Monday, 2 May 2011
CASE 270 - The History of Denmark
For a relatively small country, the history of Denmark is a bit of a convoluted one and in history Denmark has been a very powerful country. The culture of Denmark, too, has taken many twists and turns throughout the years. The Danes were actually a Swedish tribe who migrated south to Jylland in 500 AD. For three hundred years they maintained this land, before unleashing themselves onto Europe under the name “The Vikings.”
This is a bit of a misnomer, however – thanks to cultural ignorance and competing stories, the term Vikings has been cast upon hundreds of different tribes and groups of warriors. Since many of the tales of Vikings were related by fleeing victims that didn’t see the point in taking the time to question the invaders about their cultural heritage, various Viking clans were attributed to Norse marauders when really they were Danes, and vice versa. Swedish clans only helped to confuse things. One thing they all had in common (and its influence on the culture of Denmark today is obvious) is extremely advanced shipbuilding skills, a trade that has earned many a Dane a paycheck throughout the years.
One of the most interesting questions in Denmark History is: why did the Vikings, after hundreds of years of living in the wildernesses of Scandinavia, suddenly decide to explode across Europe, delving into lengthy battles with the British and Germanic tribes, even going so far south as to fight the Muslims in Seville? Many historians continue to debate whether it was over economic or religious issues. The former was only exacerbated by lengthy warfare, while the latter was solved by the Vikings gradual conversion to Christianity. Either way, Viking descendants were scattered all across the continent, with large populations in France, Germany, and even Spain during this time in Denmark history. The reign of the Vikings was short, but an important chapter in the history of Denmark. As the dark ages moved along, the people of Europe grew better skilled at defend themselves, and the Vikings continued a crippling war against England. Though they eventually won, trying to keep the two kingdoms aligned proved even harder and they only ruled England for 50 years.
The shift towards a kingdom also came gradually, and the oldest monarchy in the world was born. In the 14th century, the kingdom had stretched to include Sweden, Norway, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. With such a vast empire at this point in Denmark history, it’s no wonder why the culture of Denmark influenced both Western Europe and Scandinavia. It also set the seeds for civil war, though, as the Swedes eventually broke away in the 1500s, and then promptly began a long and brutal war between the two countries for hundreds of years. The most volatile era in the history of Denmark since the days of the Vikings, the siege of Copenhagen lasted three years just by itself, and the Danes were never to return to rule in Sweden. The renaissance was kind to the culture of Denmark, marked mainly by an architectural boom throughout the islands, as castles and cathedrals sprouted up all across the countryside. Everything seemed to be going well for the Danes, and would continue until the kingdom foolishly (in hindsight anyway) sided with Napoleon in the early 1800s. Mercilessly attacked by the British for this transgression, much of Copenhagen was destroyed. Disheartened, this period of Denmark history also saw the loss of Norway to Sweden in 1814.
Since then - outside of an unfortunate Nazi occupation in World War II - Denmark has been at peace, quietly growing into one of the most advanced and progressive nations in the world. Their high standard of living was derived from their post-war efforts to look inward and focus on their shipping and agricultural industries, as well as a highly successful welfare and healthcare systems. While Denmark may never again enjoy the political relevancy of the past, it has carved its niche out as a land of prosperity, a land of highly educated people that preach responsibility and affability.