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The Nordic countries make up a region in Northern Europe and the North Atlanticmarker which consists of Denmarkmarker, Finlandmarker, Icelandmarker, Norwaymarker and Swedenmarker and their associated territories which include the Faroe Islandsmarker, Greenlandmarker, Svalbardmarker and Ålandmarker. Scandinavia is sometimes used as a synonym for the Nordic countries, although within the Nordic countries the terms are considered distinct.

The region's five nation-states and three autonomous regions share much common history as well as common traits in their respective societies, such as political systems and the Nordic model. Politically, Nordic countries do not form a separate entity, but they co-operate in the Nordic Council. Linguistically, the area is heterogeneous, with three unrelated language groups, the North Germanic branch of Indo-European languages and the Baltic-Finnic and Sami branches of Uralic languages as well as the Eskimo-Aleut language Greenlandic spoken in Greenlandmarker. The Nordic countries have a combined population of approximately 25 million spread over a land area of 3.5 million km² (Greenland accounts for 60% of the total area).

Etymology and terminology

The term 'Nordic countries' is derived from the French term Pays nordiques as an equivalent of the local terms Norden (Scandinavian languages), Pohjola / Pohjoismaat (Finnish language), Põhjala / Põhjamaad (Estonian language), Norðurlönd (Icelandic), Norðurlond (Faroese) and Davveriikkat (North Sámi) with the meaning of "The North(ern lands)".

In English usage, the term Scandinavia is sometimes used—though not consistently—as a synonym for the Nordic countries. From the 1850s, it was known Scandinavia came to include, politically and cultural, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Geographically, the Scandinavian Peninsula includes mainland Sweden and mainland Norway, and also a part of Finland, while the Jutland Peninsulamarker includes mainland Denmark and a small part of Germany. Denmark proper has not included any territory on the Scandinavian Peninsula since 1658. The Faroe Islandsmarker and Icelandmarker are "Scandinavian" in the sense that they were settled by Scandinavians and speak Scandinavian languages, but geographically they are not part of Scandinavia. Having once been a part of Sweden, Finland has been significantly influenced by Swedish culture and part of itmarker is geographically within Scandinavia, whereas the Finnish language is not related to the Scandinavian languages. Greenlandmarker was settled by the Norse, and is currently part of the Danish realm, with the Danish language spoken by nearly all inhabitants, while geographically it is part of North America.

In geology, the term for the land area which lies above sea level on the Baltic shield (also known as the Fennoscandian Shield) is Fennoscandia (from the Latin toponyms Fennia and Scania).

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "Nordic" as an adjective dated to 1898 with the meaning "of or relating to the Germanic peoples of northern Europe and especially of Scandinavia" or "of or relating to a group or physical type of the Caucasian race characterized by tall stature, long head, light skin and hair, and blue eyes". In the light of linguistic-based race theories, Germanymarker would be a Nordic country instead of Finland whose population generally features the previously mentioned stereotypical phenotype and a Uralic majority language. Before the 19th century and romantic nationalism, the term Nordic may have been used more as a synonym for Northern to mean Northern Europe including the Baltic countries (at that time Lithuaniamarker, Livonia and Courland) and occasionally the British Islesmarker and other lands on the shores of the Balticmarker and North Seasmarker.

Use of Nordic countries vs. Scandinavia

While the term Scandinavia is most commonly used for Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the term the Nordic countries is used unambiguously for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, including their associated territories (Greenland, the Faroes, and Åland). Scandinavia can thus be considered a subset of the Nordic countries.

In addition to mainland Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the Nordic countries consist of:


Estoniamarker has applied for membership in the Nordic Council, referring to its cultural heritage and close linguistic links to Finland, although normally Estonia is regarded as one of the Baltic countries. All Baltic states have shared historical events with the Nordic countries, including Scandinavia, during the centuries.


A reconstructed Viking ship

The Nordic countries are characterised by similar structures of their societies and cultural traits. This results not only from similar environmental realities and thus traditional livelihoods but also from a shared history.

The indigenous population of northern half of continental "Norden" are the Sami people, whereas the southern half is the historical "urheimat" of the Norse cultures and the forefathers of the Finnish. The western isles may be said to have been first settled by the Norse, with two caveats: Inuit arrived on northwestern Greenland more or less at the same time as the Norse came to the island's southeast; and in the settlement of Iceland, Celts were also active.

