The oldest archaeological discoveries in Denmark date back to the Eem interglacial era, which lasted from 130,000 to 110,000 BC. Denmark has been populated since about 12,500 BC, and agriculture has existed from 3900 BC. In Denmark, the Nordic Bronze Age (1800–600 BC) was characterized by burial mounds, which left a plethora of finds, including lurs and the Sun Chariot.
Native tribes started moving south during the Pre-Roman Iron Age (500 BC – AD 1), and the first tribal Danes arrived in the land between the Pre-Roman and Germanic Iron Ages, in the Roman Iron Age (AD 1–400). The Roman provinces maintained trading routes and relationships with Danish aboriginal tribes, and Roman coins have been discovered in Denmark. Evidence of significant Celtic cultural impact dates from this time in Denmark and much of North-West Europe, as shown by the discovery of the Gundestrup cauldron, among other things.
The tribal Danes spoke an early version of North Germanic and came from the east Danish islands (Zealand) and Scania. Historians think that tribal Jutes inhabited much of Jutland and the nearby islands prior to their arrival. The Jutes ultimately came to Britain, some as mercenaries for Brythonic King Vortigern, and were given the south-eastern regions of Kent, the Isle of Wight, and other places, where they settled. Later, the invading Angles and Saxons, who became the Anglo-Saxons, assimilated or ethnically cleansed them. Jutland’s surviving Jutish people integrated with the settling Danes.
A brief reference of the Dani in the historian Jordanes’ “Getica” is thought to represent an early mention of the Danes, one of the ethnic groups from whom contemporary Danes are derived. The Danevirke defense fortifications were constructed in stages beginning in the third century, and the sheer scale of the construction activities in AD 737 is ascribed to the rise of a Danish monarch. Around the same period, a new runic alphabet was developed, and Ribe, Denmark’s oldest settlement, was established around AD 700.
Viking and Middle Ages
From the eighth to the tenth centuries, Vikings came from the broader Scandinavian area. They colonized, raided, and traded across Europe. The Danish Vikings were particularly active in the east and south of the British Isles, as well as throughout Western Europe. In 1013, they invaded and colonized portions of England (known as the Danelaw) under King Sweyn Forkbeard, while in France, Danes and Norwegians created Normandy under King Rollo. Denmark has more Anglo-Saxon pennies from this era than England.
Denmark had become fully established by the late eighth century, and its rulers are regularly referred to as kings in Frankish texts (reges). During Gudfred’s reign in 804, the Danish kingdom may have encompassed all of Jutland, Scania, and the Danish islands, except Bornholm. The current Danish monarchy may be traced back to Gorm the Old, who reigned in the early 10th century. Harald Bluetooth, the son of Gorm, Christianized the Danes about 965, as shown by the Jelling stones. Denmark is said to have been Christian for political reasons, in order to avoid being attacked by the Holy Roman Empire, a growing Christian power in Europe that was an important trade region for the Danes. In that instance, Harald constructed six Trelleborg castles throughout Denmark, as well as another Danevirke. With a Scandinavian army, Canute the Great conquered and unified Denmark, England, and Norway for almost 30 years in the early 11th century.
During the High and Late Middle Ages, Denmark also encompassed Skneland (the regions of Scania, Halland, and Blekinge in modern-day south Sweden), and Danish monarchs controlled Danish Estonia as well as the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein. The majority of the latter two are now part of the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein.
Denmark formed a personal union with Norway and Sweden in 1397, uniting under Queen Margaret I. In the union, the three nations were to be regarded as equals. Margaret, on the other hand, may not have been so utopian from the outset, seeing Denmark as the union’s obvious “older” partner. As a result, most of the following 125 years of Scandinavian history centers on this marriage, with Sweden periodically breaking away and being re-conquered. The problem was effectively settled on June 17, 1523, when Swedish King Gustav Vasa seized Stockholm. The Protestant Reformation came to Scandinavia in the 1530s, and Denmark switched to Lutheranism in 1536, after the Count’s Feud civil war. Later that year, Denmark and Norway became a union.
Early modern history (1536–1849)
Following Sweden’s final withdrawal from the personal union, Denmark attempted to reestablish authority over its neighbor on numerous occasions. In the 1611–1613 Kalmar War, King Christian IV invaded Sweden but failed to achieve his primary goal of bringing it back into the union. The conflict resulted in no territorial changes, but Sweden was compelled to pay Denmark a war indemnity of 1 million silver riksdaler, known as the lvsborg ransom. This money was utilized by King Christian to establish numerous cities and castles, the most notable of which were Glückstadt (built as a competitor to Hamburg) and Christiania. Inspired by the Dutch East India Firm, he established a similar Danish business with the intention of claiming Ceylon as a colony, but the company only acquired Tranquebar on India’s Coromandel Coast. Denmark’s colonial ambitions were restricted to a few important trade ports in Africa and India. The empire was maintained through commerce with other great nations and plantations; nevertheless, a shortage of resources eventually led to its demise.
Christian attempted to become the head of the Lutheran nations in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, but was defeated in the Battle of Lutter. As a consequence, Albrecht von Wallenstein’s Catholic army was able to attack, occupy, and plunder Jutland, compelling Denmark to withdraw from the war. Denmark avoided territorial compromises, but King Gustavus Adolphus’ involvement in Germany was seen as a sign that Sweden’s military might was growing while Denmark’s influence in the area was dwindling. Swedish forces attacked Jutland in 1643 and seized Scania in 1644.
Denmark relinquished Halland, Gotland, the remaining portions of Danish Estonia, and numerous provinces in Norway at the Treaty of Brmsebro in 1645. King Frederick III made war on Sweden and marched on Bremen-Verden in 1657. This resulted in a major Danish loss, and King Charles X Gustav of Sweden’s troops captured both Jutland, Funen, and most of Zealand before signing the Treaty of Roskilde in February 1658, giving Sweden sovereignty of Scania, Blekinge, Trndelag, and the island of Bornholm. Charles X Gustav soon regretted not wrecking Denmark, and in August 1658, he launched a two-year siege of Copenhagen, but failed to capture the city. Denmark was able to retain its independence and reclaim control over Trndelag and Bornholm as a result of the subsequent peace treaty.
Denmark attempted to reclaim sovereignty of Scania during the Scanian War (1675–1679), but failed. Following the Great Northern War (1700–21), Denmark was able to reclaim control of portions of Schleswig and Holstein held by the family of Holstein-Gottorp in the 1720 Treaty of Frederiksborg and the 1773 Treaty of Tsarskoye Selo. Denmark flourished tremendously in the late eighteenth century as a result of its neutral position, which allowed it to trade with both sides in the numerous current conflicts. During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark traded with both France and the United Kingdom and became a member of the League of Armed Neutrality, along with Russia, Sweden, and Prussia. The British saw this as a hostile gesture and invaded Copenhagen in both 1801 and 1807, capturing the Danish navy in one instance and destroying major sections of the Danish city in the other. As a result, the so-called Danish-British Gunboat War erupted. British control of the rivers connecting Denmark and Norway was catastrophic for the union’s economy, and Denmark–Norway declared bankruptcy in 1813.
The Treaty of Kiel in 1814 destroyed the Danish-Norwegian union; the Danish crown “irrevocably and permanently” abandoned rights to the Kingdom of Norway in favor of the Swedish king. After the union with Norway was dissolved, Denmark maintained the holdings of Iceland (which remained the Danish monarchy until 1944), the Faroe Islands, and Greenland, all of which had been ruled by Norway for centuries. Denmark ruled over Danish India from 1620 to 1869, the Danish Gold Coast (Ghana) from 1658 to 1850, and the Danish West Indies from 1671 to 1917, in addition to the Nordic possessions.
Constitutional monarchy (1849–present)
In the 1830s, a fledgling Danish liberal and national movement gained traction; after the European Revolutions of 1848, Denmark peacefully became a constitutional monarchy on June 5, 1849. A two-chamber parliament was created under a new constitution. Denmark was at war with both Prussia and Habsburg Austria during the Second Schleswig War, which lasted from February to October 1864. Denmark was beaten and had to hand up Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia. This setback was the latest in a long line of defeats and territory losses that began in the 17th century. Following these events, Denmark adopted a policy of European neutrality.
Denmark experienced industrialization in the second part of the nineteenth century. In the 1850s, the nation’s first railways were built, and better connections and foreign commerce enabled industry to flourish despite Denmark’s lack of natural resources. Trade unions began to emerge in the 1870s. People migrated from the rural to the city in large numbers, and Danish agriculture became focused on the export of dairy and meat products.
Throughout World War I, Denmark remained neutral. Following Germany’s defeat, the Versailles powers promised to restore Schleswig-Holstein to Denmark. Fearing German irredentism, Denmark refused to contemplate returning the region without a vote; the two Schleswig plebiscites were held on February 10 and March 14, 1920, respectively. Northern Schleswig was reclaimed by Denmark on July 10, 1920, adding 163,600 people and 3,984 square kilometers to the country (1,538 sq mi).
Denmark signed a 10-year non-aggression agreement with Nazi Germany in 1939, but Germany attacked Denmark on April 9, 1940, and the Danish government surrendered swiftly. Denmark’s participation in World War II was marked by economic cooperation with Germany until 1943, when the Danish government rejected further cooperation, scuttling most of its ships and sending many of its commanders to neutral Sweden. The Danish resistance carried out a rescue operation, evacuating thousands of Jews and their families to safety in Sweden before the Germans could transport them to extermination camps. Some Danes backed Nazism by joining the Danish Nazi Party or enlisting in the Frikorps Danmark to fight alongside Germany. Iceland broke relations with Denmark and declared independence in 1944; Germany surrendered in May 1945; the Faroe Islands achieved self-government in 1948; and Denmark became a founding member of NATO in 1949.
Denmark was one of the original members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). EFTA nations were frequently referred to as the Outer Seven throughout the 1960s, as contrast to the Inner Six of what was then the European Economic Community (EEC). Following a popular vote, Denmark joined the European Economic Community (now the European Union) in 1973, along with the United Kingdom and Ireland. The Danish people rejected the Maastricht Treaty, which included greater European integration, in 1992; it was only approved following a second vote in 1993, which allowed for four policy opt-outs. In a referendum held in 2000, the Danes rejected the euro as their national currency. Greenland was granted self-determination in 2009 after gaining home rule in 1979. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are not members of the Union; the Faroese rejected admission in the EEC in 1973 and Greenland in 1986, respectively, due to fisheries policy.
Greenland became an integral part of Denmark after a constitutional reform in 1953 resulted in a single-chamber parliament chosen by proportional representation, female succession to the Danish throne, and Greenland being an integral part of Denmark. For the majority of the second part of the twentieth century, the centre-left Social Democrats led a series of coalition administrations, implementing the Nordic welfare model. Centre-right administrations have also been headed by the Liberal Party and the Conservative People’s Party. The right-wing populist Danish People’s Party has developed as a significant party in recent years, becoming the second-largest after the 2015 general election, during which time immigration and integration have been important topics of public discussion.