A Short History of Scandinavia

Think of Scandinavia's History and what comes to mind? Intrepid Vikings bravely faring Northern seas in in preparation for pillage. While Viking reputation for barbarianism is a significant part of Scandinavian history, it belies the relatively peaceful formation of it's nations - counties whose individuality rose from distinct differences in tribe, culture and religion as first witnessed and codified around 98 BC by Roman explorations of 'Germania'.

The earliest evidences of human settlement in Scandinavia are older than ten-thousand years. These early peoples developed a sophisticated living through hunting and fishing, with some evidence of agrarianism in present day Sweden. Not much is known about the two-hundred year period (c. 850 AD to 1050 AD) of the Vikings. Though only a modestly literate peoples, primary sources of information about them lie in archeological artifacts, as their written legacy is composed primarily of folklore. Therefore, little is known about their day-to-day lives. The few written accounts we do have come from their victims - England, Scotland and Ireland - which from 1018 to 1035 fell completely into Viking hands, as did large parts of France and Germany. The legendary seafaring adventurousness of these peoples belonged primarily to the Norwegian Vikings, whose settlements dotted the North Atlantic and included Iceland, the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Greenland and North America (though no permanent settlements were maintained in America). Viking conquests made extensive inroads by land as well. Conquests and trade routes to the east led to the eventual origin of the Russian State, and created links to Constantinople and the Mediterranean.

Written accounts of Scandinavia's history appear with the introduction of Christianity, which made its introduction during the Middle Ages. The first Scandinavian country to embrace Catholicism, Denmark has historical records dating back to 829. Because of its geographical proximity to Western Europe, Denmark lead the rest of Scandinavia in shaping its society toward a European model. Queen Margaret, daughter of the King of Denmark and wife to the King of Norway, made use of a Norwegian claim to Sweden's throne in 1388. Erik, her grandnephew and hair, became king of all three nations. Acting on Margret's advice, he implemented a 123 year period of political unity that acknowledged Denmark as the political capitol of Scandinavia.

This union was broken in 1521-53, in a revolt led by Gustavus Vasa, which led to the establishment of an autonomous Swedish/Finish monarch. Despite alleged accounts of Swedish conquests of Finland, Sweden and Finland were never in conflict. To the contrary - Swedes had settled, hunted and traded in Finland for centuries, and allowed Fins to participate in the election of Kings as late as in 1544. After the Swedish revolt, Norway remained affiliated with Denmark and remained so until 1814. Thus, the historical monarchies of Denmark and Norway on the one side, and Sweden and Finland on the other, were established. Traces of that historical alliance remain: The similarity between Danish and Norwegian languages, for example, testify to that alliance. Parenthetically, Swedish and Finish, despite their strong political and cultural relationship, have fundamentally different languages. While Swedish has clear kinship to Danish and Norwegian, Finish is its own language, with some similarities to Estonian.

Scandinavia's modern history (1800 to present) focused attention on Sweden and Denmark: two nations who's mixture of rising power, wealth and colonization led to considerable conflict between themselves. Indeed, many parts of Sweden's west coast, including Skane, were a part of the Danish Kingdom. The Napoleonic wars proved especially damaging to Denmark's empire, weakening that countries influence in Sweden, and lead to Norway's cession to Sweden in 1807. Eventually, the Swedish - Norwegian union was severed, allowing for Norway's independence in 1905. Likewise, Finland, who ceded to Russia in 1845, won independence in 1918 because of Russia's weakened condition after World War 1.