Denmark - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Kingdom of Denmark
Formation 950 / 1944
Population 5.5 million / 336 people per sq mile (130 people per sq km)
Total area 16,639 sq. miles (43,094 sq. km)
Religions Evangelical Lutheran 95%, Roman Catholic 3%, Muslim 2%
Ethnic mix Danish 96%, Other (including Scandinavian and Turkish) 3%, Faeroese and Inuit 1%
Government Parliamentary system
Currency Danish krone = 100 øre
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 3397 kilocalories
Archaeological evidence suggests that Denmark was inhabited as early as 100,000 years ago. However, it was only around 12,000 B.C.E. that settlements began to appear in the region.
Before the arrival of Scandinavians, mummified bodies found in peat bogs indicate that Denmark was home to Celts. Early inhabitants were mainly nomadic hunters who crossed the region while hunting reindeer and other animals. Around 3000 they began practicing agriculture and animal husbandry in addition to hunting.
Due to climatic changes during the Iron Age (400 to 1 B.C.E.), the winters in the region became colder, which limited agricultural activities. As a result many tribes migrated south into Germanic regions. However around the same time, other tribes in Denmark began extracting iron from the ore found in peat bogs. Trade activities (especially with the Roman Empire) flourished as local tribes put their knowledge of iron to use and began creating a wide variety of iron tools, weapons, and coins. Around the fifth century C.E. many tribes from different parts of Europe began migrating toward Denmark.
Prominent among them were the Danes, a tribe living in Terra Scania, a region in the southern parts of Sweden, who began migrating to Denmark to take advantage of the flourishing iron trade. Modern inhabitants of Denmark can trace their cultural and linguistic origins back to the ancient Danes.
In 808 the Danish earthen defense structure (the Danevirke, “Dane’s work”), which stretches from the swampy moors of West Jutland to the town of Schleswig, was initiated by the Danish King Godfred (or Gudfred, d. 810) according to written sources. In 1969–75 excavations identified three building phases of the main structure of Danevirke, from between 737 and 968, around the same time as the new Runic alphabet was introduced.
Until the 11th century the Danes, together with Norwegians and Swedes, were known as Vikings. They colonized, raided, and traded in all parts of Europe, exploring as far west as North America, according to archaeologists and historians. If Norse sagas are accurate around 1006 the first conflicts between Europeans and native peoples may have occurred at L’Anse aux Meadows in what is now Newfoundland. When Vikings tried to establish settlements along Newfoundland’s coast, the indigenous people they met, described in the sagas as skraelings or skraelingars, were so hostile that they abandoned the effort. It is likely that the natives who expelled the Vikings were the Beothuk inhabitants of Labrador and Newfoundland, probably the descendants of an Algonquian group.
Between the eighth and the eleventh centuries the Vikings ruled Denmark.
Under the Vikings Denmark became a great power, exercising control over the Jutland Peninsula (a peninsula that divides the North and Baltic Seas and forms the continental part of Denmark as well the northern part of Germany), the southern part of present-day Sweden, and the island of Zealand (largest island of modern-day Denmark, also known as Sjaelland). Many small kingdoms were established within Denmark during this period.
King Harold Bluetooth Gormson (935–86), the son of a former Jutland chieftain Gorm the Old (r.
?948–?58) brought all these small kingdoms under his rule and established a unified kingdom of Denmark in 980. Gormson is thought to be the first king of Denmark.
According to legend Harold was visited by a German missionary, who asked him to embrace Christianity. Harold put him through an ordeal of fire, which involved walking nine steps holding redhot iron rods in both hands. The missionary passed the test, so Harold and the entire kingdom of Denmark embraced Christianity.
Harold’s son Sweyn Forkbeard (?986–1014) and grandson Canute the Great (1018–35) conquered many neighboring regions and ruled an expanding empire, which now included the kingdoms of Denmark, England, and Norway. However after the death of Canute the Great, natives of England and the Vikings of Norway began to rebel against the Vikings of Denmark and, following a series of violent battles, the English and Norwegians broke free from Danish rule. Canute’s nephew Sweyn Estridson (1020–74) managed to preserve the kingdom of Denmark and established good relations with the archbishop of Scandinavia.
In the 12th century Valdemar the Great (1131–82) became the king of Denmark and made it into a powerful territory by annexing other territories, as well as establishing trade relations with regions along the Baltic Sea. However in the 13th century the successors of Valdemar the Great fought among themselves over the right to rule Denmark; in the process the kingdom and its economy suffered immensely. The close relations between the monarchy and the popes of Rome came under criticism from the nobility, as well as from commoners who blamed royalty for the economic problems of the country.
