Could There Have Actually Been Finns Among The Vikings?

Very much unlike the cases of early medieval Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands, documentation regarding the Viking Age in Finland is very scarce. Possibly with the exception of the Åland Islands (an autonomous Swedish-speaking archipelago situated in the Gulf of Bothnia, Baltic Sea), there is little information on how the Viking period unfolded throughout the Finnish mainland. Furthermore, during this period of time many questions arises with respect to the political, social, and economic links between the Finnish people and the early medieval Scandinavian kingdoms.

Winter landscape near Rovaniemi, Lapland, northern Finland. Image source: www.unsplash.com

One of these questions, for example, is: ‘were the Finns among the Vikings’? Although the question is formulated in a rather easy way, it certainly requires a far more complex answer. First of all, the Finns are a people of Finnic origin and their language, Finnish, is consequently part of this linguistic family (alongside most notably Estonian and Hungarian).

The Finno-Ugric language family is a linguistic branch that is strikingly different from the rest of the Indo-European languages spoken in Europe, and so, logically, Finnish is different from neighbouring North Germanic languages (i.e. Norwegian or Swedish), albeit being influenced by Swedish from historical reasons. Additionally, Finland as a country is also situated in Fennoscandia, rather than in Scandinavia proper (which tends to be quite a popular geographical misconception).

Distribution of Uralic languages in Europe and Asia. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

All the aforementioned aspects conclude to a very remote connection with the Norse-speaking world. Nonetheless, there might ultimately be evidence which support the theory according to which there was actually Norse settlement in the Finnish mainland. Aside from this, the Swedish Vikings are known for having recurrently raided the Baltic coastline along the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries.

Map depicting Y-DNA haplogroup I1 in Europe. Darker blue shades in southwestern Finland indicate a higher frequency of this haplgroup there. Image source: www.commons.wikimedia.org

A prominent archaeological example of Norse presence along the eastern shores of the Baltic Sea is represented by the Salme ships burial unearthed in the Salme parish, Saaremaa island, present-day Estonia.

This ship burial contains artefacts dating to either the early or mid 8th century (c. 700-750 AD; approximately a century and a half ahead of the usually agreed start of the Viking Era). It is also known that various Finnish-speaking mercenaries took part in various Viking war bands that voyaged across Europe during the Early Middle Ages.

Genetics also play a pivotal part on the matter, as Y-DNA haplogroup I (one of the most widespread genetic lineages in Scandinavia) seems to prevail in the south/south-western Sweden, peaking in some areas at 25% of the total population.

However, it must be mentioned that beyond sparse contact with the Old Norse-speaking world, the Finnish people did not represent a tremendous part of the Norse society during the Viking period, nor did their language, most of their customs, traditions, folklore, and civilization.

Nowadays, thanks to extensive archaeological research, artefacts dating to the Viking period were discovered in the islands of Rosala and Hitis in southern Finland (which were formerly linked as part of a regional trade route). Furthermore, on the island of Rosala there is also a Viking-themed historical centre.

Documentation sources and external links:


One Response to Could There Have Actually Been Finns Among The Vikings?

  1. Magnus K. Robberstad says:

    In wiking age the hide of the walrus was regarded as the best of ropes for wiking age ships, specially if the rope could be cut “round” the walrus body, giving extra long ropes without knots. It is suggested that norwegian traders sought northeast to Jamal peninsula seeking walrus to this function, partly hunting and killing the walrus themselves, partly trading walrus ropes from the local nenets, and it is suggested establishing local trading posts, and intermarrying with the nenets to seal he deal – story of the “black wiking”. Norwegians were known to intermary widely – even the king Harald Fairhair married Snøfrid the daugter of a rich sapmi at Dovre, other kings like Harald the hardruler, – and nobles sought russian brides, and many married themselves into the gaelic girls of the western islands, Man and Hebrides. So why not nenets, specially if they brought a wealth of walrus ships ropes? Magnus K. Robberstad

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *