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. A recent study in the Orkneys found that the local population’s belief that their ancestry stemmed back to Ireland was in fact wrong. Instead, most of the island’s population are of Norse heritage genetically. Surprises such as these are actually common. Communities often build elaborate stories about their ancestry, but recent advances in genetic testing have allowed researchers to paint a very different picture of who is made of what. When it comes to the Vikings, for example, it turns out they did not simply show up, pillage, rape, and leave, but instead colonized favorable areas, leaving behind a highly pronounced genetic lineage. Thus begs the question: 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.
U.K. — 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 Danelaw. In 1066, England was invaded by William the Conquerer and his army of francophone Vikings, the Normans (French for ‘north men’). 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 are directly descended from the Vikings.
Ireland — the cities of Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, among others were founded by the Vikings. 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. Particularly, the great 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 key 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 established themselves firmly in Irish lands and the Irish genetic pool.
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 heavily settled by displaced Scandinavians in search of a new home. If you are from Western France, it is VERY likely you have Viking 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 due to the fact that 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 conflict 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.
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 Northmen to flee. If you are dutch, it is SOMEWHAT likely that you have Viking in you.
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.
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 famous 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 add to the Viking genetic pool in Italy.
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 travelled as far as Constantinople and even served as the Emperor’s personal body guards, today referred to as the Varangian Guard.
The Balkans — The Rus travelled as far as Constantinople, and many stayed there to father children…lots and lots of children. There is a very slight genetic pool from Scandianvia in the Balkans today, but it is fairly limited. The Rus are also thought to have traveled as far as Baghdad and what is now Georgia.
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 about the Vikings in Russia, specifically their blue-eyed blond-haired descendants, we know that Norse genes were present in the areas conquered by the Mongols. Those with Norse traits were the more likely choices for slaves for the Mongols to take home and show off (and rape and make children and so on). It may be inferred that the recessive blue-eyed blond hair genome in Mongolia today is from the Vikings (although it existed in the Northern Caucasus long before that, so we can’t be sure). For that, of course, we have Genghis Kahn to thank.