Denmark Early History

According to, the prehistory of Denmark does not differ from that of the Scandinavian peninsula (see Nordic, civilization). The most ancient fossil finds prove that it was inhabited by the same people who still live there today. The first residents were naturally devoted to hunting and fishing; only after a long period did they switch to agriculture, gathering in agricultural communities and cultivating the land in common. Outside the communities, some noble dynasties had the slaves cultivate the land. Originally, the people included several bloodlines; and the Latin names “Cimbri” and “Charudes” are probably ancient names of lineages. But in the century. I d. C., a new division appeared, with a territorial basis: the villages gathered in districts (Herreder), each of which provided with a Council (Ting), where questions of common interest and legal disputes were resolved; the districts were then in turn united in three main regions, Jütland, Seeland and Scania, in each of which was an assembly (Landsting), where an oath to the king was sworn, and where resolutions of common interest were taken. The supreme command in war and the defense of peace and law were the attributes of the king, elected by the people from among the princes of the royal family. Among the first historically ascertained kings is G ormthe Elder (died around 950 AD), who reigned in Jütland; to his wife, Queen Tire Danebod, we owe the construction of the famous “Danevirke”, a wall of earth along the southern border of Denmark.

Shortly before, in the middle of the ninth century, the spread of Christianity in Denmark had begun thanks to the work of the monk S. Anscario (v.), Who had churches built in Schleswig and Ribe; but the definitive triumph of the new religion came only with H arald Blaatand (Harold “Blue- toothed ” who died around 986), son and successor of Gorm, who first extended his dominion over all of Denmark. But the penetration of Christianity from the south was matched by the expeditions of the Vikings from the north during the 9th and 10th centuries (v.). Settled in the north-west of England, in the so-called “Danelag”, they began a long struggle with the Anglo-Saxons, during which they had to resort to the help of their homeland. Thus in 1013 the wholeven Tjugesk œg (or Tveske œg “forked beard”, 986-1014), successor of Aroldo Blue-toothed. England and Denmark still remained under the same sovereign (C anuto the Great) until 1035 and again from 1040 to 1042 with the king H arteknud. Only at the death of the latter was the personal union broken. Norway too had been subdued by Canute the Great in 1028; then, upon his death, he had had a king of his own, Sven. With Magnus the Good, king of Norway, the union was returned; but after his death, Cnut the Great’s grandson, S ven E stridsøn, took possession of the throne of Denmark. This king organized the Danish church, dividing it into bishoprics and also founded a properly Danish archbishopric in Lund. Among his successors (H arald H én, 1076-1080; C anuto il Santo, 1080-1086; O lav H unger, 1086-1095; E rik E jegod, 1095-1103; N iels, 1104-1134), Canute the Holy and Erik Ejegod resumed his pro-church policy. But there was no shortage of riots and rebellions: indeed, Canute the Holy found death in a popular uprising. Outside, meanwhile, the threatening pressure of the Vendors made themselves felt, who, held back for a moment by Erik Ejegod, resumed their raids at the time of Niels, unable to dominate them. Things became even more murky after Niels’ son Magnus murdered Erik Ejegod’s son Knud Lavard, the popular Duke of Schleswig, in 1131. A civil war broke out; Niels and Magnus were killed and Knud’s brother E rik E mune (1134-37) ascended the throne, killed for his cruelty; a new civil war desolated the reign of his successor, Erik L am.

Only with the accession to the throne of Knud Lavard’s son, V aldemar I, did the internal struggles end, a brilliant period of Danish history began. The Vendas, defeated, had to end the invasions, and in 1169 Rügen was taken from them. The power of the kings increased, who worked in close union with the clergy and the nobility, and who found a precious collaborator in the bishop Absalon of Roskilde, friend and adviser of Valdemaro I, and even more listened to the son of Valdemaro, K. nud(Canute). Under this king (1182-1202), the new strength of the Danish state is revealed in the struggle with Frederick Barbarossa. At Frederick’s request that the king of Denmark recognize himself as his vassal, there was in fact a sharp refusal; and when, following this, the emperor pushed Duke Bogislaw of Pomerania to attack Jaromar of Rügen, vassal of Denmark, the bishop Absalon inflicted a decisive defeat on him at Rügen (1184). The princes of Pomerania then had to recognize Cnut as the king of the Wends. Furthermore, Duke Valdemaro of Schleswig, brother of the king, managed to conquer all of Holstein, so that the kingdom of Denmark extended to the mouth of the Elbe. Other territorial acquisitions took place under V aldemaroII, called the Victor (1202-1241): the German-Vendor countries along the Baltic were conquered, and, with a famous crusade of 1219, also Estonia. But just at this moment luck turned its back on the king. Taken prisoner (1223) by one of his vassals, Count Henry of Schwerin, he had to surrender the territory to the south of Elba in order to regain his freedom; and he suffered a new defeat in another war (near Bornhøved, in 1227). Since then, he has devoted all his activity to the internal development of his country.

This internal progress had already been going on for some time; indeed it was the basis of the vigorous foreign policy of the Valdemari dynasty. The king’s power had greatly increased, thanks to the purchase by the sovereign of large landholdings, from which the king obtained large income: the farmers were in fact required to pay the rent (Landgilde) to the king. But in addition to this income, which was due to him as owner, the king enjoyed other income: the stud, a tax which replaced the king’s hotel right, and which was the first tax paid by the Danes. And even the peasants’ obligation to do military service for the king was replaced by a tax: although the wealthiest farmers, a class from which the Danish nobility later formed, preferred to serve in war, as before. The administration of the country was entrusted to three officials: the Drost (“scalco”), who administered the assets of the crown and the income of the state; the Marsk (“marshal”) who oversaw the army; the Kansler (“chancellor”), placed at the head of the state chancellery. The laws were codified again by Valdemaro II with the so-called “Law of Jütland”, which came into force in Jütland and Funen. In the most important matters of state the king consulted an assembly made up of the most eminent men of the kingdom: this demonstrates the growing influence of the nobility, especially since it became customary to convene diets (Danehof) for the most serious decisions and for quarrels between the king and his men. The trade flourished, especially as the Danish fishermen sold Scania herring to the merchants of Lübeck in the large markets of Skanor. The duty paid for those herring was a source of rich income for the king. The growing prosperity of the entire country brought with it that of individual cities: the founding of Copenhagen dates back to those times.

Denmark Early History

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