The Racial History of Scandinavia
An Outline

The origin of the northern nations is still shrouded in darkness. Probably the oldest local groups are at least partly descended from western European tribes of predominantly Cro-Magnid type (characterized by a low-vaulted or chamaecephalic skull), who emigrated northeastward from western Europe after the melting of the ice. These tribes mostly likely migrated across the North Sea basin, which, although now below sea level, was at that time comparatively dry. But groups from Eastern Central Europe (with higher-vaulted or more hypsicephalic skulls) also entered early into our regions. More purely eastern types moved through Finland, and the Baltic area, to northeastern Norway and across the Baltic Sea into what is now the Eastern Swedish littoral, which at that time was just rising above sea level. It is not yet known what relationship existed between these migrations and the original Indo-Europeans. It is hardly likely that any of these peoples spoke a true Indo-European language; some, however, were probably related to the original Indo-Germans in a more or less distant way. This applies especially to those groups which came from eastern Central Germany. Here, and somewhat farther southeastward, between the middle Danube and the southeastern part of the Baltic, between the Elbe and Saale rivers and the northern Carpathian mountains, some of the most careful pre-historians have placed the region of origin of the Indo-Europeans. Racially these early Indo-Europeans were a very progressive mid-European type, characterized by a high-vaulted dolichocephalic skull.1

Toward the end of the Stone Age, somewhat after 2000 B.C., a time from which date the oldest known northern craniological series (no longer single finds), the people of the north were a rather mixed society. The Nordic2 race, which later on is so clearly distinguishable, had hardly developed completely, and the different racial elements which had come from various regions were either confined to certain marginal areas or had entered into various mixtures. The mass, however, consisted of low-vaulted and Cro-Magnid types. On the Danish Islands, and partly in the Swedish province of Skåne, southeastern types, both coarse and fine, were more common. Evidently a strain of the "Beaker People," who came originally from the Mediterranean and, probably, the Near East, was present. (The well known Borreby site on the Danish island of Möen did not, indeed, yield any independent race, but a characteristic local mixed population, in part very coarse – the so-called Borreby type).

The not particularly numerous cranial finds of somewhat the same time period from eastern Sweden exhibit, in part, eastern strains, often of finer types which reveal an "almost fully matured" Nordic race. Of distinctly eastern descent are the crania, discovered almost entirely in the last few years, from the extreme northeast of Norway – on the river Paswig. From all the rest of Norway extremely few Stone Age crania are known. The cranial finds from western Sweden, however, are somewhat more homogeneous.

In the succeeding Bronze Age cremation predominated; the few crania which have been found are, however, more or less higher-vaulted than those found earlier or later.

Toward the end of the Bronze Age the formerly relatively warm climate again turned cooler. It was at one time believed that this gave rise to very large migrations to the continent which almost completely depopulated Scandinavia. Some such migrations did, no doubt, take place, but cultural finds, now being unearthed, show that at least in southern and central Sweden enough people remained to maintain a certain cultural (and also racial) continuity. One outcome, at any rate, is certain: the oldest known monuments of speech (ancient runic inscriptions, place names of very archaic types, etc.) exhibit everywhere a homogeneous Nordic language – from Schleswig to northern Norway and eastern Sweden. Likewise, the racial type was, at that time, more purely Nordic than ever before or after. One is reminded of Tacitus' description of the Germans as a pure, homogeneous, and entirely distinct race. It is obvious that the preceding severe epoch had had a direct selective effect which brought about a racial improvement and thus created the basis for the great centuries of the Viking expansions later on. (Several less advanced groups also survived, as is shown by subsequent circumstances; but the graves contain almost exclusively the bones of the dominant and doubtless also numerically very powerful classes of chiefs and landowners).

After some climatic improvement the population obviously increased very quickly, and the age of the Viking migrations began – in the West rather unexpectedly – shortly before 800 A.D. (in the Baltic it began more gradually and was more commercially oriented), probably because the Northlanders had only now become capable of sailing across the North Sea quickly and safely. Sailing was obviously an entirely new cultural achievement derived from the South. The local boat types, on the other hand, were better than those of the southern peoples, and were also largely based on old native traditions, although after the introduction of the sail they were, of course, changed, enlarged and generally improved. This event, which may be likened to the adoption of the camel by the old desert Semites during the second millennium B.C., or to the adoption of the horse by the Bedouins in the centuries immediately before Mohammed, endowed the Northlanders with a mobility and penetration never seen before. Navigation could be, and also was, used a great deal for peaceful trading voyages, but "at one are navigation, trade, and piracy – an indivisible trinity." Among other causes which contributed to the remarkably rapid flowering of the Viking raids appears to have been the introduction of primogeniture inheritance, which many observers assign to this period. One son (usually the eldest, but sometimes the youngest) inherited the entire homestead; the others (and the Germans were prolific) had to look for other income, often perhaps through the clearing of new land in the barren forests of the frontier, or even at sea – with the consequences already alluded to. Furthermore, wars between the Nordic tribes, with the concomitant displacement of populations, also played a rôle, as did treks led by the kings themselves which occurred mainly in later times.

