Denmark’s Beginnings and Viking Era
People lived in Denmark more than 100,000 years ago, but probably had to leave because of the ice age. Traces of permanent human habitation in Denmark exist from around 12,000 BC.
Rich grave finds from the Viking era (800-1050) reveal active Danish participation in Viking explorations.
The Viking expeditions made the Scandinavians known and feared in large parts of Europe. By 878 the Danes had conquered parts of England. In the 11th century, King Canute ruled over a vast kingdom that included present-day Denmark, England, Norway, southern Sweden, and parts of Finland. In that time, Denmark was a superpower, comparable to today’s largest European countries.
In the 12th and 13th century, civil wars between the nobles and the king erupted, with all sides striving for control of the country. King Christopher II, who ruled between 1320 and 1332, was forced to make major concessions to the nobles and clergy at the expense of royal power, which was also eroded by the influence of the German merchants of the Hanseatic League.
King Waldemar IV succeeded in restoring royal authority, and his daughter Margaret I created the Kalmar Union, which included Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and part of Finland. However, the Union did not last. In 1520, Sweden and Finland revolted and seceded shortly after.
Today’s Denmark is the result of these forced relinquishments of land, surrenders and lost wars.
Crucial events took place in the mid-1800s. In 1848, absolutism had been abolished, whereby Denmark got a constitution and a parliament. In 1864, Denmark suffered a crushing defeat to Prussia in the second Schleswig war and had to relinquish another 40% of its land. The Danish population dropped from 2.6 million to 1.6 million.
Despite these major territorial losses, Denmark prospered economically in the 19th century and underwent further reforms.
During World War I, Denmark maintained neutrality. World War II saw Denmark’s occupation by Germany, despite a declaration of neutrality.
Denmark joined the European Community in 1973. Today, Denmark is an active player on the international political scene.