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Scandinavia series
Scandinavia, Fennoscandia, and the Kola Peninsula.
Scandinavia, Fennoscandia, and the Kola Peninsula.
Satellite photo of the Scandinavian Peninsula, February 2003, with current political boundaries added
Satellite photo of the Scandinavian Peninsula, February 2003, with current political boundaries added
Map of Scandinavia and Northern Europe
Map of Scandinavia and Northern Europe
Scandinavia as a 19th century political vision.
Scandinavia as a 19th century political vision.

For other uses, see Scandinavia (disambiguation).

Scandinavia is the cultural and historic region of the Scandinavian Peninsula and some surrounding areas. The Scandinavian countries are in present day understood as Norway, Sweden and includes Denmark even though it does not actually reside on the Scandinavian Peninsula. These countries have recognized each other as parts of political and cultural Scandinavia, since the golden days of the nationalist movements in respective countries in the middle of the 19th century CE.

Before the 1850s, Finland was also considered a part of Scandinavia for hundreds of years, owing to the strong historical and geographical ties. However, popular sentiment and subsequent national government policies changed the usage of the term. The main reasons cited for this change were the dwindling use of the Swedish language in certain areas of Finland and because the country had by that time fallen under Russian political rule.

The collective label "Scandinavia" nowadays primarily reflects the linguistic similarity, but also the strong historical and social ties between these countries despite their current political independence.

The usage and meaning of the term 'Scandinavia' is somewhat ambiguous:

  • Finland, the Faroe Islands, and Iceland are still sometimes counted as parts of Scandinavia, as they share strong social and historical ties to Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
  • In a British mindset, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are usually included, often with the addition of Iceland, Finland, and sometimes even Greenland.

These alternative meanings are sometimes considered incorrect in some parts of Scandinavia, and occasionally some people may take offence at such usage. In the last years "Scandinavia" has again increasingly been used by scholars and teachers, in Scandinavia and other regions, referring to it's historical meaning with Finland included. [1]

The term the Nordic countries is used unambiguously for the Scandinavian kingdoms of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the republics of Finland and Iceland.

The terms Fennoscandia and Fenno-Scandinavia are used either to include the Scandinavian peninsula, the Kola peninsula, Karelia, Finland and Denmark under the same term alluding to the Fennoscandian Shield, even if Denmark actually resides on the North European Plain, or they may be used in a more cultural sense, more or less as a synonym for the Nordic countries, to signify the historically close contact between Finnic, Sami and other Scandinavian peoples and cultures.



The etymology for the names Scandinavia and Skåne (Scania) is considered to be the same.

The name is most probably derived from the Germanic *Skaðin- meaning "danger" (cf. English scathing and unscathed) and *awjo meaning "island". It may have referred to the dangerous banks around Skanör (skan- is the same as in Scandinavia, and -ör means "sandbanks") and Falsterbo in Skåne in southernmost Scandinavia.

Alternatively, the first element is sometimes attributed to the Scandinavian giantess Skaði from Norse mythology.

The original form is considered to be *Skaðinawjo, which gave rise to different forms in Germanic languages and by non-Germanic scribes. In Beowulf we meet the forms Scedenigge and Scedeland. Ptolemy uses the form Scandia, and Scatinavia appears in Roman texts, e.g. Pliny the Elder, whereas Pomponius Mela used the deviant form Codanovia. The form Scadinavia, the original home of the Langobards, appears in Paulus Diaconus' Historia Langobardorum[2], but in other versions of Historia Langobardorum appear the forms Scadan, Scandanan, Scadanan and Scatenauge[3]. In Jordanes' history of the Goths (AD 551) we meet the form Scandza their original home, separated by sea from the land of Europe (chapter 1, 4)[4].

The name of the Scandinavian mountain range, Skanderna in Swedish, is artificially derived from Skandinavien in the 19th century, in analogy with Alperna for the Alps. The commonly used names are Kölen "the Keel" or fjällen "the fells, the mountains".


Main article: History of Scandinavia''
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Main articles: North Germanic languages, Finno-Ugric languages

Most dialects of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible, and Scandinavians can with little trouble understand each other's standard languages as they appear in print and are heard on radio and television. However it is often assumed that Swedes have the greatest difficulties understanding the other two languages, which may be a consequence of limited access to Danish and Norwegian radio and television in Sweden. The reason why Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are traditionally viewed as different languages, rather than dialects of one language, is that they each are well established standardized languages (Ausbausprache) in their respective countries. They are related to, but not intelligible with, the other North Germanic languages, Icelandic and Faroese, which are descended from the Norwegian dialect of Old Norse. Danish, Swedish and Norwegian have, since medieval times, been influenced to varying degrees by Low German.

