Seeing as historians can barely agree on a definition of what it means to be Germanic, it’s no surprise everyone else struggles to define it as well. I’ve come across questions on whether or not there is a link between Vikings and the Germanic people quite often, so I wanted to explain exactly how they are linked (because they definitely are and in an interesting way as well).
First off, the generally accepted definition of what and who qualifies as Germanic is tied to archaeological (weapons, tools, artifacts) and linguistical (runic script, modern languages) proof, and not that much with the borders of modern-day Germany or even the Germania of Roman times.
I’ve plowed through many books and academic publications to answer the questions below, and in order to stay accurate and unbiased throughout. I’ve also created detailed and illustrated maps to more easily explain the link between Scandinavians, Vikings, and the Germanic people.
So, Were the Vikings Germanic?
The Norse people living in Scandinavia during the Viking age (including the seafaring raiders we call Vikings today) were a North Germanic people speaking a North Germanic language, directly descending from the Nordic Bronze Age culture which is seen by historians as the ancestral culture of all Germanic people.
What most historians agree on is that the Germanic tribes were groups of people living in central and northern Europe during the Iron Age, sharing a common language group that is the root of all Germanic languages (which today includes over 515 million native speakers of languages like English, German, Dutch, and the Nordic languages to name a few).
What you may not know is that the Germanic people are all thought to have originated from a fairly small area in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany around the 4th century BCE, from where they set out on the Great Migrations around all of Europe and parts of Asia.
These migrations coincided with—and definitely contributed to—the fall of the Roman empire around the 6th century CE, some 200 years before the Vikings started their European raids and expansions from Scandinavia.
So the Vikings were definitely Germanic and spoke a Germanic language (Old Norse), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they were culturally connected to all other Germanic groupings at the time. After all, they started raiding many of them and were considered barbaric heathens by most of them with little regard for any shared ancestry.
Which Germanic Tribes Originated From the Nordic Bronze Age?
Here’s a map and list of the most well-known Germanic tribes all thought to originate from the Nordic Bronze Age culture that was dominant in Scandinavia and Northern Germany. I’ve included the area(s) they’re most associated with, as well as a brief summary of their history in the table below the map.
|Danes||Denmark & Southern Sweden||Originated from Denmark and Scania and raided and settled primarily in England, Germany, France during the Viking Age. Eventually became the modern-day Kingdom of Denmark|
|Swedes||Sweden||Originated from Sweden and raided and settled primarily in the Baltic Sea, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and made up the core of the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian Guard. Eventually became the modern-day Kingdom of Sweden.|
|Norwegians||Norway||Originated from Norway and raided and settled primarily in Scotland, Ireland, Western England, Faroe Islands, and Iceland during the Viking Age. Eventually became the modern-day Kingdom of Norway.|
|Angles||Western Denmark, England||Originated from Western Denmark and invaded and settled in England during the Great Migrations. Merged with the Saxons and became the Anglo-Saxons in England, who were eventually invaded in 1066 by the Normans (see further down).|
|Saxons||Western Denmark, Northern Germany, England||Originated from the North Sea coast and invaded and settled in England during the Great Migrations. Merged with the Angles and became the Anglo-Saxons in England, who were eventually invaded in 1066 by the Normans (see further down).|
|Franks||Western Germany and Eastern France||Originated from Northern Germany and migrated to the Rhineland where they settled and formed the Kingdom of the Franks. Invaded and ruled over most of Western Europe as Charlemagne’s Frankish Empire. Split up into West Francia, East Francia, and the Lotharingian Kingdom, predecessors to modern-day France, Germany, and Italy.|
|Goths||Southern Scandinavia, Poland, Ukraine, Romania||Originated from Southern Scandinavia and migrated to Poland, Ukraine and Romania where they ruled until they were invaded by the Huns. Split up into Visigoths and Ostrogoths.|
|Visigoths||Iberian peninsula, Southern France||Founded by Alaric I who went west through the Roman Empire, liberated tens of thousands of Gothic slaves and ended up sacking the city of Rome in 410 CE. They kept going west and forged the kingdom of Visigoths who ruled over the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) and Southern France for hundreds of years.|
|Ostrogoths||Italy, Austria, Hungary, the Balkans||Allied with the Huns in an attempt to defeat the Roman Empire, eventually broke off when the Huns were defeated, and invaded Italy with the backing of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Emperor in 488 CE. Migrated and settled around 200 000 Goths in northern Italy and established the Ostrogothic Kingdom covering all of Italy, Austria, Hungary, and the Balkans.|
|Vandals||Southern Poland, Northern Africa||Originated from Southern Scandinavia and settled in Southern Poland around 400 BCE. Later migrated to and invaded the Roman Empire and Frankish Gaul, eventually establishing the Vandal kingdoms covering the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands, and large parts of North Africa around between 410 and 435 CE.|
|Lombards / Langobards||Southern Sweden, Northern Germany, Italy||Originated from Scania, Southern Scandinavia. Migrated to areas around the Elbe river in Germany, and later invaded Italy where they established the Lombard Kingdom that ruled over Italy from 568 to 774, making it a predecessor to modern-day Italy.|
|Burgundians||Western Germany, Eastern France||Originated from southern Scandinavia and migrated via Bornholm and Poland to the Rhineland where they formed the Kingdom of Burgundy. Was eventually incorporated into the Frankish Kingdom in 534 CE.|
|Normans||Northern France, England||Descendants of Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish Vikings. Granted the Duchy of Normandie by the West Frankish King Charles III in 911 CE, in an attempt to stop the repeated Viking raids on the city of Paris. The Normans eventually intermingled with the native Franks and Gallo-Romans to make up a unique Norman ethnicity, and invaded and gained control over Southern Italy in 1016, parts of the Iberian Peninsula in 1018, and all of England in 1066 under William the Conqueror. Every English monarch since William, including Queen Elizabeth II, is a descendant of the Norman King.|
|Rus / Varangians / Varyags||Ukraine, Russia, Belarus||Originated mainly from Sweden and raided and settled in lands around the Volga River in modern-day Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. Varangians ruled the medieval state of Kievan Rus’ between around 700 and 1000, and formed the Byzantine Emperor’s Varangian Guard.|
The Germanic tribes had a huge impact on European history, forging multiple influential kingdoms and even empires that ruled the continent for hundreds and hundreds of years in the ashes of the Roman Empire.
