Nor. Norge, officially Kingdom of Norway, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 4,593,000), 125,181 sq mi (324,219 sq km), N Europe, occupying the western part of the Scandinavian peninsula. Extending from the Skagerrak, which it borders in the south, c.1,100 mi (1,770 km) northeast to North Cape and Vardø on the Barents Sea in the extreme northeast, the country forms a narrow mountainous strip along the North Sea in the southwest and in the west the Atlantic Ocean, whose local waters are also called the Norwegian Sea. It has a long land frontier with Sweden in the east and in the northeast borders on Finland and Russia. Oslo is the capital and largest city. The nation's outlying possessions are Svalbard and Jan Mayen in the Arctic Ocean and Bouvet and Peter I islands in the S Atlantic; Norway also has claims in Antarctica.
The coastline, c.1,700 mi (2,740 km) long, is fringed with islands (notably the Lofoten islands and Vesterålen) and is deeply indented by numerous fjords. Sognafjorden, Hardangerfjord, Nordfjord, and Oslofjord are among the largest and best known. From the coast the land rises sharply to high plateaus such as Dovrefjell and the Hardangervidda. Galdhøpiggen, in the Jotunheimen range, is the high point (8,098 ft/2,468 m); west of it lies Jostedalsbreen, the largest glacier field in Europe. The mountains and plateaus are intersected by fertile valleys, such as Gudbrandsdalen, and by rapid rivers, which furnish hydroelectric power and are used for logging. The Glåma, in the south, is the most important river. Because of the North Atlantic Drift, Norway has a mild and humid climate for a northern country.
Most of the population is concentrated along the southern coast and valleys, where the chief cities—Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Kristiansand, and Drammen—are located. Farther north along the coast is Trondheim, and in the extreme north are Narvik, Tromsø, and Hammerfest. The majority of Norwegians are of Scandinavian stock, but in the northern county of Finnmark, Lapps and Finns predominate.
The literary language of Norway for many years was Danish, from which Riksmål (officially Bokmål), one of the two official idioms of Norway, is derived (see Norwegian language and Norwegian literature). Landsmål (officially Nynorsk), the other official idiom, is similar. Frequent spelling reforms account for the variation in Norwegian place names.
The Lutheran Church is the state church, but all other religions enjoy freedom of worship. The king nominates the nine bishops and other clergy of the Lutheran Church. The educational level in Norway is very high; the leading universities are in Oslo (founded 1811) and Bergen (founded 1946).
Almost three quarters of Norway's land is unproductive; less than 4% is under cultivation and the country imports over 50% of its food. The vast mountain pastures are used for the grazing of cattle and sheep, and, in the north, for reindeer raising. About one quarter of Norway is forested; timber is a chief natural resource and is the basis for one of the main industries. The beautiful Norwegian fjords and the midnight sun of the far north attract many tourists. Fishing (notably of cod, herring, and mackerel) is important, and fresh, canned, and salted fish from Norway are exported to the entire world.
The country's chief industries are petroleum and natural gas production, shipping, and trading. Since the discovery of petroleum in the Ekofisk field in 1969, the petroleum and natural gas industries have become vital to Norway's economy, bringing increased employment, but also increased inflation and a vulnerability to fluctuations in the world petroleum market (most of the oil and gas is exported). Other mineral resources include pyrites, copper, titanium, and iron ore, which are heavily mined, and some coal, zinc, and lead. Nickel, aluminum, ferroalloys, and semifinished steel are produced. Almost all of Norway's electricity is supplied by hydroelectric power, and the country exports hydroelectricity as well. The food manufacturing, pulp and paper, electrochemical, electrometallurgical, and shipbuilding industries are important to the economy. The great Norwegian merchant fleet carries a large part of the world's trade. The chief trading partners are Great Britain, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United States.
Norway is a constitutional monarchy; executive power, while nominally held by the monarch, is exercised by a council of ministers led by the prime minister. Legislative power is vested in the 165-member parliament or Storting. The three main parties are the moderately socialist Labor party, the pro-free enterprise Conservative party, and the Christian Democratic party. Norway is divided into 19 counties or provinces (Nor. fylker ).
The history of Norway before the age of the Vikings is indistinct from that of the rest of Scandinavia. In the 9th cent. the country was still divided among the numerous petty kings of the fylker. Harold I, of the Yngling or Scilfing dynasty (which claimed descent from one of the old Norse gods), defeated the petty kings (c.900) and conquered the Shetlands and the Orkneys, but failed to establish permanent unity. Harold's campaigns drove many nobles and their followers to settle in Iceland and France. In the next two centuries Norsemen raided widely in W Europe and established the Norse duchy of Normandy. Harold himself concentrated on developing a dynasty; before he died (c.935) the country was divided among his sons, but one of them, Haakon I, defeated (c.935) his brothers and temporarily reunited the kingdom.
Christianity, brought by English missionaries, gained a foothold under Olaf I and was established by Olaf II (reigned 1015–28). Olaf II was driven out of Norway by King Canute of England and Denmark, in league with discontented Norwegian nobles; however, his son, Magnus I, was restored (1035) to the Norwegian throne. Both Magnus and his successor, Harold III, played a vital part in the complex events then taking place in England and Denmark. After Harold died while invading England (1066), Norway entered a period of decline and civil war, precipitated by conflicting claims to the throne.
Among the major events of 12th-century Norwegian history were the mission of Nicholas Breakspear (later Pope Adrian IV), who organized the Norwegian hierarchy, and the rule of Sverre, who created a new nobility grounded in commerce and, with the help of the popular party, the Birkebeiner, consolidated the royal power. His grandson, Haakon IV, was put on the throne by the Birkebeiner in 1217; under him and under Magnus VI (reigned 1263–80) medieval Norway reached its greatest flowering and enjoyed peace and prosperity. During this time Iceland and Greenland recognized Norwegian rule.
