- See also: European history
The historical time of the Nordic countries began around AD 1000 with the spread of Christianity, substantial written records and masonry which had stood the test of time better than many artefacts of previous periods, such as the Viking Age.
This article describes old towns and other remnants from before the Industrial Revolution of the mid-19th century.
- See Vikings and the Old Norse for Nordic history prior to AD 1000.
Though Norway, Finland and Iceland became independent nations only during the 20th century, the Nordic countries have, in many ways, been forerunners for the creation of the nation-state. Since AD 930, Iceland has had the oldest surviving national parliament (though there were lengthy times when it was either not in session, suspended or had little say in anything). Denmark's flag was adopted during the 13th century, as the world's first known national flag that's still in use. Sweden has the first continuous census records, started in the 17th century for conscription to the army. The Norwegian Eidsvoll Code of 1814, which is still Norway's constitution, was considered to be one of the most democratic constitutions for its time.
In Nordic historiography, the Middle Ages are considered to have begun around AD 1000 with the establishment of Christianity, and the foundation of Sweden, Denmark and Norway as unified kingdoms.
Finland was mostly pagan, and had little common culture with Scandinavia, until the 13th century, when Swedish kings went on crusades to Christianize and annex Finland.
In 1397, Sweden, Norway and Denmark (which included Iceland) were united under the Kalmar Union. Thereby, all populated territories of the Nordic countries were united under the same crown for a century.
Early modern age
In the 16th century, Sweden broke away from the Kalmar Union, and Swedish and Danish kings enforced the Protestant Reformation. These events mark the end of the Middle Ages.
Denmark revoked Norwegian autonomy in 1536. Since then, Nordic history has been centered on rivalry between the Swedish and Danish empires, as well as external enemies; first Poland, later Russia. Borders have changed many times, mostly through war. Much of the Baltic states and northern Germany were under Swedish and Danish rule.
The 17th century was marked by the rise of the Swedish Empire, which after the Swedish victory in the Thirty Years' War came to nearly encircle the Baltic Sea. During the 18th century, Russia rose as a great power, later annexing Finland in 1809. The Napoleonic Wars made Norway independent for six months, before it was forced into a union with Sweden, which dissolved in 1905. A Scandinavian Union was proposed during the 19th century, but was never realized. During the late 19th century, millions of Nordic people emigrated to the United States. They left a mark mostly in the Midwestern states and around the great lakes, where some aspects of Nordic culture are still celebrated in things like the name of sports teams.
As recently as 1900, Sweden and Denmark were the only sovereign Nordic states. Norway became independent again in 1905. As the Russian revolution in 1917 allowed Finland to declare independence, a grim civil war followed.
World War II divided the Nordic countries; while Sweden was neutral, Denmark and Norway were seized by the Germans, and Iceland by the Allies. Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union, and fought them together with Germany. Denmark distinguished itself by helping its Jewish population largely escape Nazi persecution through a concerted effort of the Danish resistance and neutral Sweden, that received most of the refugees. In the waning moments of the war, Finland switched sides and fought the Nazi forces in the country, officially because their retreat out of the country was going too slowly.
Iceland was occupied by Britain, and later by the United States, with foreign soldiers coming to outnumber the adult male Icelanders; today, many citizens have a British or American grandfather. In 1944, Iceland voted for independence, restoring its millennial republican tradition.
During the Cold War, Norway, Denmark and Iceland joined NATO, while Sweden and Finland maintained different levels of non-alignment, with Finland trying its best to not offend the Soviet Union while still being a pluralistic capitalist parliamentary democracy on good terms with the west. It was in this time that "Scandinavian socialism" and the welfare state reached its apex in places like Sweden and Denmark. Norway became one of the richest countries in the world (and one of the most expensive for visitors) when large quantities of oil were discovered off its coast, the revenues of which are not used directly, but invested in a state held fund.
While Denmark, Sweden and Finland joined the European Union, Finland is the only Nordic country to have adopted the euro.
| Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden|
Vikings and the Old Norse • History • Sami culture • Winter • Right to access • Hiking • Cuisine
This list focuses on cities and settlements that have been largely preserved since at least the late 19th century, or places of great historical importance.
Denmark was unified in the 10th century, and is among the world's oldest independent countries. Furthermore the ruling house on the Danish throne is one of the oldest reigning houses in existence. The Danish Empire included Norway and Iceland for many centuries, as well as territories around the Baltic Sea.