Some investigators assume, especially in regard to the unexpectedly powerful attacks on northern England and southern Scotland around 800 (with the remarkably numerous plunderings of churches and monasteries), motives of revenge on the part of the Northern heathens against advancing Christianity which appeared to threaten them especially through the simultaneously forced Christianization of Friesland (by Boniface) and (somewhat later) of Lower Saxony (by Charlemagne). This, however, is not quite certain, since it presupposes a strong sense of community which very probably, though not definitely, existed among the Germanic tribes.

Once in motion, these raids, which promised quick renown and riches, sometimes became mere adventure, sport, and fashion, not unlike emigration to the United States of America in a later age, which continued even during periods of prosperity in Europe.

Whatever the rather complicated causes, the Viking movements had very definite anthropological consequences. Thus, the Nordic Viking bands settled in many coastal areas of northern Britain, and developed into a dominant caste, as they also did, for example, in Normandy and parts of Russia. But a reverse migration is also noticeable. The mass of the Vikings did, after all, return to their old homeland, in ships laden with gold and other treasure, not least women and slaves, which again helped to mix the native race.3

From the end of the Viking age, we have in the Old Icelandic manuscripts the first contemporary descriptions of individuals, often considerably esteemed, from which the Nordic physical and spiritual ideal is clearly perceptible. For these old Northlanders were obviously strongly race-conscious, both in respect of foreign (now introduced into their midst) human types, and toward the ancient racial remnants in the North itself. Only blonde hair and light eyes were valued and regarded as beautiul – "illug ok svart," "treacherous and black," was the common saying. Broad, flat faces and noses were considered ugly, as also, though to a lesser degree, were sharply bent noses. Preference for a tall, powerful build is, however, more universal – and human – especially in such warlike times.

As regards psychical qualities, the Northlanders valued daring and "few, but sharp words." Gossips were despised. The typically Nordic character was making its appearance, even though it had often become brutal and savage in these times. Cruelty was not unusual; but an open mind for justice and fairness, for independence of judgment and the courage to proclaim this openly, never disappeared. With the beginning of the Christian Middle Ages, which, for this region, must be placed only around, or even after, 1000 A.D., the bearers of the new Christian religion attempted to tame the obdurate spirits – even though usually with little success.

From the end of the Viking migrations, and far into the Middle Ages, strangers rarely strayed into the far north. In the fourteenth and fifteen centuries there began, apparently in connection with stronger southern cultural influences, the immigration of a fair number of Germans – mostly North Germans (who in those times, however, were racially akin to the Scandinavians). Traders came to the towns, which were only now beginning to develop; miners came to the blossoming mining areas in central Sweden; and not a few knights of fortune came as well. Somewhat later, and in larger numbers only after 1550, many Finns came to work on the land and in the mines, and somewhat later also to settle in the as yet barren stretches of forest in central Sweden.

But even at the beginning of the Modern Age, the east-central plains of Sweden – the core of the country – continued to be almost purely Nordic, as may be seen from the hundreds of crania found in the graves of that time.

In those times, Swedish (and Norwegian) settlement penetrated ever farther northward, gradually absorbing small enclaves of Finns and Lapps dwelling in the extreme northeastern coastal areas. (In the interior, the Lapps continued to live in seclusion for a long time).

With the rapid strengthening of the Swedish state under the Vasas, there naturally arose a hitherto unknown lack of experienced specialists (and of ordinary labourers as well). We have already mentioned the Finnish immigration. Shortly after 1600 several hundred skilled Wallonian miners came to the country, led by the great Dutch industrialist Louis de Geer whose own descendants have played distinguished rôles in our history. These descendants include, in the last hundred years, two prime ministers, a world-famous geologist, and so on. Many Walloons also gained distinction in various cultural endeavours, apart from the mining trade. Racially they were very mixed, with Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean and in traces even Dinaric and other foreign strains.

