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Travel Guide 2   >   Europe   >   Denmark   >   History


Danish History

Denmark has been inhabited for a very long time. There is evidence of human habitation at least as long ago as 12500 BCE, and evidence of agriculture since 3900 BCE.

By the time of the Nordic Bronze Age (1800 BCE to 600 BCE), burial mounds began to appear in Denmark. Among the finds from this period are many lurs (a type of horn-like musical instrument), and the Trundholm sun chariot (Danish: Solvognen) - a bronze statue of a horse pulling a large bronze disc.

The Iron Age in Denmark is generally divided into three periods: the Pre-Roman Iron Age (approximately 500 BCE to 1 AD), the Roman Iron Age (approximately 1 AD to 400 AD), and the Germanic Iron Age (400 AD to 800 AD). Archaeological evidence shows that native people gradually migrated South, and the first Danish people came to Denmark during the Roman Iron Age (previously Jutland and many Danish islands had been inhabited by Jutes, who in turn later migrated to southern Britain).

During the 8th to 10th centuries, people from Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, and Norway) were known as the Vikings. During this period, Viking explorers sailing West reached Iceland, Greenland, and Canada ("Vinland"). Meanwhile, other groups of Vikings explorered, trade with, raided, and settled in many other parts of Europe, and beyond - including conquering parts of England ("Danelaw"), parts of Ireland, and parts of France (Normandy).


The Danes were united and Christianized in about 965 by King Harald "Bluetooth" Gormsson (c. 935 to c. 986; King of Denmark c. 958 to c. 986 ; King of Norway c. 970 to 986). Eventually, King Cnut the Great (c 985 to 1035) rules a North Sea empire that included Denmark, Norway, England, and even parts of Sweden. By the high and late Middle Ages, the Danish kingdom included not only Denmark itself, but also Skåneland (a region which is today the three southwestern provinces of Sweden), Danish Estonia, and the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein (most of which today fall within the German state of Schleswig-Holstein).

In 1397, Queen Margaret I became ruler of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden - a personal union, known as the Kalmar Union (Danish/Norwegian/DanishSwedish: Kalmarunionen). The next century plus of Scandinavian history is dominated by the history of the Kalmar Union, with Sweden repeatedly breaking away, and then being reconquered. The Kalmar Union effectively ended in 1523, when the Swedish King Gustav Vasa conquered Stockholm, although Denmark did launch to subsequent attempts, ultimately unsuccessfully, to regain control over Sweden - the Northern Seven Years War (1563 to 1570), and the Kalmar War (1611 to 1613).

Following the Kalmar War, King Christian IV of Denmark, using monies collected from a war indemnity paid by Sweden, built several new towns and cities. including Christiania (Oslo) in Norway after the original city of Olso burnt down, Christiansand (today Kristiansand in Norway), Christianstad (today Kristianstad in Sweden) Christianshavn (today a suburb of Copenhagen, and, as a planned rival to Hamburg, Lykstad (today Gl¨ckstadt in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany). Additionally, the Danish East India Company (Danish: Dansk Østindisk Kompagni) was founded, with the intention of establishing trade with India and colonizing Sri Lanka. Ultimately the Danish empire would ultimately consist of a number of small colonies and trading posts on the Indian coast (sold to Britain in 1839 to 1845), the Nicobar Islands (sold to Britain in 1868), a number of trading stations and forts in West Africa known as the "Danish Gold Coast" (sold to Britain in 1850), and the Danish West Indies (sold to the United States in 1917, and today known as the US Virgin Islands), as well Norway (lost to Sweden in 1814), Iceland (an independent ingdom in personal union with Denmark from 1918, and a fully independent republic from 1944), as well as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Denmark itself.

Denmark had adopted Lutheranism in 1536. There was a brief civil war, the Count's Feud (Danish: : Grevens Fejde), that took place between 1534 and 1536, during this transition, which was to have important consequences later. During the war, Swedish troops were invited into Scania (the southernmost province of Skåneland) at the Danish King's invitation, to surpress his rebellious subjects. However, although the Swedes did hand back the territory to Denmark initially, this whetted Sweden's appetite to conquer the territory, and ultimately they would do so (in 1658).

