Norway (Nóregr in Norse, meaning "Northern Way,") is a monarchy in Northern Europe that occupies the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The country's extensive coastline along the North Atlantic Ocean is home to its famous fjords.
The period from 800–1066 is referred to as the Viking age. During this period, Norwegians, as well as Swedes and Danes, traveled abroad on longships, as raiders, explorers, settlers and traders. Viking raids affected large parts of Europe. The Norwegian Vikings mainly traveled west, to the Britain and Ireland. Emigrants from Norway colonized Shetland, Orkney, the Faroe Islands and Iceland, and from thence Greenland
In the 8th century, Norway was divided into several petty kingdoms. The Kings of Norway in that era ruled from the area of Oslofjord. King Harald Fairhair unified Norway in 872, ruling until 930. After Harald's death, the unity of the kingdom was not preserved, and for the next century, the kingdom was variously ruled, wholly or in part, by descendants of King Harald or by earls under the suzerainty of Denmark.
During this period, Christianity was introduced to Norway, mainly from the British Isles. In terms of church organization, Norway remained part of the Archdiocese of Bremen until 1153. The first Norwegian king to have adopted Christianity was Harald Fairhair's son, King Haakon the Good (934–961). Haakon did not force his subjects to accept the new religion. His successors, Olaf Tryggvason (995–1000) and Olaf Haraldsson (St. Olav) (1015–1028) resorted to forceful means to convert the Norwegian people. Olaf Haraldsson was probably the first King of Norway to extend his rule to the inland regions of eastern Norway. His death in the battle of Stiklestad in 1030 is traditionally considered a milestone in the history of the Christianisation of the country, although religion was not one of the issues at stake in that battle. After his death, Olaf was revered as a saint. He became the patron saint of Norway, and by the end of the century, Christianity was the only religion allowed in the country.
After Olaf's death, Norway was ruled from Denmark, as part of the "North Sea Empire" of Canute the Great. However, Canute was the last Danish king to rule Norway for more than three centuries, and already in 1035, Olaf's son, Magnus the Good took the throne. His successor, Harald Hardrada attempted an invasion of England in 1066, but was defeated and killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge, an event which is generally considered the end of the Viking era.
By the middle of the 11th century, the Norwegian kingdom was firmly established, although there was still only a very rudimentary administrative framework. The establishment of cities gathered pace, and by the end of the 11th century, the three largest cities of modern-day Norway, Oslo, Trondheim (Nidaros) and Bjorgvin were flourishing, as well as Tønsberg, the most important city in Eastern Norway until about 1300. Olaf Kyrre (1067–1093) was the first Norwegian king to be literate. The Church gradually developed its organization, and the archdiocese of Nidaros was established in 1152 or 1153. By that time, there were five dioceses in mainland Norway, with bishops in Nidaros, Bjorgvin, Stavanger, Oslo and Hamar. The islands of the North Sea, which had been colonized from Norway, were also part of the archdiocese of Nidaros. Orkney, Shetland and the Faeroe Islands were subject to the Norwegian king. The Hebrides and the Isle of Man were made subject to Norway by King Magnus Barefoot c. 1100. The rulers of these islands held the title of "king" themselves, but recognised the suzerainty of the Norwegian king. The extent to which the Norwegian king was able to exercise his rule over all of these islands was highly variable, and dependent on the individual kings.