During the Dark Ages, what are now Norway, Sweden, Denmark and from 10th century onwards also Iceland shared a similar cultural, linguistic (Old Norse) and religious (Norse mythology) environment. From ca. the 12th century onwards what is now Finland (linguistically Baltic-Finnic and broader Finno-Ugric) started sharing the common developments as it was increasingly integrated into the kingdom of Sweden. As another example of a deeply rooted unifying past could be taken the indigenous Sami lifestyle (linguistically Finno-Ugric) across what is now northern Norway, Sweden and Finland (and beyond). Indeed, all Nordic countries have minority groups deriving or claiming heritage of a population residing within another Nordic state.

After being Christianized around the year 1000, the process of local unification established Denmark, Norway and Sweden as separate kingdoms. Finland became part of Sweden in the mid 1200s, whereas Iceland, the Faroe Islands, the Shetland Islandsmarker, Orkneymarker, Greenland belonged to Norway. All Nordic countries followed the Protestant Reformation of the Western church during the 16th century and adopted Lutheran state churches—which still have large membership counts, although their state affiliation varies. Finland also has a much smaller Orthodox state church whose members, 1.1% of population, mainly come from the areas that were outside the Swedish realm when Christianity was introduced.

In the 14th century, Denmark, Norway (with Iceland) and Sweden (with Finland) were united under one regent, in the Kalmar Union which Denmark dominated, in the early 16th century Sweden reestablished itself as a separate kingdom. Denmark's domination over Norway lasted until 1814 when the king was forced to cede Norway to the king of Sweden. Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remained Danish.

The power balance between the Nordic countries shifted after the Thirty Year War where Denmark was humiliated, but Sweden came out successful and with an alliance with France. During the 17th century Sweden established itself among the Powers of Europe, but Sweden ultimately lost its foreign Dominions one by one. This process culminated in the loss of Finland to Russiamarker in 1809 which became an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian tsar.


The 19th century saw a personal union between Sweden and Norway which was dissolved in 1905 due to growing dissatisfaction from the Norwegian part. From 1840s Scandinavism emerged in Scandinavia. This movement strove to unite the three Scandinavian kingdoms into one, diminishing after Sweden refused to help Denmark on war in 1864.

In the midst of the Russian revolutions, Finland emerged for the first time as an independent nation, orienting for a Nordic community. During World War II in 1944, Iceland gained its independence from Denmark. The member states of the Nordic council (founded in 1952) had thus emerged.

The Nordic countries share similar traits in the policies implemented under the postwar period, especially in the socioeconomic area. All Nordic countries have large tax-funded public welfare sectors and extensive socialist legislation. In most cases, this is due to the political ambitions of the many Social Democrat governments that came to power during the interwar period in each of the Nordic countries.

Chronology of the Nordic countries

Century Nordic Political Entities
21st Denmarkmarker (EU) Faroes marker Icelandmarker Norwaymarker Sweden (EU) Finlandmarker (EU)
20th Denmarkmarker Swedenmarker Finlandmarker
19th Denmarkmarker Sweden and Norway


18th Denmark-Norway Swedenmarker
15th Kalmar Union
14th Denmarkmarker Norwaymarker Sweden
12th Faroesmarker Icelandic CW Norwaymarker
Nordic Peoples Danes Faroese Icelanders Norwegians Swedes Finns-Swedes

Nordic Passport Union

The Nordic Passport Union, created in 1954, and implemented on May 1, 1958, allows citizens of the Nordic countries: Denmarkmarker (Faroe Islandsmarker included since January 1, 1966, Greenlandmarker not included), Swedenmarker, Norwaymarker (Svalbardmarker, Jan Mayenmarker, Bouvet Islandmarker and Queen Maud's Land not included), Finlandmarker and Icelandmarker (since September 24, 1965) to cross approved border districts without carrying and having their passport checked. Other citizens can also travel between the Nordic countries' borders without having their passport checked, but still have to carry some sort of approved travel identification documents.

Since 1996, these countries have joined the larger EU directive Schengen Agreement area, comprising 30 countries in Europe. Border checkpoints have been removed within the Schengen zone and only a national ID card is required. Within the Nordic area any ID card, e.g. driving licence is valid for Nordic citizens, because of the Nordic Passport Union.

