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 Valdis Isbrandsdottir
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Norway and Viking Timeline | Viking History 

The History of Norway

The first men to appear in what is now Norway, emerged from dim pre-history when the great inland ice sheets were retreating over Scandinavia. 10,000 years ago the forefathers of today's Norwegians hunted reindeer and other prey on their long trek north. The land they came to had for centuries borne the weight of the icecap, so the coastline was about 200 meters higher than it is today. The oldest proofs of human activity were discovered on a hill in the southeast region of Østfold, not far from the southern frontier with Sweden. At that time the hill was probably an offshore island, just south of the glacier tip.


There is no general agreement on where the ancestors of today's Norwegians came from, or on the routes they took on their journey north, but one of these routes certainly passed through Østfold. Artefacts found at settlements there are of the same type that have been discovered in southern Sweden and in Denmark. A further possible route may have led from the so-called North Sea continent to southwest Norway.

These first Norwegians were hunters who, wherever nature permitted it, settled in small groups. They left proof of their existence in flint tools, clay vessels, and not least, rock carvings. In every part of Norway remain specimens of their art, hewn or ground into the rock. The carvings depict their prey: reindeer, moose, deer, bears and fish. People, or boats appear only seldom.

The transition to agriculture started in Norway approximately 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, initially in the area around the Oslofjord. By the Bronze Age (1500 - 500 B.C.) it is the farmers' cultural relics that dominate the archeological finds, particularly in south Norway. Finds from this same period in north Norway show that the people were hunters. At many locations in far north Finnmark there were sizeable settlements of hunters, clear proof of seasonable cooperation between many people.

From the Roman Age ( 0 -400 A.D.) grave finds show that there were links with the civilized countries to the south. Utensils of bronze, and glass were discovered, as well as weapons. The art of writing, in the form of runic letters also became known in the Nordic lands at this time.

The migrations of 400 to 550 A.D. were a restless period of continental Europe's history, and relics found in Norway indicate that the same conditions prevailed there too. The existence of farms in marginal areas indicates that settlement had reached saturation point. Pollen analyses reveal that at this time the coastal areas to the west were deforested. The troubled times led tribes to establish defence systems such as forts, and on the eastern banks of Norway's largest lake, Mjøsa, the remains of these are evident over a stretch of 50 km.

The age of the Vikings

(ca. 800 - 1050 A.D.)

The Viking era marks the termination of the prehistoric period in Norway. There were still no written sources of knowledge, and what is known about this period is largely based on archaeological remains. Nevertheless, the Sagas shed some light on this age. Although they were written down later, the Sagas were based on word of mouth tales passed down from one generation to the next. In synthesis they reveal that the Viking age must without comparison have been the richest of all the prehistoric periods in the north.

Many scholars regard the looting of the monastery of Lindisfarne, off England's northeast coast, in the year 793 as the beginning of the Viking Age. Over extensive parts of west and southwest Europe they are still regarded as cruel brigands, who wraught havoc on their victims with fire and the sword. This is only partially true. The Vikings also came on peaceful errand, to trade and to colonize. Norwegian Vikings settled in the Orkney Isles, the Shetlands, the Hebrides, and on the Isle of Man. The mainland of northern Scotland and Ireland also became their home, and Dublin, founded by the Vikings in the 840s, was under Nordic rule right up to 1171.

In Iceland and Greenland the Norwegian Vikings found uninhabited land. There they settled and built communities. Present-day Iceland is a direct consequence of the Viking colonization. On Greenland, however, the Norse communities, for reasons unknown, died out some few centuries later.

The Norwegian Vikings came mostly from the south and west of the country, where the land had been utilized to the maximum it could tolerate. In southeast and north Norway, on the other hand, settlement based on agriculture and other activities spread to previously uninhabited areas, particularly in the mountains and valleys.

For their many expeditions the Vikings needed fast and seaworthy ships, and men with the skill to navigate them over open seas. The fact that these hardy men repeatedly voyaged to America and back is evidence enough of their mastery of the longships. The Sagas relate that it was Leif Eriksson who discovered "Wineland the Good" in the year 1001, but present day scholars claim that other Vikings had reached America before him. The Viking Age finally culminated in 1066 when the Norwegian King Harald Hardruler and his men were defeated at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.

A United Kingdom

Up to the 800s the regions that later became Norway were not unified. But both groups and individuals attempted to bring them together. Two main types of community were formed:

* assemblies or "tings" organized around a central "Allting"


* petty kingships.

