjessem Hoiby, a single mom who lived with the royal before marrying him. The couple's marriage raised some astonishment among Norway's more conservative factions, because the father of Hoiby's child is a convicted cocaine supplier and she had been well known on Oslo's "dance-and-drugs house party scene," as one newspaper commentator put it. Some Norwegians wonder if the modern-minded heir to the throne, Prince Haakon, a direct descendant of Queen Victoria, even plans to maintain the monarchy.
The crown prince and princess became parents to a daughter on January 21, 2004. Ingrid Alexandra may be the first reigning queen of Norway since 1412.
In 2005, the world's largest single-arched bridge was opened between Sweden and Norway and inaugurated by King Harald V of Norway and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. The Svinesund Bridge spans a fjord south of Oslo, stretching for 2,300 feet. The occasion also marked Norway's celebration of 100 years of independence from Sweden, which dominated a union between the two countries until 1905.
Norway, in 2008, was the third biggest exporter of oil in the world, after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Its future looks good as an oil-producing nation. Faced with exhaustion of resources in the North Sea, oil and gas companies have turned to the vast Barents Sea, where large reserves are believed to exist. For example, major oil and gas deposits off the northern tip of Norway, in a previously unexploited area of the Barents Sea, are being "harvested." The oilmen, predictably, are engaged in fights with environmental groups, who want to protect the fragile environment and its major fishing waters.
This oil-fueled economy has made Norway a magnet for young Swedes, because their own economy has lagged far beyond. Long a poor cousin of Scandinavia, Norway has forged ahead, and thousands of Swedes are now flocking here to work, many in menial jobs. The number of Swedes living and working in Norway doubled between 1990 and 2008.
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