Did Black Vikings Exist? (or Black/African Equivalent)

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We all know the fact that the northern areas of Scandinavia, which covers the northern part of Europe that the Norsemen or the Vikings once ruled, are far from the southern areas of Africa. As such, it would be difficult for the black-skinned people of Africa to find their way to the predominantly white-skinned regions of Scandinavia. However, in Vikings: Valhalla, we got to see a dark-skinned Jarl named Estrid Haakon ruling over Kattegat. So, did black Vikings actually exist?

Black Vikings did indeed exist during the Viking Age. During that time, it was not rare for European countries from the southern regions like Spain to mingle with dark-skinned Africans. As such, it might have been possible that these Africans willingly traveled their way up north to the Scandinavian countries.

It is interesting to note that, while Africa is indeed far away from the regions that the Vikings inhabited during the first millennium, different people all over Europe were already trading with their dark-skinned counterparts in the African continent. As such, we are here to look at some of the possibilities of how it would have been possible for there to be black Vikings in the past.

Did Black Vikings Really Exist?

One of the things we know about basic geography is that location determines the appearance of a certain group of people. The closer the group of people is to the north, the more likely it is that they will have a lighter skin color. Meanwhile, those who are closer to the equator or live in the southern areas that are warmer tend to have darker skin because of their exposure to the sun.

As such, this explains why the Scandinavian people that live in the northern parts of Europe usually have lighter skin colors compared to the ones who live closer to the equator. Of course, that is also the reason why, in most movies and shows, Vikings are portrayed as having white skin.

However, as you might have seen in Vikings: Valhalla, there is a black Viking by the name of Estrid Haakon. And the more surprising part is that she was also portrayed as the Jarl of Kattegat, and that means that she rules the city—something that Ragnar Lothbrok did in the original Vikings series. 

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So, considering the fact that Vikings: Valhalla has a black Viking that is not only physically different from the rest of the Vikings but was placed in a leadership position, you might be wondering about the authenticity of the character. Were there actually black Vikings?

Despite the fact that Vikings or the Scandinavian people are naturally light-skinned, it wasn’t impossible for there to be Scandinavian people who also have dark skin as well. After all, during that time, people in Europe were already mingling with their dark-skinned counterparts in the African continent.

It certainly wasn’t rare for Africans to find their way to Europe because of the fact that the African civilizations were already trading with European countries back then. For example, Spain is quite close to the African continent, and that made it easier for them to trade and mingle with the people of Africa during the first millennium. In fact, Spain and Africa have been interacting with one another as early as the eighth century.

Meanwhile, as early as 264 BC, Rome was already interacting with Carthage in Africa, as we do know that there were conflicts between the Romans and the Carthaginians back then. This means that it wasn’t rare for Africans to find themselves on the European continent.

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Given the fact that the southern territories in the European continent were no strangers to the Africans, it was quite possible that some of these Africans were able to find themselves farther up in the northern Scandinavian territories of Europe. This might have allowed them to live and establish long bloodlines in Scandinavia or even form a relationship with Viking natives to form mixed bloodlines.

In fact, in the book “A History of Vikings,” Gwyn Jones explained that there were different Vikings with different skin colors back then. An excerpt reads:

“The Viking peoples who lived between the neck of Jutland and the Lofotens, Sogn, and Uppsala, were not all alike, and emphatically not of one ‘pure’ Nordic race.

But two main types of Scandinavian have always been recognizable: the one tall of stature, fair or ruddy complexioned, light-haired, blue-eyed, long of face and skull; the other shorter, dark-complexioned, brown- or dark-haired, brown-eyed, broad-face and round of skull.”

Given that excerpt, it should have been more than possible for black Vikings to have existed in the past but were probably quite rare because of the distance between the Scandinavian regions and Africa. That is why most Vikings of the past were more than likely to have fair and light skin.

Why Is Jarl Estrid Haakon Black In Vikings: Valhalla?

Going back to Vikings: Valhalla, we do know that Jarl Estrid Haakon is black. She is portrayed by Caroline Henderson, a popular pop singer since the 90s. However, why is Estrid Haakon black in Vikings: Valhalla?

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In the series, it was explained that Jarl Estrid Haakon is black because her Viking grandfather fell in love with her grandmother, who was of royal blood back in Egypt. The two fell in love and eventually returned to Kattegat, where Haakon’s dark-skinned bloodline was established.

However, it is worthy to note that while the other characters in the series are based on their historical counterparts, Jarl Estrid Haakon doesn’t have a historical counterpart. Instead, she is purely fictional, as Caroline Henderson herself said.

How Did Dark-Skinned People Become Vikings?

Now that you know that there were quite possibly dark-skinned Vikings in the past, you might be wondering how they even got to Scandinavia and became Vikings. Well, for starters, there are plenty of ways they got there.

The first is that they actually made their way up from Africa. Considering that there were ships that were already trading with Africa during the first millennium, it might’ve been possible that some Africans decided to leave the continent to make their way up north. Spain was most likely their entry point, but they might have traveled all the way to the northern areas of Europe.

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Of course, considering that Hannibal, the leader of the Carthaginians during the war with the Romans, had dark skin, it would have been possible that some of his men stayed in Europe and established long bloodlines in the European continent during their invasion of Rome. 

And even though history suggests that the full-on European slave trade began in the 15th century, it might have also been possible that there were still other entities back then that traveled south to take Africans back home as slaves. There could have been an instance of certain African groups finding their way to the Scandinavian countries as slaves.

As such, there are all sorts of possibilities when it comes to how these dark-skinned Africans became Vikings. But the fact that it was more tedious to travel and move from one region to another at that time, it might have been quite possible that black Vikings were very rare during the time of the Viking Age.

  • Ysmael Delicana

    Ysmael “Eng” Delicana is a writer based in Davao City, Philippines. He earned his bachelor’s degree in economics at Ateneo de Davao University before continuing to teach part-time at the same university. While teaching was a fun gig, being a geek and a writer seemed to be his cal...