The Vikings left a deep impression on most of the world with their far-ranging raids, trading, and settling from around 800 CE to 1100 CE.
But how many Vikings were there? Did it only take a few people to go on a nearly worldwide series of conquests or was the Viking population closer to what we see in certain cultures today?
How many Vikings were there?
The total population of Scandinavia was between 800,000 and 900,000 at the start of the Viking age, circa 800 CE, and it rose to roughly 2,000,000 by the end of the era, which was circa 1100 CE.
Denmark’s population ranged from 500,000 to a million throughout the Viking Age. The population of Norway was smaller, at a maximum of 200,000 at the start of the age, which increased to 500,000 at the end of it.
Population estimates for Sweden are harder to find, but it was closer to Norway in geography than Denmark, so placing them roughly equal would be a conservative estimate.
Vikings originated in the Scandinavian kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. The Scandinavian people had been at home on the water for centuries, with the first versions of the longship appearing in the 4th century.
Factors like poor weather eventually encouraged enough Scandinavians to roam around and look for targets to plunder, including the famous 793 CE raid on the church at Lindisfarne.
How many Vikings went on raids?
Raiding parties were first formed from local groups that were frequently related, and the largest gatherings were still delineated between Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian Vikings. A typical raiding party could range in size from one ship to a few ships, or roughly 50 to 500 Vikings.
The population of the Scandinavian region was not massive, especially by today’s standards. Most of the population would not have been considered vikingr, the title given to those who participated in the raiding culture who would make up the literal Viking population. Raiding and exploring by sea also meant that raiding party sizes were limited by the size and number of available ships.
For example, while there may be exciting stories tied to the idea of Viking women, in reality, the average Scandinavian woman would have been considered a true “Viking” only by the spirit of their support and so shouldn’t be counted as part of the Viking population specifically.
Danish Vikings hold the record for the largest recorded raid when they sailed up the river Seine in modern-day France. The river had been a plunder root for Vikings since early into the Viking Age, and Paris had seen attacks by the Vikings since 845 CE. Four decades later, a fleet of longships transported Vikings to Paris and began a year-long siege.
On the high end, the Vikings had a force of 700 ships and 40,000 Viking warriors. A more conservative estimate of 300 ships with an average of 50 men each puts the expected number at 15,000 soldiers. This sizable force was still just 3% to 8% of the population of Denmark at the time.
Are there still Vikings left?
No one who actually qualifies as a Viking exists in modern times. That said, many people have Scandinavian heritage that can be traced back to the Viking Age, meaning that a lot of today’s Nordic population can claim to have Viking roots. At the same time, not all Vikings were Scandinavian.
The distinct cultural elements that created the Viking Age society in Scandinavia were replaced as the region entered the Medieval Era in the late 11th century CE. Christianity became the dominant religion, and the Viking kingdoms became more similar to the rest of Europe. Instead of mostly independent bands of raiders looking for profit and adventure, the unified forces of each kingdom went to war at the behest of the king.
There are those that have tried to revive the pagan practices shared across the Viking cultures, called Heathenry, Asatru, or Osatru. Many of these groups are benevolent organizations that focus on the spiritual elements. A small but notable subsection of Asatru groups have cooped the religion into an exclusive ethnic identity that does not match the reality of Viking practices or beliefs.
Who has Viking DNA?
Descendants from the Scandinavian Vikings might be found all over the world, but the strongest concentrations have been found in Scandinavia and key Viking expansion sites like Iceland, England, Greenland, the Baltic region, and along the coasts and rivers of Europe.
Not all Scandinavians were Vikings, and not all Vikings were Scandinavians, further complicating the meaning of having “Viking DNA”.Vikings traded slaves as part of their expansive mixture of economic and military expansion.
In a massive study examining the DNA of Viking skeletons, the genetic diversity proved that other people became part of the Viking culture beyond being taken as slaves. Both in their settlements and in Scandinavia, the Nordic people treated others equally kindly or equally brutally, depending on the circumstances.
This study and others have an approach centered on the relationship between Scandinavian and European genomes. Between the relatively limited sample size of a few hundred skeletons and the known range of Viking expansion, it is possible that Viking DNA exists in North America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Related: Did Black Vikings Ever Exist?
How many Vikings are alive today?
No Vikings continue to exist today. The practices of exploratory expansion and plunder do not exist anymore, so even those who claim Viking heritage are not actually Vikings. Estimates of the total number of people who could claim Viking descent do not exist.
It has been shown that, while Vikings originated in Scandinavia and started as local bands, what a person did mattered far more in Viking culture than where they were from. Far-ranging people could become a part of Nordic culture, some going from raiding victims to raiders themselves. It’s impossible to know for sure how Vikings would view the modern world, but it’s easy to imagine that many wouldn’t pass whatever test they came up with.
Even if the question is interpreted as the number of people alive with Viking ancestry, the question is difficult to answer. Knowing that the population of the areas that once were part of the Viking world is over 26 million doesn’t help too much, nor does knowing that Finland (with its history of Vikings in Finland) has a population of over 450,000 Swede-Finns.
Commercial genetic testing companies have not proven reliable, and academic testing is a slow and steady process.