It’s no secret that the Vikings were prolific (and terrific) progenitors. They traveled far in search of riches, and often those they encountered were of interest to them in more ways than one. The historical and archaeological records tell us the Vikings settled many parts of the world, and some of these settlements have been reinforced with modern genetic evidence as well. When it comes to the Vikings, it turns out they did not merely show up, pillage, rape, and leave, but instead colonized favorable areas, in many cases left behind a genetic lineage. This begs the question: do you have Viking blood?
Do you have Viking blood?
If you don’t think you have Viking blood in you, think again. The Scandinavians of the Viking Age spread their seed and their people across the known world. Below is a list of modern countries and how likely you are to be a Viking descendant if you are from one of them.
Vikings in Scandinavia
The Vikings originated in Scandinavia, but this does not mean modern Scandinavians can all claim a direct bloodline with them. The word Viking started out as an action word (like walking, or running) and described those men and women who left Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in search of plunder and new lands. Some of them returned with wealth, technology, and slaves, and others stayed abroad. If you are Scandinavian, you are exceptionally likely to have Viking blood, unless you are a first or second generation immigrant to a Scandinavian country from somewhere else. But if we are to define “Viking blood” as a bloodline to only those who betook themselves a-Viking (the action, not the noun), then Scandinavians are not necessarily descended from Vikings. Instead, they share a common ancestor with them.
The Vikings in Iceland
In contrast to their Scandinavian neighbors across the sea, Icelanders are the descendants of those who left Scandinavia in search of new lands. They were the textbook definition of what it was to be a Viking. In fact, they wrote the book on what it was to be a Viking (including how they treated the elderly). The island’s relative isolation from the rest of Europe for many centuries meant that they did not intermix with too many other populations (there has been genetic evidence recently that showed Vikings took slaves from England to Iceland who inter-bred with the Scandinavian population). It also helped to preserve much of their original culture and language, and Icelandic is considered to be the closest modern relative to Old Norse. If you are from Iceland, you are a Viking; it’s almost certain unless your family moved to Iceland recently from somewhere else. Iceland’s popularity has recently seen a sizable boost from this fact and has risen alongside the popularity of their ancestors in popular culture.
Vikings in the U.K.
Historians use the attack on Lindisfarne to demarcate the start of the Viking Age. The city of York was once the Norse city of Jorvik, and the Vikings at one time had carved out half of Britain for themselves in a territory called the Danelaw. In 1066, England was invaded by William the Conqueror and his army of francophone Vikings, the Normans (French for ‘Northmen’). England is one of the countries in Europe with the richest archaeological finds from the Viking age, including buried hoards and mass graves. Christian Chroniclers in England feverish wrote down what they observed of the invaders, and many of today’s myths about Norse culture originated in these writings (including ritual drinking, the raven flag, human sacrifice, etc.). If you are English or Scottish, it is VERY likely you have Viking blood in you. In fact, recent studies have shown that nearly one-quarter of all Britts may be directly descended from the Vikings.
Vikings in Ireland
The Vikings founded the cities of Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, among others. If you are Irish, it is VERY likely you have Viking in you. Interestingly, there are some who theorize that the iconic Irish red hair was a Norse import rather than a Celtic one, although without proper genetic testing it is just an unproven theory. Ireland struggled for many years to rid themselves of the Vikings. Notably, the high kings of Leinster such as Muiredach Mac Ruadrach swore specific oaths to the church to help push back against the pagan invasion. In 847, the Irish scored several critical victories across the island which effectively expelled most of the Norse settlers from their lands, but fewer than two decades later they returned. Viking settlements in Ireland played the game of politics well, and over the course of the next century and a half, they established themselves firmly in Irish lands and the Irish gene pool.
Vikings in France
Normandy is the obvious region of France one thinks of when thinking of the Vikings. But Brittany (Bretagne) and the Vendée regions of France were also densely settled by displaced Scandinavians in search of a new home. They even occupied the city of Nantes for several decades. If you are from Western France, it is VERY likely you have Viking blood in you. If you are from Central or Eastern France, it is not likely—those regions are genetically German. Along the coast, the Vikings built more lofty settlements than they had in Ireland, most likely because the Carolingian empire was a much more difficult foe to face than the kings of Leinster. According to sources, the Norsemen who pushed into Brittany were from Norway, having sailed around the British Isles and down through the Irish Sea to reach it. As they carved out swathes of land for themselves in the late 9th and early 10th centuries, the Norwegians came into conflict with the Danes in Normandy. It was by exploiting this dispute that the Bretons were able to push back their invaders and eventually expel them from the region. Still, their century-long presence left an indelible mark on the local genetic pool.
