Uniting the kingdom

Prior to 800 CE the regions that later became Norway were fragmented. However, with farming communities constantly under threat of attack by bands of robbers and homecoming Vikings, petty kingdoms began to evolve. Some became quite powerful, eg the Trøndelag earls of Lade, whose power increased steadily during the 9th century. Eventually, after a battle at Hafrsfjord (near Stavanger) in c872, Harald Hårfagre (Harald Fairhair), king of Vestfold (on the coast, south west of modern Oslo) became ruler of a large area of the country. However, the unifying process, involving harsh struggles between warring Norwegian chieftains, was to continue until 1060.

During this period too, largely as a result of Norway’s contact with other parts of Europe, Christianity was steadily introduced into the country, leading to the weakening of traditional belief in the Nordic gods.

This process was set into motion during the rule of Olav I Tryggvasson (968-1000), a descendant of Harald Hårfagre who sponsored missionary activity from England, Germany and Denmark, and was consolidated during the reign of Olav II Haraldsson, also called Olav den Hellige, ‘Olav the Sacred’, (1000-1030), who died a martyr’s death at the Battle of Stiklestad, giving him saint’s status. The first bishoprics subsequently appeared in Norway – Nidaros (later Trondheim) in 1029 and Bergen in 1070. An archbishop was installed at Trondheim in 1152.

After Stiklestad, Norway fell briefly under the control of Danish King Cnut the Great (c995- 1035), but Cnut’s death and the dissolution of his empire was followed by a revival of Norwegian unity and strength under Magnus I and Harald III Hårdråde, son and half-brother respectively of Olav II. After Harald’s death at Stamford Bridge in 1066, his descendants ruled Norway until 1130, when the death of Sigurd the Crusader marked the start of nearly a century of bitter civil war.