The separate development of Norway was halted by the accession (1319) of Magnus VII, who was also king of Sweden. He was unpopular in Norway, which he was compelled to surrender (1343) to his son, Haakon VI, husband of Margaret I of Denmark. Margaret subsequently united the rule of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in her person and in 1397 had the Kalmar Union drawn up. Although the union was strictly a personal one, Norway virtually ceased to exist as a separate kingdom and was ruled by Danish governors for the following four centuries. Its power had greatly declined even before Margaret's accession, however, and its trade had been taken over by the Hanseatic League, which maintained its chief northern office at Bergen.
Norway's political history became essentially that of Denmark. Christian III of Denmark (1535–59) introduced Lutheranism as the state religion. Under Danish rule Norway lost territory to Sweden but developed economically. The fishing industry flourished (late 17th cent.), lumbering became an important industry (18th cent.), the merchant class grew, and Norway became a naval power. During the Napoleonic Wars, Norway was blockaded by the British. In 1814, Denmark, which had sided with France, was obliged to consent to the Treaty of Kiel, by which it ceded Norway to the Swedish crown in exchange for W Pomerania.
The Norwegians resisted union with Sweden and attempted to set up a separate kingdom, with a liberal constitution and a parliament, under Prince Christian (later King Christian VIII of Denmark). A Swedish army obliged Norway to accept Charles XIII of Sweden, but the act of union of 1814 recognized Norway as an independent kingdom, in personal union with Sweden, with its own constitution and parliament. Despite some Swedish concessions to growing Norwegian nationalism, Swedish-Norwegian relations were strained throughout the 19th cent. Johan Sverdrup, the Liberal leader, succeeded in making the ministry responsible to parliament despite royal opposition (1884), but other problems remained.
The Norwegian interest in obtaining greater participation in foreign policy came to a crisis in the late 19th cent. over the issue of a separate Norwegian consular service, justified by the spectacular growth of Norwegian shipping and commercial interests. Finally, in 1905, the Storting declared the dissolution of the union and the deposition of Oscar II. Sweden acquiesced after a plebiscite showed Norwegians nearly unanimously in favor of separation; in a second vote Norway chose to become a monarchy, and parliament elected the second son of Frederick VIII of Denmark king of Norway as Haakon VII.
Two important features in Norwegian history of the late 19th and early 20th cent. were the large-scale emigration to the United States and the great arctic and antarctic explorations by such notable men as Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Three outstanding cultural figures of the period were Edvard Grieg, Henrik Ibsen, and Edvard Munch. In World War I, Norway remained neutral. The industrial development of Norway, spurred by the harnessing of water power, contributed to the rise of the Labor (socialist) party, which has predominated in Norwegian politics since 1927. In the 1930s much social welfare legislation was passed, including public health and housing measures, pensions, aid to the disabled, and unemployment insurance.
Norway attempted to remain neutral in World War II, but in Apr., 1940, German troops invaded, and in a short time nearly the whole country was in German hands. King Haakon and his cabinet set up a government in exile in London, and the Norwegian merchant fleet was of vital assistance to the Allies throughout the war. Despite the attempts of Vidkun Quisling to promote collaboration with the Germans, the people of Norway defied the occupation forces. German troops remained in Norway until the war ended in May, 1945. Although half of the Norwegian fleet was sunk during the war, Norway quickly recovered its commercial position. Postwar economic policy included a degree of socialism and measures such as price, interest, and dividend controls.
Norway was one of the original members of the United Nations (the Norwegian Trygve Lie was the first UN Secretary-General), and it became a member of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. King Olaf V succeeded to the throne in 1957. Norway joined the European Free Trade Association in 1959. Norwegian voters rejected membership in the European Community (now the European Union) in 1972, but trade agreements with the market were made the next year. Between 1965 and 1971 the Labor party was out of power for the first time since 1936.
The Labor party returned to power in 1971 under the leadership of Trygve Bratteli, whose government resigned but was restored to power in the 1973 elections. Bratteli was succeeded as prime minister by Odvar Nordli in 1976, who was quickly succeeded (1977) by Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norway's first woman prime minister. Brundtland was defeated by Conservative Kåre Willoch in the 1981 election, but she returned to the office of prime minster in 1986 and 1990. In 1991, Harold V succeeded his father Olaf V as king of Norway.
Norway sparked international controversy in 1992 when it refused to conform to the International Whaling Treaty (see whaling). During 1993, the Norwegian government facilitated secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which led to agreements on Palestinian self-rule. In 1994, Norwegian voters again rejected membership in the European Union (EU). Bruntland resigned in 1996 and was replaced by Thorbjørn Jagland. Following elections in 1997, Jagland resigned and Christian Democrat Kjell Magne Bondevik became prime minister, heading a center-right coalition government that included the Center and Liberal parties. In Mar., 2000, Bondevik resigned after losing a key vote in parliament, and Labor party leader Jens Stoltenberg formed a new government. In parliamentary elections in Sept., 2001, Labor suffered a significant setback, with nonsocialist opposition parties winning a bare majority of the seats. Bondevik again became prime minister, heading a center-right minority government consisting of the Christian Democrat, Conservative, and Liberal parties. Parliamentary elections in Sept., 2005, brought Labor and its allies into office, and Stoltenberg became prime minister. The far-right Progress party, espousing a populist, anti-immigration platform, became the largest opposition party after the vote.