Mini Lesson #1


First things first. Before we start discussing Norse culture, we need to get our bearings in an ancient world. So, let's start with a bit of groundwork.

Norse civilization was divided roughly into two subcultures: Eastern, encompassing Sweden, Denmark, Russia, and the Ukraine (the latter two being so heavily mixed with local Slavic cultures that they were basically their own people). They spoke Eastern Norse. Then there was the Western side: Norway, Iceland, Greenland, and the British Isles. They spoke what is called Western Norse. Although the two dialects are mutually intelligible, there are some distinct differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. I, for example, learned to speak Western Norse, and that is the culture I know best. So, I will be chiefly discussing Norway and its colonies.

Now for our Mini Lesson. 

During the early Middle Ages Norse civilization had as vast an impact and influence in Europe as had Greece or Rome. And no, the impact was not all raiding and devastation. In the 10th century Norway was THE most powerful nation in Europe, with a kingdom stretching from Western Sweden all the way to Greenland (and very nearly North America at one point). Because of their presence in the British Isles, namely the Orkneys, Hebrides, Yorkshire, Normandy, and by extension, Ireland-- the latter only by virtue of some rebel Viking fortresses set up as mini kingdoms. Nice try, but sorry, you're still Norwegians and under Norwegian rule. At any rate, this affiliation made Ireland the metropolitan trading center of Western Europe. Normandy was acquired through similar circumstances, and Yorkshire was granted as part of a cleverly orchestrated peace treaty. But it is important to realize that England regarded Norway as one of their most valuable allies, and hosted many upcoming Norwegian children at court. In fact, they viewed Norwegians as a very cultured people-- not barbarians.

So why is it we never hear a peep about Norway these days? Why is it always Sweden or Denmark? The answer lies farther back in history than you might expect. Norway retained her power up until the Black Death reached her in 1349, wiping out about 2/3 of her people. While the survivors tried to rebuild their crushed world, it happened that Sweden and Denmark formed the Kalmar Union, into which Norway was admitted in 1397. This arrangement lasted some centuries, till Sweden left the Union in 1523, stranding Norway as a junior partner under Denmark. Thenceforward Norway would bounce between Swedish and Danish rule till 1905, when she regained full independence. Norway remained impoverished up until the late '90's, when the people struck viable oil off the coast. Though boasting today one of the highest standards of living and the happiest people in the world, Norway still keeps to herself, letting her neighbours enjoy the political arena.


Verit þér sæl! Be happy!