From March 25, 2001, the Schengen acquis fully applied to the five countries of the Nordic Passport Union (except for the Faroe Islandsmarker). There are some areas in the Nordic Passport Union that give extra rights for Nordic citizens, not covered by Schengen, such as less paperwork if moving to a different Nordic country, and fewer requirements for naturalisation.

Political dimension and divisions

  EU Eurozone NATOmarker
Denmarkmarker x   x
Finlandmarker x x  
Icelandmarker     x
Norwaymarker     x
Swedenmarker x    
The Nordic region has a political dimension in the joint official bodies called the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers. In this context, several aspects of the common market as in the European Union have been implemented decades before the EU implemented them. Intra-Nordic trade is not covered by the CISG, but by local law.

In the European Union, the Northern Dimension refers to external and cross-border policies covering the Nordic countries, the Baltic countries, and Russiamarker.

The political cooperation between the Nordic Countries has not led to a common policy or an agreement on the countries' memberships in the European Union, Eurozone, and NATOmarker. Norway and Iceland are only members of NATO, while Finland and Sweden are only members of the European Union. Denmark alone participates in both organizations. Only Finland is a member of the Eurozone. The tasks and policies of the European Union overlap with the Nordic council significantly, e.g. the Schengen Agreement partially supersedes the Nordic passport free zone and a common labor market.

Additionally, certain areas of Nordic countries have special relationships with the EU. For example, Finland's autonomous island province Ålandmarker is not a part of the EU VAT zone.

Flags and symbols


All Nordic countries, including the autonomous territories of Faroemarker and Åland Islandsmarker, have a similar flag design, all based on the Dannebrog, the Danish flag. They display an off-center cross with the intersection closer to the hoist, the "Nordic cross".
Denmark Faroe Islands Finland Iceland Norway Sweden Åland

Other Nordic flags

Greenland and the Sami people have adopted flags without the Nordic cross, but they both feature a circle which is placed off-center like the cross.
Greenland The Sami people


File:Repoveden Kansallispuisto Kesayonauringossa.jpg|Repovesi National Parkmarker,
Southern Finlandmarker.
File:Skagen aka the skaw northmost point of denmark 6th may 2006.jpg|The beach Grenen, Skagenmarker in Denmark.File:PB190187.JPG|Lake Storsjönmarker in Sweden.File:The Seven Sisters & the Wooer.jpg|The seven sisters waterfall with the famous Geirangerfjordmarker in Western Norway.File:Erupting geysir.jpg|The erupting Great Geysir in Haukadalur valley, Iceland, the oldest known geyser in the world.File:Hvalba scenery.jpg|The southernmost island of the Faroe Islands, Suðuroymarker.File:Greenland eastcoast.jpg|Southeast coast of Greenland.File:Mariehamn.jpg|Small houses in the capital of Åland, Mariehamnmarker.


File:StatfjordA(Jarvin1982).jpg|The leading oil capital in Norway is Stavangermarker.File:Oresundsbroen HCS.jpg|Oresund Bridgemarker, between Sweden and Denmark.File:Nokia HQ.jpg|Headquarters of Nokia, the largest Finnish company.File:NesjavellirPowerPlant edit2.jpg|The Nesjavellirmarker Geothermal Power Plant services the Greater Reykjavík Area's hot water needs.File:Klaksvík, Faroe Islands (2).JPG|A local fisherman in Klaksvíkmarker.File:Ln-rkhcopy.jpg|Scandinavian Airlines System is the largest airline in Scandinavia.File:DanishWindTurbines.jpg|Offshore wind turbines near Copenhagenmarker.File:Nationaltheatret station Oslo.jpg|Oslo Metro.


Sweden represents almost 40% of the Nordic population whereas Iceland represents less than 2%.
The three others represent about 20% each.
(Please note that the diagram is approximative since different sources have been used for each country.)

Rank Country Population Source
1 9,325,429
2 5,519,287
3 5,349,829
4 4,836,183
5 319,756
6 57,600
7 49,006
8 27,456

The total population of the Nordic countries is approximately 25,382,411 (as of 2009).

Name of country, with flag Population

(2009 est.)

