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Satellite photo of Scandinavia, February 2003

Scandinavia is a group of countries in northern Europe that includes Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The term is most often used linguistically, to mean places that speak Scandinavian languages (also called the North Germanic languages). The Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Danish) are closely related, and many Scandinavians are able to understand some of the other languages, with some difficulty.

The Scandinavian Peninsula is a large peninsula reaching west from northern Europe over the north side of the Baltic Sea. Norway, Sweden and some of Finland are on this peninsula. However, Denmark, but not Finland, is seen as part of Scandinavia in the ethic sense. This is because Danish is a Scandinavian language but Finnish is not.

The term Nordic countries is sometimes used as a more correct geographical term, but the Nordic countries include Norway, Sweden, Denmark (including the Faroe Islands), Finland and Iceland. These five countries coordinate political and cultural activities through the Nordic Council. Denmark, Sweden and Finland are also members of the European Union, but only Finland is part of the eurozone, meaning that it uses the euro as its currency. The other Nordic countries still use their own currencies, called krone or krona ("crowns"). Norway and Iceland, which are not members of the EU, are members of NATO and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). Only Denmark is a member of both the EU and NATO.

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     The most common usage: the three monarchies Denmark, Norway and Sweden      An extended usage, including Finland, Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands

The Scandinavian Peninsula is very open and few people live in most parts of it. It is covered with large forests of pine, birch, and spruce. The western and northern parts are mountainous; the Scandinavian mountains are some of the oldest in the world. The tallest mountain is Galdhøpiggen in Norway. Denmark (43,098 km2) is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries. It is more densely populated, and most of the land is farmland. Sweden (449,964 km2) is the largest of the Scandinavian countries. It has the most lakes, and the landscape ranges from plains in the south to mountains in the west (along the border with Norway) to tundra in the north. The far north of Scandinavia and Finland is called Lapland, where the Sami people live. Some of them still herd reindeer as they have for centuries, but the Sami mostly live in a modernised society equal to that of other Scandinavians.


The best-known stereotypes of Scandinavian people relate to the Vikings of the Middle Ages. The Vikings from Sweden are best known as traders, traveling as far as what we now know as Ukraine and starting trade routes to bring goods from the Middle East to Scandinavia. The Vikings from Norway are best known as explorers, crossing the North Atlantic in their longships and settling Iceland and Greenland. The Norwegian explorers even reached the east coast of what we now call Canada, where they set up a colony, but it only lasted a few years.

The Vikings from Denmark, however, left the biggest mark on the English. Danish raiders attacked England repeatedly and brutally, demanding payment that came to be called "Danegeld" (Danish gold). The priests and bishops of churches along the eastern coast of England had a famous prayer, "deliver us, O Lord, from the wrath of the Norsemen!" Much later, in the 19th century, Richard Wagner and other people of the Romantic period (1800s) invented descriptions of ancient Germanic culture in the opera and the other arts, often showing Vikings wearing furs and winged or horned helmets and drinking from large horns.


During a period of Christianization and formation of states in the 10th–13th centuries, numerous Germanic kingdoms were unified into three kingdoms:

  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Norway

The three Scandinavian kingdoms joined in 1387 in the Kalmar Union under Queen Margaret I of Denmark. However, Sweden left the union in 1523. Because of this, civil war broke out in Denmark and Norway. The Protestant Reformation followed. When things had settled, the Norwegian Privy Council was abolished—it assembled for the last time in 1537. A personal union, entered into by the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway in 1536, lasted until 1814. Three sovereign successor states have subsequently emerged from this union: Denmark, Norway and Iceland.

The borders between the three countries got the shape they have had since in the middle of the seventeenth century: In the 1645 Treaty of Brömsebro, Denmark–Norway ceded the Norwegian provinces of Jämtland, Härjedalen and Idre & Särna, as well as the Baltic Sea islands of Gotland and Ösel (in Estonia) to Sweden.

The Treaty of Roskilde, signed in 1658, forced Denmark–Norway to cede the Danish provinces Scania, Blekinge, Halland, Bornholm and the Norwegian provinces of Båhuslen and Trøndelag to Sweden.

The 1660 Treaty of Copenhagen forced Sweden to return Bornholm and Trøndelag to Denmark–Norway.

In the east, Finland was a part of Sweden since medieval times until the Napoleonic wars, when it became part of Russia.

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