An old Norwegian mountain farm. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - digitaltmuseum.no DEX_W_00295 - CC BY.
An old Norwegian mountain farm. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - digitaltmuseum.no DEX_W_00295 - CC BY.

The old Norwegian farming society was a self-sufficient and balanced world. Coins and notes were all but an alien concept. What you yourself could not produce of food, clothing and other commodities, you got from others through trade.

Picture this; the year is 1478 AD. A family lives on a small farm in a mountainous part of Norway. The holding consists of a few simple buildings, some fields, a couple of horses, and some cows, goats, sheep, pigs, and chickens. Surrounding the farm are vast stretches of land.

There were no proper roads, just ancient paths through the wild, beautiful, and sometimes treacherous landscape. The domestic animals – and the yield of the infields and the outfields – provided the family with what it needed of food and clothing.

The nearest group of people was maybe a whole day’s walk away, and outsiders stopped by only a few times a year. It could be a wanderer asking for shelter and some food, bartering with the only things that she or he had to offer: two bare hands and stories and news from the outside world. There would be silence around the fire when the visitor spoke. As she walked on the following day, she carried with her more news to a family member or friend in the next valley.

The wisdom of life

If we go back far enough, there were no books, and the people could not read and write. Not that you needed a book to be wise. Each generation passed on an ever-growing treasure trove of knowledge to the next; adding on experiences from their own lives.

The old Norwegian farming culture was about survival and balance. The focus was on securing food and shelter for the harsh winter and spring – until it was harvest time once again. Reading nature was what was required.

In addition to what was needed for the family’s own consumption, the farmer and his wife set aside rent to the large property owners, tithe to the church, and taxes demanded by the king. The means of payment were commodities like butter, cheese, dried fish, furs and so much more.

Once or twice a year, someone from the family group would pack up any surplus food or goods and set off to barter. Towns and cities like we know them today were almost non-existent. People met up at established trade locations – or at the old thingsteads – where the lawmakers gathered, and sentences were pronounced.

This is how the old Norwegians lived – for thousands of years – all up until modern times. And this way of life is the core of the Norwegian heritage – and the people who came from this corner of the world.

In the year 1500 AD, the Norwegian population was an estimated 170,000. People lived scattered across the landscape – some by the coast, and some inland. Towns and cities like we know them today were almost non-existent.

Recommended read: Only 3 percent of mainland Norway is agricultural land

Main photo: An old Norwegian mountain farm. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse – digitaltmuseum.no DEX_W_00295 – CC BY.