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Foreign envoys and resident Norwegians in the Late Middle Ages – a cultural clash?

Foreign envoys and resident Norwegians in the Late Middle Ages – a cultural clash?

By Erik Opsahl

Foreigners and Outside Influences in Medieval Norway, edited by Stian Suppersberger Hamre (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017)

Hakon Hakonarson, King of Norway, and Skule Bårdsson. This illustration is from Flateyjarbók, which dates to the 1380s.

Introduction: Some years ago, I contributed to an anthology, which was intended as an academic response to the new right-wing-extremism. I wrote about immigration to pre-modern Norway, up till 1814, and the editors chose to title the article ‘Norway has been homogeneous’. I was a bit reluctant about the title because I feared some would read the title and the article like the devil reads the Bible. Unfortunately, I was right.

A critical reviewer of the anthology characterised my article as the strangest contribution, because, according to him, I did not manage to undermine the fact that the pre-modern Norwegian farming community was one hundred percent homogeneous. Besides the fact that the reviewer appeared more self-confident than well informed, he missed the whole point in the article, or rather, he wrote it off.

The immigrants were, overall, a colonising elite of officials, priests, and members of the bourgeoisie who influenced religion and language, the two most important cultural marks, according to the reviewer. The first mass immigration was the ca. 100,000 Swedes who came to Norway around 1900. They were foreigners, but not as foreign as a Kurd today, the reviewer asserted.


Firstly, it was obvious the reviewer had overlooked the fact that my article was about pre-modern Norwegian society as a whole, not only the farming community, even though this group represented the majority of society. Secondly, the reviewer seemed to look upon farmers as the only ‘Norwegians’ in pre-modern time; all other people in Norway during this period were ‘outsiders’. Thirdly, he seemed to presuppose that there was little or no interaction between the farming community and elites in Norway in this period, or at least only interaction of little importance. All of this, I find historically naive and unfruitful. In this article, I will discuss the question of multiculturalism in Norway in the Late Middle Ages, focusing on potential cultural differences in the interaction between Norwegian farmers and foreign envoys or royal administrators.

Click here to read this article from BIBSYS Brage

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