German immigration to Sweden continued into the eighteenth century – now partly consisting of South Germans as well. They were mostly soldiers. Around 1700 over one third of the nobility was of German descent, so that at present not a few Swedish noblemen appear a darker, higher-vaulted, and broader-headed type than the mass of the people. Many of these families, especially the Wrangels, Mörners and Wachtmeisters, have distinguished themselves in various fields. However, families of commoners, as for example our most outstanding sculptor to date, Sergel (end of the eighteenth century), the great contemporary lyrist Bellman(n), and the Geijers (from Carinthia?), also contributed notables. To Denmark (and to a lesser extent to Norway) also came numerous German families with many famous descendants, like the outstanding poet Oehlenschläger (1779-1850), the archæologist S. Müller (1896-1934), and many, many others.

Scots also (but fewer Englishmen) came during the period when Sweden was a great power. Soldiers and merchants, and later also industrialists, they undoubtedly formed the most capable element that Sweden ever received from the outside. Among the Scots were families such as Hamilton, Douglas (in our own days including a minister of foreign affairs and a commander-in-chief), Belfrage (Mar), Key, and the later migrating names of Dickson, Keiller, etc., not to mention extinct families such as Leslie and Carnegie.4

Much could also be said about the immigration to Norway of Englishmen; more yet about Scots (cf. the famous Grieg family and others), as well as Dutchmen.

A little earlier (around 1512) the first gypsies, whose descendants have never become extinct, came to Sweden and, one century earlier, to Denmark.

The Jews came to Sweden only in the late eighteenth century (e.g., branches of the well known Warburg family); again, they came somewhat earlier and in larger numbers to Denmark, and in lesser numbers to Norway (among others, the Hambro family, from Hamburg – in Danish "Hamborg"). This sums up the most important immigrations until the advent of the twentieth century.

But we must also consider internal migrations. The two large national anthropological enumerations of soldiers, 1897-98 and 1921-22, revealed statistical differences within provinces (comparable data are unfortunately unavailable for smaller areas). In the quarter century separating the two studies there was a rather uniform increase of stature (despite the fact that in the second study the median age was one year less); this however, as in other civilized countries, is predominantly influenced by environment, above all by more abundant nutrition. Head form remained almost entirely unchanged.

The percentage of darker eyes shows a consistent diminution in southern Sweden, compared with an equally consistent increase in the north. How did this come about? In the case of the older enumeration, we know the national values for those individuals both of whose parents came from the same area (Härad, etc.), as well as for those whose parents came from different areas. The former are on the average somewhat smaller and lighter in colour. During the more recent study it was found that those born in rural communities anywhere in Sweden, and especially in northern Sweden, rarely had darker eyes than individuals from urban areas. (Stature is everywhere roughly the same – only the large cities have higher figures). Moreover, the sons of farmers have still lighter eyes than the sons of farm labourers and rural tradesmen; they are also taller (due mainly to environmental influences). Moreover, emigration from the rural communities of southern Sweden had been large for over a generation, especially among the lower classes, and was directed to the United States and to industrialized areas notably in northern Sweden. These factors largely explain the statistical picture. The darker-eyed sons of laborers migrated from south Sweden to a greater degree than the somewhat lighter-eyed sons of farmers.

Let us now turn to a very brief and general racial-geographical review of the Scandinavian nations, according to conditions in the late nineteenth century – that is before the large industrialization. (For still earlier times we do not, unfortunately, possess sufficient sources). Generally speaking, the interior of the peninsula is racially somewhat purer than the surrounding areas (with the possible exception of some not easily accessible forest districts in the centre, where there is a predominance of rather dark, racially somewhat primitive Cro-Magnids, cf. above). Thus, we have on the west coast of Norway many brunette quasi-Alpine brachycephalic types, of which weak traces may also be found along the west coast of Sweden, and larger remnants, again, on the Danish islands. On certain parts of the Swedish east coast (and in southeastern Denmark) we find Finnish (of East-Baltic race) elements, while in the extreme north of Sweden and Norway there are Finns and Lapps. The above-mentioned relatively late immigrations into the mining areas of central Sweden and environs of Finns, Germans and Walloons are even now only locally significant. (This is also true of the descendants of the gypsies).

