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Weapons in the Rural Community


Hunter, Soldier and Gunsmith

The exhibition show weapons and use of weapon in the Norwegian rural community in the period ca. 1600 -1850,

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    Bear Hunters Norsk Folkemuseum

Norsk Folkemuseum has a large collection of about 1000 arms and powder horns.The collection contains both civilian and military items, spanning from the 1500s to the 1900s, with the main focus on the period from 1600–1850. The exhibition “The Farmers’ Arms” focuses on the weapons’ importance in Norwegian rural society, which is a significant part of our cultural history. Weapons played a larger role in Norwegian society than in almost any other European country. Hunting was an integral part of most farmers’ subsistence, and the Norwegian army consisted up until the 1800s almost solely of farmer soldiers. Both the exclusive and more everyday weapons are shown in the exhibition, but the main focus is on weapons used in daily life, not on military history or weapons technology. The exhibition is a cooperation with the Norwegian Arms and Armour Society which also has given generous economical support to the project.

The Norwegian independent farmer

The Norwegian independent farmer had a freer position in society thanfarmers in the rest of Europe, in spite of great social differences within rural culture. There was little or no nobility left after the Middle Ages, and the widespreadsparse population was difficult to control. During the reformation 1536–1537, the large holdings of the Church became property of the Crown. From the end of the 1600s a lot of this land was sold to farmers, who to a greater extent became freeholders and strengthened their economical position. Owning land gave them legal access to hunting, trapping and fishing. They thereby acquired unique experience in handling firearms, which made them well suited as soldiers. The widespread use of firearms also gave the gunsmith an important role in society.

The Hunter

  • Knud Bergslien: The ReindeerHunt.Oil painting from 1868. Privately owned. Photo©: O Væring Eftf.AS.. Norsk Folkemuseum

Far in to the 1800s, carnivores were much more numerous than they are today, and combating them was crucial for many farmers’ survival. Bear sespecially were a serious threat to both people and livestock, and skilful bear hunters enjoyed a high status in society. In a barter economy, hunting and trapping for their own consumption was a main part of the farmers’ subsistence. Meat from game was important food, while skin and furwere used for clothing and various types of equipment. They could also both be traded or sold, in an economy partly based on money. Nearly allhunting was strenuous and dangerous, in a time of simple firearms and few means of transportation.

The Soldier

  • A Norwegian skier. Johann Heinrich Senn – Norske nationale Klædedragter. Copenhagen, 1812

The Norwegian farmers’ strong physique and their competence with arms made them a valuable military resource. Throughout many wars with Sweden during the 16th and 17th centuries, it became evident that Norway’s defenses were in a poor state. In 1628 King Christian IV estabished a national Norwegian army. It consisted to begin with of about 6300 men, mainly farmers. Christian IV also established a system where the farm’s size determined which weapons the farmer soldier should be equipped with. He also reintroduced the old medieval tradition of Annual Arms Inspections. The farmer had to present himself with his arms to the crown official to show that they were maintained and serviceable.

The Gunsmith

  • Smed. Trefigur fra Gudbrandsdalen, trolig ca. 1700–1750. Tilhører Norsk Folkemuseum.Blacksmith. Wooden figure from Gudbrandsdalen, probably c.1700–1750. Property of Norsk Folkemuseum. Norsk Folkemuseum

The widespread use of firearms among farmers, both in civilian and military activity, led to a great demand for gunsmiths. Contrary to gunsmiths in the towns, the country gunsmiths were not specialists. They were farmers who also were good blacksmiths, and had gunsmithing as an additional profession. Only a few made the whole weapon themselves, but they assembled, repaired and converted old guns. New barrels and locks, made in towns or in other countries, were bought at various markets around the country. They also converted outdated military weapons for civilian use. The gunsmiths in rural areas had a vital role in keeping the country’s weapons in serviceable order.