There must have been several reasons for this. Not least of them was the farmers' need for peace and continuity, particularly in the coastal areas, that were repeatedly troubled by robber bands and the harryings of the homecoming vikings. The costal areas possessed at this time substantial riches in the shape of stolen and traded goods. Safe on their "thrones" sat the petty kings, who thanks to the kinships created by intermarriage, were a tight-knit group with considerable power.

The petty kings in the Viken -- the areas surrounding the Oslofjord, played a major role in this process. Their might increased steadily as district after district was brought under their rule. After a battle at Hafrsfjord near Stavanger, believably fought in the year 872, King Harald Fairhair strengthened his position as ruler of large areas of the country. This unifying process, however, continued for several more decades, bringing harsh struggles between warring Norwegian chieftains, and between Norwegian and other peoples of the north. By 1060 the unifying process appears to have been completed.

The advent of Christianity

Christianity was introduced into Norway over a lengthy period of time, possibly two hundred years. It was a natural result of the Norwegians' contact with Christian Europe, through trading connections and Viking raids. Missions from the churches of England, Germany and Denmark had also contributed to a weakening of traditional belief in the Nordic gods. This development culminated with the three missionary kings, Håkon the Good, Olaf Trygvasson, and Olaf the Stout. The latter's martyr death, at the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 gave him saint's status. The Church had won the final victory.

From the middle of the 11th century the legislation that was enacted, the songs that were sung, and the monuments that were erected demonstrated the firm establishment of Christianity in Norway. Shortly before the year 1100 the first bishoprics appeared, among them the see of Nidaros, later Trondheim, where the archbishop held office from 1152. The Norwegian archbishop also played a political role. In 1537 the Reformation was enforced in Norway by royal decree. At this time the country was under Danish rule, and the Reformation was enforced simply by making the so-called Danish/Norwegian church ordinance applicable in Norway too. From the early 1600s the Lutheran creed was the sole creed of Norway .

The Middle Ages

The year 1130 was a water-shed in Norwegian history. A period of peace was disprupted by conflicts; the civil wars which lasted right up to 1227.

But 1130 was a special year in other ways too. It is regarded as the start of the so-called High Middle Ages, a period of population growth, consolidation within the Church, and the rise and development of the towns. As Crown and Church brought district after district under their rule the degree of public administration and authority increased. Historians say that only then could Norway be termed one realm.

The power of the monarchy increased in the 1100s and 1200s, ending in victory both over the Church and the nobles. The traditional secular aristocracy was replaced by a serving aristocracy. The status of the farmers changed in this period, from that of freeholder to that of tenant. However, the farmer, who usually rented his lands on a lifetime basis, enjoyed a free status that was rare indeed in most of contemporary Europe. The slaves of the Viking age also disappeared in the High Middle Ages.

During this period the political centre of gravity in Norway moved from the southwest to the districts surrounding the Oslofjord. During the reign of King Håkon V, in the 1200s, Oslo became Norway's capital. Prior to this it had been an insignificant clutch of houses in the innermost reaches of the Oslofjord. When the Black Death reached Norway, in 1350, the town allegedly housed no more than 2,000 people. At that time Bergen had a population of 7,000 and Trondheim 3,000.

The state revenues in the High Middle Ages were extremely modest by European standards. Towards the end of the period they were scarcely adequate to finance any expansion of the administrative apparatus of Crown and state. The Black Death had raged with terrible effect, reducing the population to one half or possibly only one third of its pre-1350 level. This development prompted the King and the nobility to seek revenues from lands and feudal estates, regardless of national boundaries. This contributed towards the growth of the political unions in the Nordic lands.

Right from the 1319 to 1343 period Norway and Sweden had a joint monarchy, an institution later expanded through the arrangement of inter-Scandinavian royal marriages. Håkon VI (1340-80) -- son of the Swedish king Magnus Eriksson, and Håkon V's daughter Ingebjørg -- was lawful heir to the throne of Norway. He married Margrete, daughter of the Danish king Valdemar Atterdag. Their son, Olav, was chosen to be Danish king on the death of Valdemar in 1375. He inherited the throne of Norway after his father in 1380, thus bringing Norway into a union with Denmark which lasted right up to 1814.

 Valdis Isbrandsdottir

Main Page | My SCA Membership | Persona | Modern Information | Research | SCA Arts & Sciences | MY A&S Projects  |
Research Pages: History of Norway | Norwegian Culture | Runes | Norse Mythology | The Valkyrie |
Norse & Scandinavian Names
| Historical Sources | Norway & Viking Timeline | Viking History | Arts & Sciences of the Vikings |
Food of the Vikings | Social Structure of the Vikings | Music | Norse Mythology & the Zodiac |