Norway National History

The first permanent inhabitants of present-day Norway moved in to the area circa 7000 BC, as the northern ice cap retreated at the end of the last Ice Age. By 50 BC Germanic tribes from mainland Europe had begun to move into Scandinavia and over time they gradually developed a distinctive Norse martial and trading culture. From about 790 AD these people began to voyage extensively in the North Sea, North Atlantic and Eastern Europe on trading and commercial raiding expeditions. The people they encountered called them Northmen, Rus or Vikings. The latter name becoming commonly associated with this era. Settlements were established in Ireland, Scotland, the Shetland, Orkney, Hebrides and Faroe Islands, the Isle of Man, Normandy, Iceland and Greenland. By 1030 the many small independent Viking kingdoms in Norway had been united under King Olaf II (Olaf Haraldsson), who also introduced christianity into the country.

By 1130, civil wars had broken out as various claimants to the throne emerged. From 1217 a period of peace and prosperity under King Haakon IV saw increased trade with the rest of Europe, and a treaty with the Hanseatic League saw Bergen become a major port. In 1319, the death of King Haakon V ended the Norwegian royal line, and the throne went first to the Swedish and then the Danish royal families. In 1380 Olav V became king of both Norway and Denmark, a union that lasted for more than 400 years. The Union of Kalmar united the kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden in 1397, but in 1543 Sweden left the union and Norway became effectively a province of Denmark. Subsequent wars between Sweden and Denmark damaged the country, but an expanding merchant shipping industry brought economic benefits that allowed the country to recover.

The Napoleonic Wars and British blockade of Denmark – an ally of Napoleon – resulted in the virtual independence of Norway between 1809 and 1812. In the post-war Treaty of Kiel, control of Norway was assigned to Sweden. After more than three years of independence, this decision was very unpopular, and in April 1814 a Norwegian parliament was established to resist the move. The parliament declared full independence in May 1814, but in July Sweden invaded and occupied the country. Norway was forced to accept rule under the Swedish crown but was allowed to retain it’s parliament. In 1884 the Norwegian government was made responsible to the parliament, despite Swedish opposition.

In 1905 a major dispute arose over the overseas support provided to Norway’s large shipping fleet by Sweden. This led to Norway declaring independence from Sweden. The union was officially dissolved in August and ratified by Sweden in October. During the First World War, Norway remained neutral, but it’s merchant fleet was very active in transporting supplies for the fighting powers.

In 1939 Norway again declared itself neutral in the event of a European War. However, the frequent use of Norwegian fjords and island to shelter German ships after the outbreak of war brought strong protests from the British, who began to mine Norwegian coastal waters. The Norwegians, who were increasingly seeing Britain as a major threat to their neutrality, were shocked when Germany suddenly invaded on 9 April 1940. Allied troops were sent to help the Norwegian resistance, but then had to be evacuated from the northern port of Narvik when the German forces proved too strong. A Norwegian government in exile was established in Britain after the formal surrender on 10 June 1940. Most of the Norwegian merchant fleet was at sea and able to join the Allies.

In Norway a pro-German government was set up under Nazi-sympathiser Vidkun Quisling. The Norwegians rejected Quisling as a leader and began an underground resistance movement called the Home Front. In May 1945 Norway was liberated and German forces left the country. Quisling was tried for treason and executed.

Convinced that neutrality did not work, Norway became a founding member of NATO in April 1949. With it’s economy based largely on trade and raw materials exports, Norway joined the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1959. However, it later chose not to join the European Economic Community (EEC) and also rejected membership of the European Union in 1994. In the late 1960s large reserves of oil and gas were discovered under the North Sea, and the exploitation of these resources created significantly increased prosperity from the 1970s. This degree of economic independence probably accounts for the rejection of closer European economic ties. With oil reserves in the North Sea beginning to run-down, in 2003 the Norwegian government decided to allow oil exploration in the Barents Sea, north of Norway.

Since becoming a founder member of the United Nations (UN) in 1945, Norway has been a keen facilitator in brokering peace agreements between the different factions in war-torn countries. In 1993 it hosted talks between Israel and the PLO which produced the Oslo Peace Agreement. Norway also contributes substantial military forces to various United Nations peacekeeping and peace monitoring operations around the world – especially in the Middle East.

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