(2000 est.)
-/+ of Population Percent change Capital
Denmarkmarker 5,511,451 5,330,020 181,431 3.30% Copenhagenmarker
Finlandmarker 5,349,829 5,167,486 182,343 3.52% Helsinkimarker
Icelandmarker 319,368 279,049 40,319 12.73% Reykjavíkmarker
Norwaymarker 4,799,252 4,478,497 320,755 6.79% Oslomarker
Swedenmarker 9,325,429 8,861,426 464,003 5.23% Stockholmmarker
Total 25,382,411 24,116,478 1,265,933 5.24%

Areas with close relations to the Nordic countries

Several areas have a long and close relationship with and often identify with some or all of the Nordic countries. These are however for the most part not regarded as part of the Nordic group themselves, although classified as Northern Europe by the United Nations.

Shetland and Orkney

The Northern Isles of ScotlandmarkerOrkneymarker and Shetlandmarker—have a long-established Nordic identity. The islands were Norwegian and Danish colonies for more than 500 years, but ownership defaulted to the crown of Scotland in 1472 following non-payment of the marriage dowry of Margaret of Denmark and Norway, queen of James III of Scotland.

During World War II Shetland and Orkney were important bases for the Norwegian armed forces in exile. The Shetland Bus was based in Shetland and smuggled refugees, agents and supplies to and from Norway.

In later years financial relations, particularly in the maritime industries, have been important. Cultural and sporting exchanges are frequent. A genetic survey showed that 60% of the male population of Shetland and Orkney had Western Norwegian genes.

The traditional links to Scandinavia are reflected in the islands' flags, both of which are based around a Nordic cross:

Orkney Shetland

Other regions of the British Islesmarker have adopted symbols to allude to a similar Norse or Norse-Gaelic heritage.


Areas such as Caithnessmarker, Sutherlandmarker and the Hebridesmarker were under Norse rule for long periods, and the Bishopric of Trondheim formerly controlled large sections of north west Scotland.

The Norn language was spoken in eastern Caithness into medieval times.


Even though Estonia is widely considered to be a Baltic state or part of Eastern Europe, many Estonians themselves consider Estonia to be Nordic rather than Eastern European. The Estonian language is closely related to the Finnish language, and Estonians, as an ethnic group, are a Finnic people. The northern part of Estonia was part of medieval Denmarkmarker, but then sold to the Germans. Later, the Baltic provinces came under Swedish rule after the Thirty Years War, before being absorbed into the Russian Empiremarker in the 19th century. However, the local Baltic German upper classes had stronger political and cultural dominance in the country from the 12th to the early 20th century than the Swedes, Danes, and Russians. The name of the Estonian capital, Tallinnmarker, is thought to be derived from the Estonian taani linn, meaning 'Danish town' (see Flag of Denmark for details).

Flag of Estonia Proposed Estonian flag

featuring a Nordic cross
Flag proposed in 1919

Historically, large parts of Estonia’s north-western coast and islands have been populated by an indigenous ethnically Swedish population, the Estonian Swedes. The majority of Estonia's Swedish population fled to Sweden in 1944, escaping the advancing Soviet Army. In 2007, Estonian Swedes were granted official cultural autonomy under Estonian law. Since regaining independence in 1991, Estoniamarker has expressed interest joining the Nordic Council. In 1999, Toomas Hendrik Ilves delivered a speech entitled "Estonia as a Nordic Country" to the Swedish Institute for International Affairs. In 2003, the foreign ministry also hosted an exhibit called "Estonia: Nordic with a Twist." In 2005, Estonia also joined the European Union's Nordic Battle Group. However, Estonia is not considered a Nordic country by the majority of the Nordic populations.


