A Brief Overview of Scandinavian History

A view of the Eliassen Rorbuer cabins during blue hour in the Lofoten Islands in Norway
Getty Images/Andrew Stranovsky Photography

Traveling to Scandinavia, but you've realized that you really don't know much about this Northern European region? You'd be quite hard pressed to learn all there is to know in one article, but this quick overview hits the important details of each country's rich Nordic history and culture.

Denmark's History

Denmark was once the seat of Viking raiders and later a major north European power. Now, it has evolved into a modern, prosperous nation that is participating in the general political and economic integration of Europe.

Denmark joined NATO in 1949 and the EEC (now the EU) in 1973. However, the country has opted out of certain elements of the European Union's Maastricht Treaty, including the Euro currency, European defense cooperation, and issues concerning certain justice and home affairs.

Norway's History

Two centuries of Viking raids stopped with King Olav TRYGGVASON in 994. In 1397, Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark that lasted more than four centuries. Rising nationalism in the 19th century led to Norwegian independence. Although Norway remained neutral in World War I, it suffered losses. It proclaimed its neutrality at the outset of World War II, but was occupied for five years by Nazi Germany (1940-45). In 1949, neutrality was abandoned and Norway joined NATO.

Sweden's History

A military power in the 17th century, Sweden has not participated in any war in almost two centuries. An armed neutrality was preserved in both World Wars.

Sweden's proven formula of a capitalist system with welfare elements was challenged in the 1990s by unemployment and in 2000-02 by the global economic downturn. Fiscal discipline over several years has improved things. Indecision over Sweden's role in the EU delayed its entry into the EU until '95, and they declined the Euro in '99.

Iceland's History

Iceland's history shows that the country was settled by Norwegian and Celtic immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries A.D. and as such, the country of Iceland has the world's oldest functioning legislative assembly (which was established in 930.) At points, Iceland was ruled by Norway and Denmark. In later times, about 20% of the island's population emigrated to North America. Denmark granted Iceland limited home rule in 1874 and Iceland finally became completely independent in 1944.