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VIKINGS

Why not all Vikings were blond-haired and blue-eyed

In the popular imagination, the Viking warriors who plundered northern Europe from the 8th century were as tall, fair and Scandinavian as they were murderous. In fact, according to a new study, they were far more diverse than previously thought.

Why not all Vikings were blond-haired and blue-eyed
People at a recreation of Viking games in Denmark in 2013. Photo: Torkil Adsersen/Ritzau Scanpix

The study, published in the journal Nature this week, highlights the genetic diversity found in Scandinavia at the time of the Vikings who hailed from present-day Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

Ashot Margaryan, a lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, who co-authored the study, told AFP that they had also found that the seaborne raiders “were not all of them Scandinavian.”

Owing to migration from mainly southern and eastern Europe, “Viking Scandinavia had more dark-haired people than present-day Scandinavia,” he explained, while adding that Vikings were indeed blond in their majority.

The researchers analysed 442 bone fragments from between the 8th and 12th century from all over Europe.

The data showed that there was a significant intermingling of bones in southern Scandinavia at that time, in part as a result of trade but, according Margaryan, also slavery, according to the researcher.

The study also confirmed previous research on where the Vikings and their ancestors settled overseas.

The ancestors of the Norwegians mainly went to Ireland, Iceland and Greenland, those of the Swedes to the current Baltic countries, while the Danes at the time showed up in Scotland and England.

READ ALSO: The Anglo-Saxons were more menacing than the Vikings, and the English language can prove it 

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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google’s questions

Why is Sweden called Sweden? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden so rich?  In a new series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.  

Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google's questions
Why is Sweden actually called Sweden? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

The short answer to “why is Sweden called Sweden?” is that it’s not. It’s called Sverige

When The Local asked Henrik Williams, a Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University, he also gave the question a short answer: “Because it’s inhabited by Swedes.” 

We can trace some form of the name back to at least the 13th century, when it was called Swearike in Old Swedish. That translates to “the kingdom of the Swear”.

Two thousand years ago, some of the people living in what is now known as Sweden were called Svear or Suiones, depending on which language you spoke and on how you spelled things (spelling varied greatly). 

The Roman historian Tacitus gives the first known description of the Svear in a book written in the year 93 CE, Germania

Everything comes down to this word, Svear, the name of the people. It means ‘we ourselves’. The Svear lived in Uppland just north of where Stockholm is now, until about the 11th century when they started expanding their territory. 

“It’s very common that people call themselves, either ‘we ourselves’ or ‘the people’” said Professor Williams. 

“We are ‘the humans’ and everybody else is something else. Everyone else is ‘them'”.

Of course, nobody uses the word in that way now, but it still forms the basis of the word Sweden.

The 8th century epic poem Beowulf gives the earliest known recorded version of the word Sweoland, land of the Swear

But at that time, there was no Sweden. Instead, the land was occupied by little kingdoms of Swedes and Goths (in present-day Götaland) and warring tribes of Vikings.

It’s unclear when the King of the Swear started referring to himself as the king of a country called Sweden, but it was probably around the time the country adopted Christianity in the 11th century. 

“Sweden” only came into regular use after 1750, when it replaced “Swedeland” in English. But in Scotland, “Sweden” had been used since the beginning of the modern era.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 17th century, people would use Sweden as the name of the people, and Swedeland as the name of the country. 

The first attested use of ‘Sweden’ was in a Scottish timber accounting log in 1503, which refers to “Sweden boards.” 

Most countries went from the Old Norse word Svíþjóð (which is still used to describe Sweden in Icelandic today) and turned it into something in their own languages, like the Old English Swíoríce, the Middle Dutch Zweden and High German Schweden

But it’s not called Sweden everywhere. 

In Finnish, Sweden is Ruotsi, in Estonian it’s Rootsi, and in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa.

This comes from the root-word Rod, as in modern day Roslagen the coastal part of Uppland. It means rowing, or people who row. And because Finland was invaded by people from Roslagen, that’s how Finns referred to them. 

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