Anglo-Saxon England was founded in part by Jutes in Kentmarker, the Isle of Wightmarker and the national saga of England is Beowulf, carried to England by the Wuffings of East Angliamarker. Much of Englandmarker, particularly East Angliamarker, Merciamarker and Northumbriamarker were once part of the Danelawmarker. The story of Lady Godiva and Peeping Tom, London Bridge Is Falling Down and Sigurd the Dane of Macbeth fame come from this period of an Anglo-Scandinavian "Empire of the North". After England's population stabilised into a nation-state, Sweyn Forkbeard's family, which went back to Denmark from the Danish colonies in the West (see Harthacnut of Denmark), took over Wessexmarker partly with the excuse of St. Brice's Day massacre and stratified as well as unified the government of England into four regional jarldoms under control by Dane and Norwegian as well as promoting the English church in Scandinavia at the expense of the German church. This led to the later installment of the Archdiocese of Nidaros, which administered the Diocese of Sodor and Manmarker formerly belonging to the Province of York (and would later reconnect upon Norse land cessions) by the English Pope Adrian IV. Direct relations between Denmark and England would continue intermittently until the reign of Eystein II of Norway, but the take overs of both by Eric of Pomerania and William of Normandy respectively, divided their focuses to re-attachment with Continental Europe instead. There was a much later interjection of New Sweden amidst the New Englandmarker and Virginiamarker colonies, but the relationship was much different in that period.

Northern Germany

Parts of the states of Schleswig-Holsteinmarker and Mecklenburg-Vorpommernmarker in northern Germanymarker were at times part of Denmark and Sweden, respectively, and have a long history of cooperation dating back to the medieval Hanseatic League. In the 15th century, Stockholm had a German majority population, and Germans paid more than half of the city's taxes.

Southern Schleswig on the Jutland peninsula was conquered and reconquered both by the Germans and the Danes, i.e. the border between Denmark and Germany changed several times over the centuries. Particularly the northern parts of present Schleswig-Holsteinmarker have a significant ethnic Danish minority. The region had a Scandinavian identity in Hedebymarker and Angelnmarker up until its transfer to Germany in the mid 19th century and its subsequent Germanisation. Today, the Nordic character of Southern Schleswig's society and its inhabitants is still very prominent. There are Danish state schools in the area, and the Danish minority is active both politically and culturally.

Swedish Pomeraniamarker was once part of the Swedish kingdom; a time when the local University of Greifswaldmarker, at that time Sweden's oldest university, attracted both students and professors from Sweden. The cultural heritage survives in the form of many buildings, though the Swedish population either left the region when the Swedish Empire declined or was assimilated into mainstream German society.

See also


  1. "Scandinavia" (the term should correctly be used excluding Finland). In Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Retrieved 10 January 2008: "Scandinavia: Denmark, Norway, Sweden—sometimes also considered to include Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, & Finland." (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "Nordic" as an adjective dated to 1898 with the meaning "of or relating to the Germanic peoples of northern Europe and especially of Scandinavia."), "Scandinavia" (2005). The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition. Ed. Erin McKean. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6: "a cultural region consisting of the countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark and sometimes also of Iceland, Finland, and the Faroe Islands"; Scandinavia (2001). The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. Retrieved January 31, 2007: "Scandinavia, region of N Europe. It consists of the kingdoms of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; Finland and Iceland are usually considered part of Scandinavia"; Scandinavia. (2007). Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 31, 2007, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: "Scandinavia, historically Scandia, part of northern Europe, generally held to consist of the two countries of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Norway and Sweden, with the addition of Denmark"; and Scandinavia. (2006). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 30, 2007: "Scandinavia (ancient Scandia), name applied collectively to three countries of northern Europe—Norway and Sweden (which together form the Scandinavian Peninsula), and Denmark". Archived 2009-11-01.
  2. Nordic. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 3 March 2008.
  3. This number was derived by adding up the referenced populations (from the provided table) of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, and Åland.
  4. "Estonian Life". Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs publication, 2004.
  5. "Estonian Life". Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs publication, 2002.
  6. "Estonian Swedes Embrace Autonomy Rights" Citypaper, 2007
  7. Ilves, Toomas Hendrik. "Estonia as a Nordic Country". December 14, 1999.
  8. "Estonia – Nordic with a Twist". Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs, 2004 (last updated).

External links

  • Norden — the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers' website.
  • Nordregio — a European centre for research, education and documentation on spatial development, established by the Nordic Council of Ministers.
  • NordRegio Statistics — a collection of thematic maps and figures of Nordic and Baltic countries by NordRegio.
  • Go Scandinavia — official website of the Scandinavian Tourist Boards in North America.
  • Scandinavia House — the Nordic Center in New York, run by the American-Scandinavian Foundation.
  • vifanord – a digital library that provides scientific information on the Nordic and Baltic countries as well as the Baltic region as a whole.
  • Mid Nordic Committee Nordic organization to promote sustainable development and growth in the region

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