Some of the most extraordinary evidence left by Denmark’s early inhabitants are bodies preserved in peat bogs. These are probably the bodies of criminals executed over 2,000 years ago. By studying them, archaeologists have found out what people at the time ate, wore and even what they looked like. The bog bodies are especially valuable because there is very little written evidence for early Danish history.
During the Viking age the Danes crossed the North Sea and invaded England. In ad 878 a part of England was granted to the Danish king. This area was in the north and east and was called the Danelaw. The Danes invaded again in 1013 and briefly ruled the whole country.
A MEDIEVAL EMPIRE
At home the country was ruled by a king called Harold Bluetooth. He was the first Christian king of the Danes, and also the first ruler of a united Denmark. Historians know about him because he ordered stones to be carved with runes (a kind of ancient writing) that describe his achievements and those of his family.
During the Middle Ages the Danes expanded to the east and became the most powerful country in the Baltic region. In 1397 Denmark was united with Sweden and Norway in the Union of Kalmar. Despite this union, Denmark and Sweden remained great rivals. In 1520 a Danish king called Christian II invaded Sweden and had himself crowned king. Afterwards, he killed many of his opponents in the “Bloodbath of Stockholm” and gained the nickname “the Cruel”. The Swedes revolted against Christian and, three years later, they established Sweden as an independent country.
A NEW RELIGION
Next came a period of civil war in Denmark. When Christian III came to the throne in 1534 he was able to establish his authority. The new king also established a new religious faith in Denmark. He was a Lutheran Protestant, and during his reign the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church was taken over by the Crown.
DEFEAT AND REFORM
During the 17th and 18th centuries Denmark lost much of its territory around the Baltic. In 1658 its old rival Sweden won Skåne, in the south of Sweden. Later, during the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark tried to remain neutral. The British would not accept this and attacked Copenhagen in 1801, defeating the Danish fleet. In 1815, when the Napoleonic Wars were over, Denmark lost Norway to Sweden.
At home, however, life for many Danes changed for the better. Reformers such as Count Reventlow introduced changes to improve the lives of the Danish peasants, giving them land and freeing them from military service.
Denmark has been a peaceful country since the end of the Napoleonic Wars, except between 1940 and 1944, when the country was occupied by German forces. The Danes joined the European Economic Community (now called the European Union) in 1972, but the country does not use the Euro currency. Queen Margrethe II has been on the throne since 1972.