Scandinavia is the name of a sub-region in Northern Europe, comprised of the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Some geographers consider Finland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands as part of Scandinavia. Read more about Scandinavia before the Vikings.
Made popular by TV shows and Movies, Vikings are the most notorious feature of this beautiful region. While the fearless, kohl-eyed, and ruthless warriors who nearly took over England are undoubtedly interesting, there is more to Scandinavia than them.
In this article, we shed-light on Pre-Viking Scandinavia, a topic which is often ignored but is equally fascinating.
The Ice Age: Landscape and the Fjords
The scenic beauty of Scandinavia existed long before the Vikings made it their home. The Norwegian Fjords, formed during the Ice age, are a world-famous tourist destination. UNESCO has declared some of them as world heritage sites, including Geirangerfjord, a 9.3-mile fjord with many waterfalls and dramatic mountain scenery.
About 2.4 million years ago, the ice started to cover mountains, and the pressure caused mountain pieces to break away, letting seawater rush into the opening. When the ice age ended, and the snow melted away, the mountain pieces that broke away formed a U-shaped wall filled with seawater. These narrow pathways of water surrounded by beautiful sceneries are truly nature’s masterpiece.
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Calmer than the sea, these fjords are natural harbors. In the pre-Viking era, small towns settled near the fjord and used the ports for trade, fishing, and other maritime activities. Even today, in modern Norway, many small-towns exist near the Fjords. These towns are the most popular tourist destinations as people from across the world come to visit these wondrous sites.
The Stone Age: The First Settlers
The first settlers arrived on the shores of Sweden and Denmark around 5000 – 9000 BC. From there, these settlers moved to Norway in the Komsa, Finnmark, and Fosna regions of the country.
Archaeologists found definite evidence of this timeline when they unearthed the remains of a man in Koelbjerg, Denmark. Examination revealed that this man lived in Denmark during 8000 BC, confirming the existence of the population across the region.
Archaeologists report these settlers came to the region for agriculture, but the population included hunters and gatherers as well. Historians note that these early settlers had domesticated dogs and cattle, which hints at the earliest agriculture society. Discovery of coarse tools such as axes and picks suggest that these men and women hunted as well as farmed in their daily life.
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Indigenous Scandanavians: The Sámi people
The Sámi people are indigenous people of Finno-Ugric heritage that lived in Scandanavia before the settlers arrived. Traces of these populations are found side-by-side with the settler population; however, while the immigrants inhabited the coastal areas in the south, the Sámi lived inland. Interestingly, these two populations did not come into contact until much later.
The Sámi people lived a simple life; they lived in tent-like homes and adopted fishing, sheep herding, fur trapping, and reindeer herding as their primary source of livelihood. Just like the rest of the unfortunate aboriginal tribes of the world, the Sámi’s also faced forced assimilation by their settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries.
Today, there are only 80,000 to 100,000 Sámi people worldwide; most of them live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Russia.
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Bronze Age: Farmers, Fishers, and Metal Workers
Bronze age in the Scandinavian countries is recorded between 1700 BC and 500 BC. During the Bronze age, the settlers expanded their settlements along the shorelines. Although there were no proper villages or towns, the immigrants built wooden dwellings which housed large families and kinships.
The Bronze age Norsemen developed finer tools and became skilled in farming, fishing, hunting, and trade. As they learned to create superior tools, the Norsemen started farming millet, wheat, and barley, among other grains. Since they lived in coastal areas, fishing remained one of the main sources of livelihood. Some adventurous Scandinavians took expeditions inland to hunt for elk, deer, and other big game.
The most notable thing perhaps was the introduction of trade in the Norse society; the settlers began to trade amber for metal, and therefore they became skilled metalworkers. This society was more civilized than the stone age population, but still a long way away from modern-day civilizations.
Iron Age: Economic and Political Instability and Norse Resourcefulness
The Scandanavian Iron age came to Scandinavia around 500 BC. It was a challenging time for the region climatically and politically. Climatic deterioration in the area severely affected farming, whereas the wars in central Europe and Celtic tribes put a stop to trade.
In these challenging times, the Danes learned to become self-sufficient. They survived on fish and meat from hunting, and they made iron deposits found in swamps into weapons. They also started looking for new trade routes, and that’s how they came into contact with the Roman empire, where the Iron age was well underway.
Through this connection, the Scandinavian countries came into contact with religion, the written word, and modern civilization. Historians note that traders brought back more than just goods, they brought modern ways of building houses, writing, metalworking skills, and even household skills like cleaning, pickling, and drying meat, etc.
During the Iron age, communities expanded, and chieftains became active. Each chief wanted to gain more power and, thus, economic opportunities for the survival of its own community. This battle for dominance led to scuffles and fighting among the tribes. The Norse were hard folk, often living in tough economic conditions due to challenging weather. This infighting made them warriors as well.
The political unrest, economic deterioration, and infighting gave way to the Viking Age, which has dominated the history of Scandanavia.
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Scandinavia before the Vikings, written for Daily Scandinavian by Arslan Hassan. Arslan is an electrical engineer with a passion for writing, designing, and anything tech-related. His educational background in the technical field has given him the edge to write on many topics. He occasionally writes blog articles for Carpet Cleaning Epsom.