These kingdoms became predecessors to the modern-day countries of England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland (to name a few).
I made a map showing the extent of the Germanic Tribes and Kingdoms at the fall of the Roman Empire around 476 CE:
Are Scandinavians (Swedes, Danes, Norwegian) Germanic?
Scandinavians are considered a North Germanic people, and all the Scandinavian languages (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian) are in the North Germanic language group (what is also referred to as the Nordic languages when including Icelandic, Faroese, and Greenlandic also).
The link between Scandinavians and their Germanic ancestry goes back to the bronze age Scandinavians (the Nordic Bronze Age culture), who eventually became forefathers to all Germanic people as their rich, individualistic, and warrior-focused culture spread south into northern Germany.
The Nordic Bronze Age people are thought to have been extensive traders of amber and various metals with the rest of Europe, through which they developed an unusual expertise in metalworking as well as seafaring.
The amount of metal deposit findings from that period indicates that the Nordic Bronze Age culture was among the richest in Europe, and also reveals a strong focus on weapons, armor, and warfare in general.
As the culture spread south into northern Germany and came in contact with Celtic tribes and eventually the Roman Empire, it became known as Germanic to the (mostly Roman) historians at the time, which is why we today also refer to it that way.
Does This Mean Germany is Scandinavian?
Germany is not considered part of the Scandinavian geopolitical region, despite Germans and Scandinavians sharing a Germanic ancestry that goes back to the Nordic Bronze Age Culture and beyond.
In fact, the link between Germans and Scandinavians stretches even further back to the Corded Ware and Funnelbeaker cultures during the copper age, both dominant and covering a similar area in Northern Germany and Southern Scandinavia.
When comparing modern and ancient DNA-findings from Germany and Scandinavia, scientists found a strong correlation to a specific gene group in regions where Germanic tribes migrated to and settled in. They found that Scandinavians have the highest occurrence of this gene group, where its visible in at least 35% of the population, compared to around 15% in Germany.
Are Germans Vikings?
The Norse sea-faring raiders we today call Vikings did not come from Germany, but rather its Northern European neighbors in Scandinavia; Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Vikings did settle within the borders of modern-day Northern Germany, with Hedeby and Sliasthorp likely being the most influential ones.
The Viking Age inhabitants of (modern-day) Germany were part of the Frankish Empire, and more specifically East Francia, which historians see as the predecessor of modern-day Germany.
The early Frankish Kingdom was founded by the Merovingian Kings and greatly expanded and turned into an Empire that covered most of Western Europe by legendary Frankish emperor Charlemagne / Karl den Store / Charles the Great.
The Frankish Empire as a whole was raided by primarily Danish Vikings starting around 800 CE after the Franks had defeated the Saxons (who, like the Norse Vikings, followed a Germanic Pagan religion).
Charlemagne wasn’t successful against the Danes, who were led by King Godffrid, and huge sums of money had to be paid to keep the Vikings at bay and avoid full-on invasions.
From 860 CE and onwards the Vikings changed tactics and started settling in Northern Germany instead of retreating after each raid, building forts and settlements near the Danish border that were used as outposts from which future raids originated.
The Vikings kept raiding and the only effective way of making them disappear seems to have been paying them off, which the Franks did a lot in the form of what is sometimes called Danegeld, “the Danish tax”.
The Franks attempted to stop the raids by giving the province of Frisia as a fiefdom to the Viking King Sigfrid in 882 CE, much like they did with Normandy in 911 to the Viking Rollo Ragnvaldsson. This actually attracted even more Vikings searching for similar “payoffs” initially, but after repelling the raids and eventually setting up payment schemes to the Vikings the raids finally ended around 884 CE.