- Copenhagen. The capital.
- Roskilde. A cathedral recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Remembered for the 1658 Roskilde treaty, where Denmark lost its territory in present-day Sweden, including Scania.
- Helsingör. The Kronborg castle is the setting of Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the city's real-life history is interesting as well. Together with Helsingborg they guard the Öresund; the main inlet to the Baltic Sea, which gave Denmark an important role in commerce.
The outlier of the Nordic nations, Finnish language and folklore are Finno-Ugric, tracing its roots to the Urals. Beginning in the 12th century, Swedish kings step by step conquered and christened Finland. Finland was annexed by Russia in 1809 as a Grand Duchy, keeping its Swedish laws, religion (Russia was Orthodox) and language. While the nationalist movement thrived during the 19th century, Finland became independent only with the Russian Revolution in 1917. Finland is still bilingual by constitution.
- Turku (Åbo). Finland's oldest city and first capital, founded by Swedes in the 13th century, and a stronghold for the Swedish-speaking minority.
Iceland was settled during the 9th century, and later became a subject of Norway, and later Denmark. The United Kingdom seized Iceland peacefully during World War II, and they declared independence from Denmark in 1944.
While Iceland hardly has any monumental architecture, Medieval turf houses and stone churches can be found. The country's heritage is expressed through literature and handicraft.
- Reykjavík. Iceland's oldest settlement.
- Oslo. Though founded as early as 1048, Oslo's history as a seat of national government is rather short. It became the capital around 1300; in 1348, Norway became the subject of Denmark. A fire devastated Oslo in 1624; the rebuilt city was renamed Christiania (not to be confused with the similarly-named neighbourhood in Copenhagen). In 1814, Norway became part of the Swedish-Norwegian Union, and became independent in 1905.
- Trondheim. Dominated by the Gothic Nidaros Cathedral. From 1152 until the Protestant Reformation, Trondheim (or Nidaros as it was called) was the seat of the Archbishop of Norway (present-day Norway plus Iceland, Orkney and Shetland).
- Vardø. At the border to Russia, this town has the world's northernmost fortress.
Sweden was a subject of Denmark during the Late Middle Ages, but broke away in the 1520s under the rule of Gustav Vasa, who brought Sweden through the Protestant Reformation. Sweden defeated the Danes in several wars during the 16th and 17th century, and has remained the dominant Nordic nation since then. Its best known ruler Gustav II Adolf, also known by his latinized name Gustavus Adolphus, intervened in the thirty years war on the protestant side and came to be known as a "martyr" of sorts, dying in battle in 1632 at only 37 years of age. His legacy was a strong Sweden with possessions far into what is now Germany and for almost a century, Sweden became a major power on the European stage.
- Stockholm. Sweden's capital since the 13th century. As Finland and Estonia were parts of Sweden, and Lappland was not fully integrated, Stockholm was a natural centre of Sweden. For an indoor tour of Swedish history, visit the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, the Historical Museum, the Vasa Museum (dedicated mostly to the eponymous ship), the Nordic Museum, and Skansen.
- Uppsala. Seat of the Swedish archbishop, and Scandinavia's first university.
- Sigtuna. Sweden's capital before the 13th century.
- Skara. Among the oldest cities in northern Europe, founded in AD 990 and the seat of Sweden's first bishop. A cathedral which was built from AD 1000 and onwards.
- Kalmar. The Kalmar Union, founded in 1397, has been the only permanent union of the Nordic countries, though there was some attempts to revive the union during the 19th century.
- Vadstena. Home of Saint Bridget of Sweden.
- Dalarna: While Dalabergslagen in the south-east contained much of Sweden's mining industry, the area around Lake Siljan is considered the archetype of Swedish folk culture.
- Falun. The copper mine has not only brought revenue to the Swedish government; it has also created two by-products, which have become Swedish icons. Falu Rödfärg is the red paint that covers most countryside houses in Sweden. Falukorv, a sausage originally made from the mine's draft oxen, is a staple food across Sweden.
- Göta Canal was an enormous project during the early 19th century.
- Visby. A Hanseatic city with a preserved city wall.
- Lund. Famous for its cathedral and university.
- Tallinn. Held by Denmark and Sweden for most of its history.