King Christian IV also became involved in the Third Years War (1618 to 1648). During the war, King Christian IV tried to make Denmark leader of the Lutheran states in Germany, but suffered a disastrous defeat at the Battle of Lutter (1626), and was forced to withdraw from the war. Denmark then suffered plague, and series of disastrous military defeats to Sweden - including the loss of Skåneland, Gotland (a Baltic Sea island), Bornholm (another Baltic island), and several provinces of Norway - and narrowly escaped losing its independence completely.

Denmark subsequently tried and failed to regain Skåneland in the Scanian War (1675 to 1679), but did manage to regain control parts of Schleswig and Holstein in southern Jutland as a result of the Great Northern War (1700 to 1721).

During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark initially tried to pursue a policy of neutrality between Britain and France, and joined the League of Armed Neutrality alongside Russia, Sweden, and Prussia. The British however considered this to be a hostile act (as members of the League continued to trade with France), and attacked Copenhagen and the Danish fleet in 1801 and 1807.

Subsequently, the Denmark-Norway fought a naval war with the British ("The Gunboat War") from 1807 to 1814. As a result of this war, Denmark-Norway went bankrupt in 1813. At the subsequent Treaty of Kiel (1814), Denmark lost Norway to Sweden, and Heligoland (an island in the North Sea) to Britain.

Denmark became a constitutional monarchy in 1849, and as mentioned previously sold its colonies in Africa (the Danish Gold Coast) and India to Britain in the 1850s and 1868s. One traumatic event during this period, was the loss of Schleswig and Holstein in 1864, following war with Prussia and Austria in the Second War of Schleswig (Danish: 2. Slesvigske Krig; German: Deutsch-Dänischer Krieg). After the Second War of Schleswig, Denmark adopted a policy of neutrality. It was able to main its neutral status during World War 1.

After World War 1, Iceland was granted home rule, and became an independent kingdom in personal union with Denmark. Additionally, following a plebiscite, Northern Schleswig was regained by Denmark from Germany.

Immediately prior to World War II, Denmark was still neutral, and had in fact signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939. Nevertheless, German troops invaded and occupied the country on April 9th 1940 after overcoming only minimal military resistance. Until 1943, the occupation was relatively lenient, and there was a degree of cooperation between the Danish government and the German occupiers. However there was an armed resistance movement from 1943 onwards, and additionally, thanks to the efforts of the Danish resistance, the vast majority of Danish Jews survived the war.

During World War II, Iceland severed links with Denmark, and Denmark was separated from the Faroe Islands and Greenland (occupied by the British and Americans). After the war, there was a period of constitutional reform - the Faroe Islands gained home rule in 1948 - Greenland became an integral part of Denmark in 1953, and gained home rule in 1979, but was awarded self determination in 2009.

Denmark also became a founder member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the United Nations, and NATO (abandoning its previous policy of neutrality). In 1973, after a referendum, Denmark joined the European Economic Community (today known as the European Union).

Below are some books about the history of Denmark:

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Books about Danish History

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How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark

By Patrick Kingsley

Atria Books/Marble Arch Press
Released: 2014-02-04
Hardcover (192 pages)

How to Be Danish: A Journey to the Cultural Heart of Denmark
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Part reportage, part travelogue, this is a fascinating introduction to contemporary Danish culture for anyone who wants to know more about the world’s happiest nation.

Denmark is the country of the moment. Recently named the happiest nation in the world, it’s the home of The Killing and Noma, the world’s best (and most eccentric) restaurant. We wear their sweaters, watch their thrillers, and covet their cool modern design, but how much do we really know about the Danes themselves? Part reportage, part travelogue, How to Be Danish fills in the gaps—an introduction to contemporary Danish culture that spans politics, television, food, architecture, and design.

The Anatomy of Denmark: Archaeology and History from the Ice Age to AD 2000

By Klavs Randsborg

Brand: Bristol Classical Press
Released: 2009-09-14
Paperback (192 pages)

The Anatomy of Denmark: Archaeology and History from the Ice Age to AD 2000
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"The Anatomy of Denmark" is a concise, well illustrated history of the accomplishments and cultural heritage of the people living on what is now Danish territory since the Ice Age. The archeology and history of the earlier period (before AD 1200) is given as much weight as is the more recent past, unlike standard history books which emphasize written texts and more modern times. The book demonstrates the deep roots of a successful, well protected region through the ages. Strategically situated between two seas, as well as between larger Scandinavia and Central Europe, this populous beautiful country has always been both close to the centers of development and somewhat protected from foreign excesses. A particular talent for social organization, education, management and production has taken small Denmark out into the world ever since the Ice Age. "The Anatomy of Denmark" is clearly written and lavishly furnished with illustrations and tables. It provides an brief, fact-packed introduction for anyone interested in this small thriving country - archaeologist, historian, tourist and business visitor alike.