The Scandinavian languages are (as a language family) entirely unrelated to Finnish and Estonian, which as Finno-Ugric languages are distantly related to Hungarian. This said there still is a great deal of borrowings from the Swedish language in both the Finnish and Estonian language. Although Swedish speakers constitute a small but influential minority in Finland—and Finnish speakers constitute a minority in Sweden of similar relative size—and most ethnic Finns have studied Swedish as a mandatory school subject, the linguistic distance between the language families is often seen as indicative of a cultural distance and a reason not to classify the Finns as Scandinavian. This view was particularly prominent among Finns influenced by the ethnic nationalist movement called Fennoman in the beginning of the 20th century, as well as the language-based Scandinavian movement in the other Scandinavian countries in the 1850's. Only in 1902 was Finnish language granted an equal status with Swedish as an official language of Finland. Still in present day, the municipality with the highest fraction of native Swedish speakers of the population in the world, Korsnäs, resides in Finland.

A rather typical folk-linguistic view might suggest the following. Finns and Icelanders who have studied Swedish and Danish, respectively, as foreign languages often also find it hard to understand the other Scandinavian languages. On the other end of the scale are the Norwegians, who with two parallel written standards, and a habit to hold on strongly to local dialects, are accustomed to variation and may perceive Danish and Swedish as only slightly more distant dialects. In a conversation between a Swedish speaker and a Dane there can be significant difficulties in understanding each other's spoken language, due to differences in pronunciation and vocabulary. In the Faroe Islands Danish is mandatory, and since Faroese people this way become bilingual in two very distinct Nordic languages find it relatively easy to understand the other two Mainland Scandinavian languages. [5].


The modern use of the term Scandinavia rises from the Scandinavist political movement, which was active in the middle of the 19th century, chiefly between the First war of Schleswig (Slesvig in Scandinavian) (1848-1850), in which Sweden-Norway contributed with considerable military force, and the Second war of Schleswig (1864) when Sweden's parliament denounced the King's promises of military support.

The proposed the unification of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a single united kingdom. The background for this was the tumultuous events during the Napoleonic wars in the beginning of the century leading to the partition of Sweden (the eastern part becoming the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland in 1809) and Denmark (whereby Norway, de jure in union with Denmark since 1387, although de facto merely a province, became independent in 1814 and thereafter was swiftly forced to accept a personal union with Sweden).

Finland being a part of the Russian Empire meant that it would have to be left out of any equation for a political union between the Nordic countries. The geographical Scandinavia included Norway, Sweden and parts of Finland, but the political Scandinavia was also to include Denmark. Politically Sweden and Norway were united in a personal union under one monarch. Denmark also included the dependent territories of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Greenland in the Atlantic Ocean (which however historically had belonged to Norway, but unintentionally remained with Denmark according to the Treaty of Kiel).

The end of the Scandinavian political movement came when Denmark was denied military support from Sweden-Norway to annex the (Danish) Duchy of Schleswig, which together with the (German) Duchy of Holstein had been in personal union with Denmark. The Second war of Schleswig followed in 1864. That was a brief but disastrous war between Denmark and Prussia (supported by Austria). Schleswig-Holstein was conquered by Prussia, and after Prussia's success in the Franco-Prussian War a Prussian-led German Empire was created, and a new power-balance of the Baltic sea countries was established.

Even if a Scandinavian political union never came about there was a Scandinavian Monetary Union established in 1873, with the Krona/Krone as the common currency, and which lasted until World War I.

The modern Scandinavian co-operation after World War I also came to include the independent Finland and (since 1944) Iceland and Scandinavian as a political term came to be replaced by the term Nordic countries; and eventually, in 1952, by the Nordic Council institution.

Historical political structure

Century Scandinavia and the Nordic Countries
21th Denmark (EU) Faroes Iceland Norway Sweden (EU) Finland (EU)
20th Denmark Sweden Finland
19th Denmark Sweden-Norway GD of Finland
18th Denmark-Norway Sweden
15th Kalmar Union
14th Denmark Norway Sweden
12th Faroese CW Icelandic CW Norway
Peoples Danes Faroese¹ Icelanders¹ Norwegians Swedes Finns

1/ The original settlers of the Faroes and Iceland were of Pictish or Celtic origin (from Scotland or Ireland), then Nordic origin (mainly Norwegian).

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