In the 14th century Margrethe I (1353–1412), the daughter of the king of Denmark Valdemar Atterdag (c. 1320–75) married King Håkon VI (1340–80) of Norway. After the death of King Håkon VI and the premature death of their son Olaf III, Margrethe I became the queen of Denmark. A good administrator Margrethe unified the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (which included the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland), known as the Kalmar Union.
However the Swedes, who were unhappy with the extravagant spending of Danish kings on wars, rebelled against the Danish monarchy. In 1523 the Swedes elected Gustav Vasa (1496–1560) as their king, and the Kalmar Union was dissolved (although Norway remained under Danish rule). In 1536 Christian III (1503–59) was sworn in as the king of Denmark and Norway. He was greatly influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther (1483–1546), a German theologian and founder of the Lutheran Church.
Luther challenged the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church and asked Christians to return to the teachings of the Bible. His protest started the Protestant Reformation, which aimed to reform the corruptions and errors of the Catholic Church. King Christian III introduced Lutheranism in his kingdom and forced Roman Catholic bishops and priests to convert to Lutheran beliefs and practices.
In the 17th century King Christian IV (1588–1648) became king of Denmark. The region of Oresund (the name of a strait separating Scania and Zealand), which connects the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic Ocean, formed the backbone of the trade route for northern European countries exporting goods to markets along the Atlantic Ocean at this time. Since Oresund was under Danish rule every passing ship had to pay a toll to pass through it, and the wealth of the Danish kingdom soared, particularly as trade and thus traffic increased. Denmark also profited from the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) in the Netherlands, because fleeing skilled artisans and traders immigrated to Denmark, bringing their expertise with them. Denmark’s prosperity during King Christian IV’s reign made him the most celebrated Danish monarch. After his death in 1648 Denmark, under King Frederick III (1609–70), declared war on Sweden in 1658, but the Swedish forces were far too powerful for the Danes. Eventually Sweden won the war. A peace treaty was signed between the Danish and Swedish forces according to which Denmark handed over three of its richest provinces Hallandia, Scania, and Blechingia.
During the Napoleonic Wars (a series of wars fought between the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte [1769–1821] and the British between 1804 and 1815), Denmark formed an alliance with the French. Sweden, on the other hand, supported Britain. In 1807 British naval forces created havoc in Denmark by bombarding Copenhagen and inflicted further humiliation by capturing the Danish fleet. Denmark surrendered, and a peace treaty was signed between Denmark and Britain. As a reward for Swedish assistance, Britain gave the Swedish crown the right to rule Norway. The Norwegians revolted against this move and quickly declared their independence by electing their Crown Prince Christian Frederick (Christian VII; 1749–1808) as their new king.
In the 1830s the desire to become a republic gained momentum in Denmark; on June 5, 1849, the reigning monarch of Denmark King Frederick VII (1808–63) declared the kingdom a constitutional monarchy. The king became the head of the executive branch, while the legislative branch was composed of the Folketing (representatives elected by the people) and the Landsting (representatives elected by the landowners).
During World War I (1914–18), although Denmark remained neutral, the financial instability in Europe due to the war greatly affected the Danish economy. During World War II Denmark was invaded by Nazi Germany and remained under German occupation until the Allied forces liberated the country at the end of World War II. During German occupation Danish Jews were not sent to concentration camps but faced the threat of deportation. In 1943 most Danish Jews were relocated to Sweden.
Political reforms in Denmark began in 1953. A new constitution abolished the colonial status of Greenland. The country abandoned the policy of neutrality in war, and the constitution also authorized the abolition of the Landsting (upper house of elected representatives).
Denmark became a member of the United Nations and was one of the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1973 it voted to join the European Coal and Steel Community, which later became the European Union (EU). However Danish voters rejected the proposal of having a unified currency and common defense as proposed in the Maastricht Treaty. In 1993 Denmark voted in favor of the treaty, after these two aspects were removed. In 2000 Danish voters again rejected the proposal of a single EU currency (Euro), even though the monarchy and businesses were in favor of a unified currency for the EU. Denmark continues to be a constitutional monarchy under the ruling monarch Queen Margrethe II (b. 1940).
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
A northern European country, the Kingdom of Denmark occupies the peninsula of Jutland between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and includes 405 smaller islands. Sweden, Germany, and Norway are the countries neighboring Denmark. Among the 405 islands, only 82 are inhabited. The islands of Zealand (Sjaelland) and Funen (Fyn) are the largest.
Most islands are connected by bridges such as the Great Belt Bridge, which connects Funen with Zealand, and the Oresund Bridge, which connects Zealand with Sweden. Ferries also provide transportation to and from some islands.
Most of Denmark is flat. Almost 20 percent of the land is located at or near sea level, and a major portion of the arable land consists of wetlands. About 12 percent of the kingdom is covered with forests.
Denmark has four main rivers, namely the Guden, which flows through the northern part of the country, the Stor, in the southern part, and the Varde and Skjern Rivers, which flow through the central part.
Denmark has a temperate climate, which is characterized by cool summer months and mild winters. In summer the daily average temperature is around 67°F, while in winter the daily average temperature is around 34°F.
The Kingdom of Denmark has a robust economy. Although 65 percent of the country’s arable land is devoted to agricultural activities, manufacturing industries (machinery and equipment, shipbuilding, and chemical production) contribute four times more than agriculture to the country’s economy. Potatoes, grains, and sugar beets are the main agricultural products.
The Danish, krone is still the official currency of Denmark. Denmark carries on trading activities with most European countries, but Germany is its biggest trade partner. The main export items of Denmark are meat and meat products, fish, fuel, dairy products, chemicals, machinery and equipment, and ships.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
The lifestyle of the Danish people can be described in one word—hygge (cozy and snug). Danish people like a relaxed lifestyle, and, although they are reserved by nature, they are comparatively more welcoming than their north European neighbors, the Norwegians and the Swedes. They enjoy a stress-free lifestyle, spending time with friends in local beer bars, pubs, and coffeehouses.
Danish is the official language of Denmark, although other languages, such as English, Greenlandic, Faroese, and German, are also spoken. More than 95 percent of the nation’s population is Danish.
However the country is also home to people of Somali, Iranian, Turkish, and German descent.
Almost 95 percent of Danes are Evangelical Lutherans, while 3 percent are followers of other Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism, and 2 percent are Muslim.
Denmark was home to one of the world’s most beloved literary figures Hans Christian Andersen (1805–75), who wrote hundreds of fairy tales, such as “The Little Mermaid,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Snow Queen,” to name but a few.
The fiddle and accordion are integral parts of Danish folk music, although many Danish bands also use guitars. Some of the traditional Danish instruments used by shepherd boys include the village horn (byhorn), a cylindrical drum known as the bytromme (or town drum), and rumplepot (rumbling pots).
Fish, potatoes, and meat form the basic diet of the Danish people. Favorite Danish dishes include gravlax (salmon cured in dill, salt, sugar, and aquavit, often served with sweet mustard sauce), flæskesteg, or roasted pork, and hvid labskovs, a stew made by boiling pieces of beef with potatoes, pepper, and bay leaves. An open sandwich called smørrebrød (or buttered bread) and the pastry called wienerbrød (Vienna bread), popularly known as Danish in other parts of the world, are extremely popular in Denmark. Danish butter cookies are also famous worldwide. Tea, coffee, beer, spirits, and wine are the favorite beverages in Denmark.
Danish women place their trust in midwives to ensure the delivery of healthy children. Even today it is estimated that one in three children are born at home in Denmark. Among the world’s industrialized nations Sweden and Denmark have the lowest infant mortality and maternal death rates. The ritual of baptism—which formally introduces the child to Christianity—takes place at infancy.
In Denmark weddings are formalized in churches.
During the wedding ceremony the bride and the groom exchange wedding vows in the presence of God, the priest, and the assembled group of friends and family Then the bride and groom, along with the maid of honor (from the bride’s side) and the best man (from the groom’s side), sign the marriage certificate. The priest puts the seal of the church on the document and signs it, thereby solemnizing the marriage. Prayers and hymns are also part of the wedding service.
After the wedding ceremony there is a reception.
Cornucopia cake, or a Danish marzipan ring cake, which is made from almonds, candies, and fruit and decorated with sugar work, is the traditional wedding cake in Denmark. Some cakes also feature a portrait of the bride and the groom on them.
Assembled guests enjoy dancing, singing, and feasting at the wedding reception.
The Danish observe Lutheran Christian rites to bury their dead. After reading passages from the Bible, the dead body is cleansed, dressed, and placed in a coffin. Then the coffin is taken to the church, where a service is held in the deceased’s honor. The body is buried and flowers placed at the gravesite.
In many parts of Denmark graves belonging to the Viking age have been found. The burial rituals of the Vikings were different from Christian burial rites. The deceased was buried with an essential item that might be required in the afterlife; the object depended on the wealth and status of the deceased. For example a rich man was often buried with luxury items, while a poor man was buried only with a knife. Many wealthy Viking women in Denmark were buried in wagons. Food and drink was also buried along with the dead body to provide sustenance in the afterlife.