Vikings in The Netherlands
The Netherlands were heavily raided for centuries and colonized on multiple occasions by the Danes. In the long run, however, the Franks maintained too strong a dominion over the region, causing the Scandinavians to flee. If you are Dutch, it is SOMEWHAT likely that you have Viking in you.
Vikings in Spain
The coast of Asturias was attacked several times by the Vikings. What’s more, they successfully sacked Lisbon and captured Seville and inflicted great fear in the Moors. However, they did not colonize Spain heavily, therefore if you are from Spain or Portugal, you only have a SLIM chance of having Viking blood, but a chance nonetheless. Following the humiliating defeats at the hands of the Norsemen, the Moors quickly built up their navy, which successfully repelled Viking attacks in the second half of the 9th century. Hastein, a supposed son of Ragnar Lothbrok, partook in an infamous excursion into the Mediterranean which ended mostly in disaster due to the strength of the Moorish fleet guarding the straight of Gibraltar.
Vikings in Italy
If you are from an area in Italy that was once part of the Norman kingdom of Italy, you are VERY likely to have Viking blood in you. The Vikings also made a significant incursion into the Mediterranean basin, led by the notorious Hastein, in the 9th Century. They did not colonize Italy, but they did sack the city of Luna and likely raped some local women. This may have added to the Viking genetic pool in Italy.
Vikings in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus
Russia was named after the Swedish Vikings known as the Rus. The Rus helped to found the city-states of Kiev and Novgorod, as well as Moscow. The Tsars considered themselves direct and proud descendants of the Rus. If you are from these regions, you are EXTREMELY likely to have Viking blood in you, especially if you are light-skinned. Over several centuries, the Rus exerted their power over the Slavic states and added a great deal of their genetic material to the mix. They traveled as far as Constantinople and even served as the Emperor’s bodyguards, today referred to as the Varangian Guard.
Vikings in The Balkans
The Rus traveled as far as Constantinople, and many stayed there to father children…lots and lots of children. There is a very slight genetic pool from Scandinavia in the Balkans today, but it is limited. The Rus are also thought to have traveled as far as Baghdad and what is now Georgia.
Viking Blood in Mongolia?
Although the Vikings never traveled as far as Mongolia, the Mongolian Golden Horde did invade and occupy Eastern Europe and brought back to Mongolia their favorite new pets — blue-eyed blonds. Today there is a recessive gene in Mongolia by which children are born with light hair and blue eyes. Since we know the Vikings settled in Russia, we see that Norse genes were present in the areas conquered by the Mongols. Those with Norse traits may have been choice slaves, selected by the Mongols to take home and show off (and rape and make children and so on). We may infer that the recessive blue-eyed blond hair genome in Mongolia today is from the Vikings (although the genome existed in the Northern Caucasus long before that, so we can’t be sure). For that, of course, we have Genghis Kahn to thank.
It must be noted that the idea of any one person having “Viking blood”, although an intriguing thought, is challenging to prove for certain (read three often ignored truths about the study of Vikings). After all, the Vikings roved 1,200 years ago – plenty of time for populations to move and for gene pools to dilute. Scandinavian DNA can show up for any number of reasons, and may not be attributable to the Vikings. Genetic studies themselves are up for debate as well. For example, a recent 2015 genetic study in England found “no clear genetic evidence” of the Danish Viking occupation. A heated debate continues today over the findings of this study, which fly in the face of historical and archaeological evidence. All this to say, the following probabilities of having Viking blood offered are not scientific or necessarily accurate, mainly as the scholarship on the subject evolves. This article should be seen as entertainment. Be sure to check out my selected bibliography about the Vikings for primary source documents and good books on the Viking age to learn more.
Learn more about the Vikings with these great books: