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This article is part of the
Scandinavia series
Viking Age
Kalmar Union
Monetary Union
Defense union
History of Sweden
History of Norway
History of Denmark

Scandinavia is the cultural and historic region of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The Scandinavian countries are Norway, Sweden and Denmark, which mutually recognize each other as parts of Scandinavia. The collective label "Scandinavia" reflects the cultural similarity between these countries despite their political independence. The terms Fennoscandia and Fenno-Scandinavia are sometimes used for an extended region.

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

  • Finland and Iceland are many times counted as parts of Scandinavia.
  • In a German mindset, Norway, Sweden and Finland are usually included, but Denmark is not.
  • In a British mindset, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are usually included, often with the addition of Iceland and Finland.

These alternative meanings are considered incorrect in the local languages, and occasionally some people may take offense by such usage in English.

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 may either be used to include the Scandinavian peninsula, the Kola peninsula, Karelia and Finland under the same term alluding to the Fennoscandian Shield, 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 Scandinavian peoples and cultures.

Outside of Europe, the Netherlands are sometimes mistakenly considered Scandinavian as well. The reason for this seems to be confusion with Denmark; both are small Teutonic countries bordering the North Sea, and the adjectives Dutch and Danish are a bit alike.

Map of Scandinavia and Northern Europe
Map of Scandinavia and Northern Europe


Main article: North Germanic language

Many dialects of Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are mutually intelligible, and Scandinavians can with little trouble understand each other'Standard_language" title ="Standard language">standard languages as it appears in print, radio and television. The reason they are traditionally viewed as different languages is that they each have their "army and navy", being spoken in separate countries. They are related to, but not intelligible with, the other North Germanic languages, Icelandic and Faroese, that all diverged from Old Norse, but Danish, Swedish and Norwegian are since mediaeval times more influenced by Low Saxon.

Scandinavia as a 19th century political vision.
Scandinavia as a 19th century political vision.

The Scandinavian languages are entirely unrelated to Finnish and Estonian, which as Finno-Ugric languages rather are distantly related to Hungarian. Although Swedish speakers constitute a small but influential minority in Finland — and Finnish speakers constitute a minority in Sweden of similar relative size, though less influential — and most ethnic Finns have studied Swedish as a mandatory school subject, the linguistic distance between the language families are often seen as indicative of a cultural distance, and a strong reason not to classify the Finns as Scandinavian. This view is particularly prominent among Finns influenced by the ethnic nationalist Fennoman movement.

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 parallell 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 [1].


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 (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 movement proposed the unification of Denmark, Norway and Sweden into a single united kingdom. The background for this was the tumultous 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).

Satellite photo of the Scandinavian Peninsula, with current political boundaries added
Satellite photo of the Scandinavian Peninsula, with current political boundaries added

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. A new term also had to be invented that excluded Finland from any such inspirations, and that term was Scandinavia. The geographical Scandinavia included Norway and Sweden, 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 by 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'Franco-Prussian_War" title ="Franco-Prussian War">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 cooperation 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

CenturyScandinavia and the Nordic Countries
20th Denmark Iceland Norway Sweden Finland
19th Denmark Sweden-Norway GD of Finland
18th Denmark-Norway Sweden
15th Kalmar Union
14th Denmark Norway Sweden
12th Icelandic CW Norway

1/ The original settlers of Iceland were of Nordic (mainly Norwegian) and Celt (from Great Britain and Ireland) origin.

See also

cy:Scandinafia da:Skandinavien de:Skandinavien es:Escandinavia eo:Skandinavio fr:Scandinavie he:סקנדינביה ko:스칸디나비아 nl:ScandinaviĆ« ja:スカンディナヴィア no:Skandinavia nds:Skandinavien pl:Skandynawia sl:Skandinavija fi:Skandinavia sv:Skandinavien zh:斯堪地拉维亚

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