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Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, newly arrived in Reykjavík

New study shows Viking women accompanied men on voyages to colonize far-flung lands

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The reputation of the Scandinavian Vikings presents the men as brutal warriors that went off marauding and pillaging from the 800s to 1100s AD along the coasts of the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and up inland rivers, while the women and children stayed home, tending to village life. But new genetic research has shown that Vikings took their families with them on voyages to set up new colonies in far-away lands.

"It overthrows this 19th century idea that the Vikings were just raiders and pillagers. They established settlements and grew crops, and trade was very, very important," Erika Hagelberg told Hagelberg is a co-author of a new genetic study of ancient Norwegians’ remains. She is evolutionary biologist at Norway’s University of Oslo.

Leif Ericson on the shore of newly discovered Vinland

Leif Ericson on the shore of newly discovered Vinland (New Foundland). Note: There is no evidence that Vikings ever wore horned helmets. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hagelberg and her team took teeth and bone scrapings from skeletons of 80 Norse people who lived between 796 and 1066 AD. These remains, which had been unearthed around Norway, are in a collection at the University of Oslo. The team examined mitochondrial DNA, which is passed on by women and can reveal female ancestry. They compared this DNA to more than 5,000 other Europeans to learn more about how the Vikings colonized.

The study found that Vikings are closely related to Swedes, English and Scottish people. But their closest modern relatives are people from the Orkney and Shetland islands off the northern coast of Scotland in the North Sea.

Hagelberg told The Independent, “It seems to support the view that a significant number of women were involved in the settlement of the smaller isles, which overrules the idea that it just involved raping and pillaging by males going out on a rampage.”

Romanticized depiction of a Viking woman, 1905, by Andreas Bloch

Romanticized depiction of a Viking woman, 1905, by Andreas Bloch (Wikimedia Commons)

Vikings ranged as far west as Greenland and maybe even Newfoundland and present-day United States and as far east as Russia. Scientists and historians previously thought they set up colonies in Iceland, the British Isles and the New World first with men, and then brought women and children with them later. But Hagelberg and her team found otherwise.

If Viking men brought their women and perhaps even children with them on trips in their longboats, they could more quickly set up communities on the coastlines of the Northern seas, Hagelberg told Britain’s MailOnline.

The range of Viking voyages and territories was enormous, as seen in this map from Wikipedia:

Territories and voyages of the Vikings

Territories and voyages of the Vikings (Wikipedia). Research shows the Vikings also voyaged far beyond these territories.

Jan Bill, an archaeologist with the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History, told LiveScience, "It looks like women were a more significant part of the colonization process compared to what was believed earlier." Bill was not a part of Hagelberg’s study.

"This picture that we have of Viking raiding — a band of long ships plundering — there obviously would not be families on that kind of ship. But when these raiding activities started to become a more permanent thing, then at some point you may actually see families are traveling along and staying in the camps,” Bill said.

While Viking men did intermingle with local women went they went ranging off to far-flung places, Hagelberg said, the new study shows they also brought along their own women.

“It is true that the Vikings are thought to have taken local women [from the places they landed], but the DNA evidence in this study and the Icelandic study does indicate that Norse women were involved in the colonisation process,” she told The Independent. “This somewhat contradicts one of the views about Viking raids, namely that they were driven by a shortage of women at home.”

Viking women helped establish communities in new places, grew crops there and were involved in trade, which was important to the Viking economy. Previous discoveries of weapons and armor in female graves also suggest that women sometimes fought alongside the men.

Hagelberg published her findings December 7 in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Featured image: ‘Ingolf tager Island i besiddelse’ by P. Raadsig, 1850, depicting Ingólfr Arnarson, the first settler of Iceland, newly arrived in Reykjavík. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Miller



I think it is a very interesting truth to knnow that vikings were first and foremost farmers and then participated in raids to square up instances when they were either attacked or were taken advantage of during trading deals gone bad. They are one of the best examples of colonization gone right.

Troy Mobley

How idiotic can supposed 'scholars' be? It's like being told people thought the world was flat during Columbus' time - no, people had been sailing the 7 seas for centuries, not next to the shore either, all sea going men know that's to dangerous.
How else did Iceland and Greenland become settled? Possible evidence of Norse exploration and settlements in Canada. Men don't make settlements for themselves unless women are along or forthcoming.
And, it's like everyone believe the pyramids are tombs for the Pharaohs - no body has ever been found in a pyramid, they are found in the Valley of the Kings.
It's just most people don't think about anything other than what they are told to believe, and when someone gets a strange notion and they are considered a 'scholar' they get patted on the back if it's acceptable, or they get 'blackballed' if it isn't.
Few of the old cultures, including what we know as native Americans, were as barbaric or backwards as we are taught to believe in public schools. Just like there is a lot more to the Columbus story than what is allowed to be taught or presented publicly.
People need to wake up and realize there is a lot more to history and life than what they are told.
Or, maybe, it is just more fun to watch the 'boob-tube'.

DeAegean's picture

It must have been sad leaving women behind in new lands anxious to see how they were doing there. Women are the biggest part of mankind obviously..

Roberto Peron's picture

Why wouldn't the women go with them to establish new communities?  The Vikings weren't the barbarians portrayed by Hollywood.  Women played a significant part in Viking culture and as this article states they sometimes fought alongside the men as they did in MANY other cultures.

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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