History of Denmark: the history of the “Danes “ present-day Danmark
The history of Denmark as a unified kingdom began in the 8th century, but historic documents describe the geographic area and the people living there—the Danes—as early as 500 AD. These early documents include the writings of Jordanes and Procopius. With the Christianization of the Danes c. 960 AD, it is clear that there existed a kingship. Queen Margrethe II can trace her lineage back to the Viking kings Gorm the Old and Harald Bluetooth from this time, thus making the Monarchy of Denmark the oldest in Europe. The area now known as Denmark has a rich prehistory, having been populated by several prehistoric cultures and people for about 12,000 years, since the end of the last ice age.
Denmark’s history has particularly been influenced by its geographical location between the North and Baltic seas, a strategically and economically important placement between Sweden and Germany, at the center of mutual struggles for control of the Baltic Sea (dominium maris baltici). Denmark was long in disputes with Sweden over control of Skånelandene and with Germany over control of Schleswig (a Danish fief) and Holstein (a German fief).
Eventually, Denmark lost these conflicts and ended up ceding first Skåneland to Sweden and later Schleswig-Holstein to the German Empire. After the eventual cession of Norway in 1814, Denmark retained control of the old Norwegian colonies of the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Iceland. During the 20th century, Iceland gained independence, Greenland and the Faroese became integral parts of the Kingdom of Denmark and North Schleswig reunited with Denmark in 1920 after a referendum. During World War II, Denmark was occupied by Nazi Germany but was eventually liberated by British forces of the Allies in 1945, after which it joined the United Nations. In the aftermath of World War II, and with the emergence of the subsequent Cold War, Denmark was quick to join the military alliance of NATO as a founding member in 1949.
The Scandinavian region has a rich prehistory, having been populated by several prehistoric cultures and people for about 12,000 years, since the end of the last ice age. During the ice age, all of Scandinavia was covered by glaciers most of the time, except for the southwestern parts of what we now know as Denmark. When the ice began retreating, the barren tundras were soon inhabited by reindeer and elk, and Ahrensburg and Swiderian hunters from the south followed them here to hunt occasionally. The geography then was very different from what we know today. Sea levels were much lower; the island of Great Britain was connected by a land bridge to mainland Europe and the large area between Great Britain and the Jutlandic peninsula – now beneath the North Sea and known as Doggerland – was inhabited by tribes of hunter-gatherers. As the climate warmed up, forceful rivers of meltwater started to flow and shape the virgin lands, and more stable flora and fauna gradually began emerging in Scandinavia, and Denmark in particular. The first human settlers to inhabit Denmark and Scandinavia permanently were the Maglemosian people, residing in seasonal camps and exploiting the land, sea, rivers and lakes. It was not until around 6,000 BC that the approximate geography of Denmark as we know it today had been shaped.
Denmark has some unique natural conditions for the preservation of artifacts, providing a rich and diverse archeological record from which to understand the prehistoric cultures of this area.
Stone and Bronze
The Weichsel glaciation covered all of Denmark most of the time, except the western coasts of Jutland. It ended around 13,000 years ago, allowing humans to move back into the previously ice-covered territories and establish permanent habitation. During the first post-glacial millennia, the landscape gradually changed from tundra to light forest, and varied fauna including now-extinct megafauna appeared. Early pre-historic cultures uncovered in modern Denmark include the Maglemosian culture (9,500–6,000 BC); the Kongemose culture (6,000–5,200 BC), and the Ertebølle culture (5,300–3,950 BC), and the Funnelbeaker culture (4,100–2,800 BC).
The first inhabitants of this early post-glacial landscape in the so-called Boreal period were very small and scattered populations living from the hunting of reindeer and other land mammals and gathering whatever fruits the climate was able to offer. Around 8,300 BC the temperature rose drastically, now with summer temperatures around 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit), and the landscape changed into dense forests of aspen, birch and pine and the reindeer moved north, while aurochs and elk arrived from the south. The Koelbjerg Man is the oldest known bog body in the world and also the oldest set of human bones found in Denmark, dating to the time of the Maglemosian culture around 8,000 BC. With a continuing rise in temperature the oak, elm and hazel arrived in Denmark around 7,000 BC. Now boar, red deer, and roe deer also began to abound
A burial from Bøgebakken at Vedbæk dates to c. 6,000 BC and contains 22 persons – including four newborns and one toddler. Eight of the 22 had died before reaching 20 years of age – testifying to the hardness of hunter-gatherer life in the cold north. Based on estimates of the number of game animals, scholars estimate the population of Denmark to have been between 3,300 and 8,000 persons in the time around 7,000 BC It is believed that the early hunter-gatherers lived nomadically, exploiting different environments at different times of the year, gradually shifting to the use of semi-permanent base camps.
With the rising temperatures, sea levels also rose, and during the Atlantic period, Denmark evolved from a contiguous landmass around 11,000 BC to a series of islands by 4,500 BC. The inhabitants then shifted to a seafood-based diet, which allowed the population to increase.
Agricultural settlers made inroads around 3,000 BC. Many dolmens and rock tombs (especially passage graves) date from this period. The Nordic Bronze Age period in Denmark, from about 1,500 BC, featured a culture that buried its dead, with their worldly goods, beneath burial mounds. The many finds of gold and bronze from this era include beautiful religious artifacts and musical instruments and provide the earliest evidence of social classes and stratification
During the Pre-Roman Iron Age (from the 4th to the 1st century BC), the climate in Denmark and southern Scandinavia became cooler and wetter, limiting agriculture and setting the stage for local groups to migrate southward into Germania. At around this time, people began to extract iron from the ore in peat bogs. Evidence of strong Celtic cultural influence dates from this period in Denmark, and in much of northwest Europe, and survives in some of the older place names.
From the first to the fifth century, the Roman Empire interacted with Jutland and the Danish isles in many ways, ranging from commerce to a possible “client state” relationship This period is therefore referred to as the Roman Iron Age.
The Roman provinces, whose frontiers stopped short of Denmark, nevertheless maintained trade routes and relations with Danish or proto-Danish peoples, as attested by finds of Roman coins. The earliest known runic inscriptions date back to c. 200 AD. Depletion of cultivated land in the last century BC seems to have contributed to increasing migrations in northern Europe and increasing conflict between Teutonic tribes and Roman settlements in Gaul. Roman artifacts are especially common in finds from the 1st century. It seems clear that some part of the Danish warrior aristocracy served in the Roman army.
Occasionally during this time, both animal and human sacrifices occurred and bodies were immersed in bogs. In recent times some of these bog bodies have emerged very well-preserved, providing valuable information about the religion and people who lived in Denmark during this period. Some of the most well-preserved bog bodies from the Nordic Iron Age are the Tollund Man and the Grauballe Man.
From around the 5th to the 7th century, Northern Europe experienced mass migrations. This period and its material culture are referred to as the Germanic Iron Age.
By MENSAH BENJAMIN