Published on January 8th, 201321
Never Marry a Swede
By Tor G. Jakobsen, NTNU
Swedish people are often portayed as kind, beautiful, and tolerant. Despite this, there is one good reason why you should never marry a Swede, unless you want your children to have blonde hair and the character of Attila the Hun.
Well, research shows Swedes and Norwegians have, unlike the rest of Europe, a large share of their genes from the Hunnic invaders of the early middle ages. The evidence is supported both by the archeology and DNA-studies of the current population of southern Scandinavia.
Also, studies by Swedish Professor Åke Daun show that foreigners perceive Swedes as being cold heartless people with a sluggish mind. These are traits that can be attributed to their Attila-genes.
The Great Migrations and the Huns
In the period of the Völkerwanderung several tribes emigrated from southern Scandinavia, due to factors like overpopulation and worsening of the climate. Groups like the Goths, Vandals, Angles, Saxons, Langobards, Heruli, and Burgunds migrated southwards. Following the downfall of the Western Roman Empire, these tribes laid the foundations for several new kingdoms in Europe.
However, another group joined in on the Völkerwanderung, namely the Huns. A nomadic people from beyond the Volga, they contributed to the downfall of the West Roman Empire, and both fought and allied themselves with the Scandinavian tribes. They were led by their ruler Attila, and the tribe gave its name to present-day Hungary.
DNA-studies – The Mysterious Haplogroup Q
By investigating a man’s Y-chromosome one can determine which haplogroup he belongs to. The markers one looks at (denoted with a letter) tells us which “tribe” your father’s father’s father’s father came from. As previously explored in the article “Who Are We? – Uncovering the Mystery of the Origin of Europeans” I identified the four haplogroups I1, I2a (the original Mesolothic Europeans), R1a, and R1b (the Indo-European invaders) as the true European groups.
Yet, there are other haplogroups present in Europe, such as the Asian N1c1, which is dominant in Finland, and is also found in the Baltics and northern Scandinavia. This marker is easy to explain, as it goes hand in hand with the Uralic languages of the Finns, Estonians, and Samis.
The presence of haplogroup Q in Scandinavia, on the other hand, has been a mystery to scientists. On a world basis, this is the dominant haplogroup among North- and South-American Indians. The red stars on the map show where there is a large presence (more than four percent) of this haplogroup in Europe. When viewing the map, one question naturally springs to mind: Why is there such a heavy presence of this group in southern Scandinavia (and not in Germany, Britain, France, and other countries)?
Several theories emerged. One is that it is from the Sami people coming from the north, however this is easy to dismiss, as haplogroup Q has no correlation with the presence of the Sami/Finn haplogroup N1c1. A more original theory was that it came to the shores of Norway through Eskimos crossing the North Sea in kayaks. This was clearly not a reasonable explanation, as the chance of enough Eskimos surviving such a trip in order to make a significant impact on the Scandinavian gene pool is very slim.
However, one theory seems highly plausible. Haplogroup Q came with the Hunnic invaders from the East. This makes sense with the presence on the steppes (the Huns were a horse-steppe people) as well as in Hungary (where most Huns settled after all the fighting) and in some parts of Slovakia (close to Hungary).
So, how did they come to Scandinavia? Well, it is well known that the Huns often allied themselves with the previously described Scandinavian tribes. The way this was done was that the Huns established themselves as the elite, while the Scandinavians were soldiers. A large group of Huns could very well be amongst the Goths and/or Heruli going back to Scandinavia at the end of the Migration Period. The same explanation can be attributed to the red star marked in southwest France, where a portion of the Huns probably settled together with the Burgunds (as this is also the territory of the first Burgund kingdom).
In present day Scandinavia, more than four percent of men in southeast Sweden and large parts of eastern Norway carry the Hunnic genetic marker, in the rest of southern Sweden and Norway the percentage stands at between three and four percent. This can be considered a significant share of the population, especially when juxtaposed with other parts of Europe.
According to Professor of Archeology at the University of Oslo, Lotte Hedeager, the old Norwegian (and also Swedish) ruling class consisted of Huns. She argues that a new and strong social order was established with the arrival of the Huns, something that enabled them to resist the victorious Christian countries to the south.
Hedeager goes even further, stating that Attila could very well have been the same person as the Viking god Odin, hijacking the position of the already established Woden. The writings of the Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson partly support this theory, as he wrote that the Gods (who were called Æsir) came from the area around the Don river in Russia. This link has previously been explored by the famous Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, with his archeological expedition to Azov in Russia. Also, many of the names given in the Nordic sagas are parallel to the names of Hunnic kings, like Halfdan (Huldin), Roar (Ruga), Ottar (Ottar), and Adils (Attila).
It may be a surprise to many, but it seems like southern Scandinavia has a larger presence of non-European genes than many other parts of Europe. Both DNA- and archeological evidence point to this, more spesific; the presence of haplogroup Q as well as a change in burial traditions in Sweden and Norway. Also, Atle, which is derived from Attila, is a common name in present day Scandinavia.
Following this, our poster boy from my previous article may not be as European as one might expect. Behind those innocent eyes hides the ruthlessness of the Hunnic invaders, who, under their leader Attila, contributed to the end of classical antiquity and led Europe into the dark ages.
Hedeager, Lotte (2011). Iron Age Myth and Materiality. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis.
Jakobsen, Tor G. (2012) “Who Are We? Uncovering the Mystery of the Origin of Europeans” Popular Social Science 1(1).
*Cover photo by Ulrich Berkner, viking helmet photo by Elana Pleskevich