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 can arise with respect to the political, social, and economic links between the Finns and the early medieval Scandinavian kingdoms.

Winter landscape near Rovaniemi, Lapland, northern Finland. Photo by Urmi (License: Creative Commons BY)

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: Wikimedia Commons

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: Wikimedia Commons

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 civilisation.

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:

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8 Responses 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

  2. Gord Bolton says:

    The Finns, Y DNA “N” came from what is now modern day China & Mongolia along the Yangtze & Yellow River. Y DNA “N” is the brother of Y DNA “O” which is the most predominant group in China today. Folks used shallow-draft long boats complete with the Dragon’s Head for navigation, trade & fishing along the Yellow river 3000 years before the Age of the Baltic Vikings. The Yellow River folks knew exactly what the Dragons Head was for whereas folks in Oslo don’t have a clue.
    Folks along the Yellow River harvested and stored millet 10k years ago. Not long afterward they were practicing mixed farming with multiple crops and domesticated animals including pigs. There was a whole culture built around this way of life and the traces can still be seen today. Their neighbors labelled their language Tungusic (pig). The present day President of Ukraine, Poroshenko’s name means Porko (pig in Ugric) and shenko (son of) Ukrainian suffix.
    The Finnish Traders were called Varangians

    The first King of the Rus in Kiev was Vladimir II Monomakh (1053-1125) Y DNA N1c1 Monomakhoviches. He was a Finn.

  3. Gene R Rankin says:

    In an historic site called ‘Old World Wisconsin’ there is a Finnish farmstead, identified as the Rankinen farm, relocated from Bayfield County in far northern Wisconsin. I asked the professors of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin if it was mere coincidence that my name Rankin (said to be Scottish) was similar. They asked where in Scotland the Rankins were found, and, as they are hereditary pipers to the Clan MacLean, they are found on Coll and Mull, islands in the Irish sea on the west coast of Scotland.
    They suggested that Rankin may originally have been Rankinen, Finns having joined the 9thC Viking stream and settling where other Vikings had settled.
    Genetically, I am 44.2% Finn, 12.2% Scandinavian … but my actual ancestry is 25% Finn (Pudasjarvi) and 25% Norwegian (Elvebakken, Alta).

  4. Magnus K. Robberstad Actually the Nenets are a late-comer to the north Siberian coast. In the book “The Search for the black Viking” the author Bergsveinn Birgisson points to people who previously were in these areas, (likely as seasonal hunters M.G.B.) Sikhirtya meaning dark-skinned person, which is the nickname given to the twins brothers Geirmundur “heljarskinn” (The black Viking) and Hamundur “heljarskinn” (heljarskinn – literally dead man’s skin “the belief was that dead men acquired a dark skin colour). Later DNA analyses have shown that Icelanders have a DNA marker pointing to people who now live in the area of the Baikal lake.

  5. Rautakyy says:

    There is much litterature in English about the Viking raids of England and their Atlantic travels, but many such books have crap or even made up stories about Finland, if it is even mentioned.

    Finnish is not an Indo-European language at all. It belongs to a completely different language family, the Fenno-Ugric languages. This means, that Swedish and English are more closely related to native languages spoken in Pakistan, than to Finnish. Language tells us very little of the DNA of the people speaking it, just like the modern day African Americans speak English, even though their ancestry never travelled from England to the Americas. Fenno-Ugric speaking peoples have a colourfull DNA chart and do not necessarily look like each other at all, just like Indo-European languages speaking people today. During Viking age in northern Russia there existed a mighty Baltic Finnish tribe called the Votes that have since almost disappeared. They ruled the area north of the Viking established city of Novgorod and the waterways around it. The Scandinavian immigrants in the area had to establish a union with them to be able to settle there. The newly arrived Scandinavians, the Slavs and the Votes were slowly intermarrying and during the medieval period finally amalgamated into the Novgorodian republic, that then joined the Russian state. From Novgorod several barch letters have been found, that were written in one or a nother Finnic language using runes.

    Finnish archeologists have discovered quite a lot of evidence of the Finns having close relationships during the Viking age to their neighbours in Sweden and especially Gotland. Intermarrying and slave trade have no doubt been a reason for both cultural and biological heritage to be shared over the Baltic sea. However, of the DNA shared between the Finns and the Swedes today we can hardly find sources for what precisely happened a 1000 years ago, since Finland was part of Sweden for over 600 years ever since the Viking age ended. The sea has been a highway for traffic ever since stone age because boats were invented already then and during cold winters the norhtern part of the Baltic freezes up, so that you can travel it with skis or sledges.

    There is also a lot of evidence from Finnish Viking age burials and other findings, that the Finnish warriors travelled wide and far. For example swords belonging to Varangian guardsmen of the Byzantine empire. Coins from Arabia and Persia, England and France and so forth. There are infact more Viking age sword burials from Finland, than there are from Sweden. It has been surmised in Finnish archaeology, that the reason for this – even though Finland had a lot smaller population than Sweden – is that the Finns remained much more tribal and egalitarian. The Finnish culture was that of the freeholding peasants, who could afford a sword of their own, when Sweden was already turning into a culture of chieftains and petty kings who would tax their neighbouring peasants and keep small private armies.

    In Scandinavian sagas from the Viking age Finns are referred to often. They are presented as barbarians closely related to natural spirits and as dangerous enemies. The names of the Finns in the sagas are symbolic, such as a chief called Winter and his son Frost. One name referred to is Faravid, “the one who sees far”, wich responds to a heroic name in ancient Finnish poetry the Kaukomieli. Right after the Viking age proper, when the Swedes (and their priests) started to write down their own history, they record events that are ultimately Viking raids made by Baltic Finns to the Swedish coast and even deeper into heartland through waterways, such as the sacking of Sigtuna. During late Viking age young king of Norway who would later become called Olaf the Holy made a raid to Finnish coast (referred to as “Balagardr” – guarded by fire) and was beaten by Finnish horde and luckily saved from the storm evidently called upon him and his host by Finnish witches…

  6. Sami says:

    170 Ulfberht viking swords have been found in the world. Most, 44 in Norway.Second highest number 31 were found in Finland.Read Heimskringa saga. Islandic Snorre Sturlason 1179-1241 wrote down viking sagas .Plenty of material about Finland,Finnish viking kings etc.

  7. Riku Lappi says:

    Considering the amount of folklore and place names, especially water way names related to Vikings here in Finland, the interaction seems to have lasted for hundreds of years. Obviously interaction been both a serious matter and a widespread fact of life.

    The poor Finns were not worth looting, but great for providing safe harbours, payng yearly modest taxes. Since the Finns were probably fighting other Finnish tribes anyway, alliances were likely the way to go for the Vikings.

    To further illustrate the Viking prospective: In a Finnish village 40-80% of males were mostly hunters and soldiers only half time farmers. Every Finn could row and handle a boat., In the more southern parts of Europe only a minority of farmers was as a soldier of an kind , neither a hunter or fisherman.

    The Finns were useful as recruitment material, no good for looting. The opposite was true for the more civilised folks…

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