Norway's first settlers arrived over 10,000 years ago at the end
of the Ice Age. These early hunters and gatherers followed the glaciers
as they retreated north, pursuing migratory reindeer herds. The
country's greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age,
a period thought to have begun with the plundering of England's
Lindisfarne monastery by Nordic pirates in 793 AD.
Over the next century, the Vikings made raids throughout Europe,
establishing settlements along the way. Viking leader Harald Fairhair
unified Norway around 900 and King Olaf, adopting the religion of
the lands he had conquered, converted the people to Christianity
a century later.
The Vikings were great sailors and became the first to cross the
Atlantic Ocean. Eric the Red, the son of a Norwegian exiled to Iceland,
colonised Greenland in 982.
In 1001, Eric's Icelandic son, Leif Eriksson, became possibly
the first European to explore the coast of North America when he
sailed off course on a voyage from Norway to Greenland. However,
the Viking Age came to an end in 1066 when the Norwegian king Harald
Hardrada was routed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England.
In the 13th century Oslo emerged as a centre of power. It continued
to flourish until the mid-14th century when bubonic plague decimated
its population. In 1380 Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark
which lasted over 400 years. Norway was ceded to Sweden in 1814.
That same year a defiant Norway - fed up with forced unions - adopted
its own constitution, but its struggle for independence was quelled
by a Swedish invasion.
In the end, Norwegians were allowed to keep their new constitution
but were forced to accept the Swedish king. Growing nationalism
eventually led to Norway's peaceful secession from Sweden in 1905.
Norwegians subsequently voted in favour of a monarchy over a republic
and selected Prince Carl of Denmark to be king. Upon acceptance,
he took the title Hεkon VII and named his infant son Olav, both
prominent names in Norway's Viking past.
Norway stayed neutral during both world wars but was occupied
by the Nazis in 1940. King Hεkon set up a government in exile and
placed most of Norway's huge merchant fleet under the command of
the Allies. An active Resistance movement fought tenaciously against
the Nazis, who responded by razing nearly every town and village
in northern Norway during their retreat. The royal family returned
at the end of the war.
In 1960 Norway joined the European Free Trade Association but
has been reluctant to forge closer bonds with other nations, partly
due to concerns about its ability to preserve small-scale farming
and fishing. North Sea oil and natural gas finds brought prosperity
to the country in the 1970s, and Norway has since achieved one of
the highest standards of living in the world. It is now applying
for membership in the EU, a procedure that requires a national referendum.
A no-vote in a 1994 referendum sent shock waves through European
governments who were attempting to `sell' the Maastricht treaty
to their citizens. EU membership is a hot topic in Norway, but resistance
is still strong across the political spectrum.
Norway has preserved a rich folk culture that retains elements from
the Viking age (see Viking Art). Norwegians today have a great interest
in preserving folk art and music.
The collecting and recording of folk music is supported by the government.
Modern Norwegian culture has evolved from the great flowering of
the arts that occurred in the 19th century under the influence of
national romanticism. Early expressions of a truly Norwegian style
were produced by the painter Johan Christian Dahl and the composer
Other important artists include the playwright Henrik Ibsen, the
writer Knut Hamsun, the composer Christian Sinding, the painter
Edvard Munch, and the sculptor Gustav Vigeland, whose sculpture
park in Oslo has gained international attention. See Norwegian Literature.
Oslo is the undisputed cultural center of Norway. Bergen, Trondheim,
and Stavanger are important regional centers.
The country's largest art museum is the National Gallery in Oslo.
Natural history museums are located in Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen,
Trondheim, and Tromsψ. Many other museums display artifacts of regional
and national culture; the most notable of these is the Norwegian
Folk Museum in Oslo.
The municipal library system in Norway, begun in the early 20th
century, is patterned after the United States model. In addition,
the state maintains specialized libraries, the largest of which
is the Oslo University Library (1811), with more than 4.4 million
volumes; it also serves as the national library. Also important
is the National Archives in Oslo.