By M. Pearson Thomson

Released: 2012-05-16
Kindle Edition (100 pages)

Product Description:
This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

A History of Denmark (Palgrave Essential Histories Series)

By Knud J. V. Jespersen

Released: 2011-07-19
Paperback (259 pages)

A History of Denmark (Palgrave Essential Histories Series)
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Knud Jespersen traces the historical roots of the modern Danish state and Denmark's international position. This revised, updated and expanded new edition features additional material on issues such as the Danish church, the Enlightenment, cultural history, World War II, current NATO debates and the 2006 "cartoon crisis."

The Nine Books of the Danish History: Gesta Danorum

By Saxo Grammaticus

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Paperback (344 pages)

The Nine Books of the Danish History: Gesta Danorum
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Originally titled Gesta Danorum ("Deeds of the Danes") this book is a patriotic work of Danish history, by the 12th century author Saxo Grammaticus ("Saxo the Learned.") It is the most ambitious literary undertaking of medieval Denmark and is an essential source for the nation's early history. Consisting of sixteen books written in Latin, Gesta Danorum describes Danish history and to some degree Scandinavian history in general, from prehistory to the late 12th century. In addition, Gesta Danorum offers singular reflections on European affairs from a unique Scandinavian perspective, supplementing what has been handed down by historians from Western and Southern Europe. This current volume presents Oliver Elton's English translation of the first nine books of Saxo's work, which focus on Norse Mythology. Included as well are over 50 pages of introductory material by Frederick Powell and all of the original illustrations from the 1905 edition of the book. This book is 338-pages.

A History of Denmark

By Paulle Lauring

Host & Son
Hardcover (274 pages)

A History of Denmark
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The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (The Happiness Institute Series)

By Meik Wiking

William Morrow
Released: 2017-01-17
Hardcover (240 pages)

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living (The Happiness Institute Series)
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New York Times Bestseller

Embrace Hygge (pronounced hoo-ga) and become happier with this definitive guide to the Danish philosophy of comfort, togetherness, and well-being.

Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? The answer, says Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, is Hygge. Loosely translated, Hygge—pronounced Hoo-ga—is a sense of comfort, togetherness, and well-being. "Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience," Wiking explains. "It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe."

Hygge is the sensation you get when you’re cuddled up on a sofa, in cozy socks under a soft throw, during a storm. It’s that feeling when you’re sharing comfort food and easy conversation with loved ones at a candlelit table. It is the warmth of morning light shining just right on a crisp blue-sky day.

The Little Book of Hygge introduces you to this cornerstone of Danish life, and offers advice and ideas on incorporating it into your own life, such as:

  • Get comfy. Take a break.
  • Be here now. Turn off the phones.
  • Turn down the lights. Bring out the candles.
  • Build relationships. Spend time with your tribe.
  • Give yourself a break from the demands of healthy living. Cake is most definitely Hygge.
  • Live life today, like there is no coffee tomorrow.

From picking the right lighting to organizing a Hygge get-together to dressing hygge, Wiking shows you how to experience more joy and contentment the Danish way.

Number the Stars

By Lois Lowry

Houghton Mifflin
Released: 2011-05-02
Paperback (160 pages)

Number the Stars
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As the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family.

Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden. The heroism of an entire nation reminds us that there was pride and human decency in the world even during a time of terror and war.

With a new introduction by the author.

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country

By Helen Russell

Paperback (354 pages)

The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World s Happiest Country
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When she was suddenly given the opportunity of a new life in rural Jutland, journalist and archetypal Londoner Helen Russell discovered a startling statistic: the happiest place on earth isn’t Disneyland, but Denmark, a land often thought of by foreigners as consisting entirely of long dark winters, cured herring, Lego and pastries.

What is the secret to their success? Are happy Danes born, or made? Helen decides there is only one way to find out: she will give herself a year, trying to uncover the formula for Danish happiness.

From childcare, education, food and interior design to SAD, taxes, sexism and an unfortunate predilection for burning witches, The Year of Living Danishly is a funny, poignant record of a journey that shows us where the Danes get it right, where they get it wrong, and how we might just benefit from living a little more Danishly ourselves.


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