When people think of Vikings, many conjure up images of bearded and large-bodied men with a taste for violence, but it appears that the depiction of these Germanic Norse seafarers as raiders and pillagers is not 100 percent true after all.
It is commonly believed that when Vikings invaded new lands, the expedition was composed entirely of men, but new research that looked at the DNA of ancient Vikings suggests that such conquests were more of a romantic getaway for these seafaring people, with men bringing along their women on voyages to new lands.
For the new study published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B on Dec. 8, Erika Hagelberg from the Department of Biosciences at the University of Oslo and colleagues compared the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA of 45 Norse skeletons. The remains date back between A.D. 796 and A.D. 1066 and were unearthed from different locations around Norway, with those of more than 5,000 modern Northwest Europeans and those of 68 ancient Icelanders.
With the genetic data, the researchers would know how the female Viking lineage spread throughout the areas that the Vikings colonized. Findings reveal that the mitochondrial DNA of the ancient Norse and Icelandic people closely matched those of the people from the Orkney and Shetland Islands, which are located near Scandinavia.
The result shows the path that the female Vikings took when they traveled and colonized across northern Europe, and this indicates that women were involved in the Vikings colonization overseas. With the women joining foreign trips, the men could have had children, and the group might have been able to spread more rapidly across the northern seas.
"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 on the rampage," Hagelberg said.
While the experts admit that Viking men indeed had sex with local women, the DNA evidence shows that the Norse women had crucial roles in the new communities that the Vikings set up in their colonies, with the women establishing settlements and growing crops.
"Our combined analyses indicate that Norse women were important agents in the overseas expansion and settlement of the Vikings, and that women from the Orkneys and Western Isles contributed to the colonization of Iceland," the researchers wrote.