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?
There is no evidence to suggest that black Vikings ever existed. However, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that Scandinavians mingled with black Africans and that some made seafaring and plundering their trade. As far as the black Viking Estrid Haakon goes, the character is purely fictional, not based on anything concrete or real.
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 – It’s extremely unlikely
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 warmer southern areas tend to have darker skin because of their exposure to the sun.
As such, this explains why the Scandinavian people who 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. The more surprising part is that she was also portrayed as the Jarl of Kattegat, which means that she rules the city—something that Ragnar Lothbrok did in the original Vikings series.
So, because Vikings: Valhalla has a black Viking who 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?
Even though Vikings or the Scandinavian people are naturally light-skinned, there could be Scandinavian people who also have dark skin as well. After all, during that time, European people 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, making 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 know there were conflicts between the Romans and the Carthaginians back then. This means Africans weren’t rare to find themselves on the European continent.
Given the fact that the southern territories in the European continent were no strangers to the Africans, some of these Africans might have been 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. But there is yet another problem with this statement.
African black people are not the only ones who could be described as being “dark-complexioned,” As it stands, it’s more likely that those “dark-complexioned” Vikings were, in reality, individuals who were brought to Scandinavia from Southern parts of Europe where people are generally darker than their Northern counterparts.
The second argument for black Vikings is the fact that some Vikings were called Dub (black/dark) and some Finn (white/fair). Although historical consensus on why those groups received those names does not exist, it’s not connected to skin color at all. Some authors argue that Dub or Dark Foreigners were Vikings from Denmark, while Finn or Fair Foreigners are Vikings from Norway. Some authors suggest that the Dub / Finn distinctions merely separate Vikings into two groups: “the old ones” and “the new ones.”
Additional arguments that support the “black Vikings” evidence is the fact that “Viking” in itself is not an ethnicity but rather a trade. Authors, like in most issues of such gravity, are divided on what “Viking” really meant. Some authors support the theory that the word “Viking” was used exclusively to name a trade, and many other non-Scandinavians took part in it. However, even those authors struggle to find any evidence to suggest that black Vikings ever existed, focusing more on Slavs, the biggest ethnic-linguistic group of people in Europe. Other authors suggest that the term “Vikings” marked the general populace of Scandinavia.
To summarize everything, even though it’s possible that some black people interacted with Vikings during the Viking age and later, it’s highly unlikely that those black people were Vikings, and it’s even more unlikely that they rose to high positions in Viking society. The evidence to support the black Vikings theory is non-existent, most connections being made through words and their purposely misinterpreted etymological meanings.
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?
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 worth noting 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 would black people become Vikings anyway?
Even though the evidence doesn’t support black Vikings in any way, the possibility cannot ever be ruled out completely. So, let’s analyze some ways in which black people of Africa could have interacted with Vikings and made their way to Scandinavia.
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.
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.