Moreover, it is possible to classify the basic Nordic stock into several geographically defined substocks: a southwestern type, usually of sparse build (which, naturally, most closely resembles the more Nordic areas of northeastern England and southeastern Scotland); a medium type in the central provinces which is somewhat shorter and a very tall type in northern central Sweden and the adjacent parts of northern Sweden and Norway.

Last of all, let us consider the temperament of the most common northern types: reserved, usually taciturn, straight-forward, dependable, serene, magnanimous, clean in body (and home), with a strong inclination toward sports, nature and industry; not easily aroused to hatred but, once aroused, persevering in their feelings. Thus the Northern peoples are depicted by all knowledgable observers – an experience that has been substantiated by my own anthropological research measurements (on nearly 20,000 persons of both sexes, nearly always in their own homes). I have been especially surprised by the unexpectedly strong correlation between domestic cleanliness and light colouring, and often also between magnanimity and narrow heads. The morphology of the Northlander must be assumed to be sufficiently known; it is necessary to stress only that a high nose bridge with a so-called Greek profile always points to foreign admixture.

The outlook for the continued survival of Northern man in his ancient homeland is now disturbingly uncertain, even disregarding possible political dangers from the East (and perhaps Southeast). The number of children since the first World War and especially since 1930 is too low, so that foreign labourers, in part from rather distant peoples, are immigrating in growing numbers. (The most capable among the recent migrants are the often intellectual refugees from the small Baltic nations). There is an almost total lack of appreciation of these dangers to their survival among most Scandinavians. In this respect there must be a change before it is irrevocably too late. Loss of the basic Northern stock would destroy the basis of the entire Northern character as it expresses itself in state, society, morals and culture.


1 In his description of craniological series and his classification of racial types, Professor Lundman makes frequent use of the cephalic index (length-breadth index) and the altitudinal index (length-height index). The cephalic index is the ratio of head length to head breadth (head breadth x 100 / head length) and separates head shapes into the following categories:
dolichocephalic long-headed less than 75
mesocephalic medium-headed 75-79.9
brachycephalic round-headed 80 and over
The altitudinal index is the head height on the living and the basion-bregma height on the skull (head height x 100 / head length) and divides head shapes into the following categories:
chamaecephalic low-vaulted less than 70
orthocephalic medium-vaulted 70-74.9
hypsicephalic high-vaulted 75 and over
Additional information regarding the physical and physiological characteristics used in the classificatory determination of racial types may be obtained from Professor Lundman's book Umriss der Rassenkunde (1952). – Translator.

2 "Northern" and "Nordic" are used interchangeably by the author, sometimes in an anthropological and sometimes in a geographical sense. – Translator.

3 In so far as these were from eastern Britain, and also from much of Celtic Britain, they made little difference to the racial character of the northern peoples. – Editor.

4 Most of the Swedish nobility and a large part of the merchant classes have Scottish blood. There were as many as twenty Scottish regiments in the Swedish army in the seventeenth century. – Editor.


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Beckman, L., "A Contribution to Physical Anthropology and Population Genetics in Sweden," Hereditas, Vol. 45, 1959.
Bröste, K., et al., "Stone and Bronze Ages," Prehistoric Man in Denmark, Vol. I, Nos. 1-2, Copenhagen, 1956.
Bryn, H., and Schreiner, K., "Somatologie der Norweger," Norske Vet. Ak., Oslo, Skr. I. Mat.-naturv. Kl., No. 1, Oslo, 1929.
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Lundman. B., "Altersveränderungen bei Männern in einigen nordwesteuropäischen Populationen," ibid., Vol. 48, No. 2, 1957.
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A good modern study is lacking. Many maps may, however, be found in my own work Baltoskandia (1946) (Swedish only), and, to a lesser extent, in my contribution to the Cold Spring Harbor Symposia, Vol. 15 (1950). Those who read German will find, in Barloewen's compendium (1957), a very perspicacious modern exposition by K. Narr about the prehistory of northern Europe and adjacent regions. Cf., also, the highly original work of Nils Aberg (1949). Many Swedish types are depicted in Lundborg (1919) and Lundman (1945); Norwegian ones in Bryn and Schreiner (1929) and in A. Schreiner (1929). No such pictorial works exist for Danish and Icelandic types.

Bertil J. Lundman, "The Racial History of Scandinavia: An Outline", Mankind Quarterly, 1962, 3, 89-97. Translated from the German by H. George Classen.

Digitalised by Karl Earlson