Everyone who has seen the show The Vikings surely noticed that the Nordic men are far more muscular and much bigger. Is there a genetic difference that was making them better fighters or had they been better fighters rather thanks to their rough nurture and violent culture?

Is there any evidence that supports this hypothesis? If so, has the physiological difference between the Vikings and the Europeans played a significant role in the wars of Vikings?

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    Define "the Europeans", and detail inhowfar you consider Scandinavians to be "not Europeans", or how you consider e.g. Anglo-Saxons to be less "the Europeans" than, say, the Romans. -- A TV show that operates on pre-concieved stereotypes is a bad starting place. -- That being said, yes, the Romans for example did notice a significant physiological difference between themselves and the Germanic people (which were, on average, quite a bit taller)...
    – DevSolar
    Jan 4, 2017 at 17:29
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    Roman during the classic age were smaller compared to most european barbarians... and they still won their wars. And please, do not use television drama as a source of knowledge.
    – Santiago
    Jan 4, 2017 at 20:55
  • @Santiago Yes, thank you, I've found some usable information from what DevSolar have mentioned. But I think it's great when people actually care about how it really was, isn't it?
    – Probably
    Jan 4, 2017 at 21:01
  • There could be concrete archeological evidence from graves.
    – mart
    Jan 5, 2017 at 15:48
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    Also, the Viking warriors wouldn't have been just a random population sample from the Scandinavian lands. You might likewise notice some differences between say US Special Forces, British SAS, &c and the general population of those countries.
    – jamesqf
    Apr 2, 2017 at 19:37

2 Answers 2


The Romans did notice a physiological difference between themselves and Germanic Tribes, as already mentioned by DevSolar. The Arab traveller Ahmad ibn Fadlan aswell noted down in his journals when he encountered the Volga Vikings: "I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blond and ruddy". Scandinavians still today ranks quite high on the average human height index.

Based on this i think it safe to say that there was some physiological difference between Vikings and other groups of people in Europe. But answering your question is hard because you group all other people living in Europe together as Europeans but dismiss and place the Norse in a separate distinct group. You miss to take into consideration that for example Germans have more in common with Norsemen but genetically and culturally than they have with Spaniards, yet you label both these groups together as Europeans.

Whether or not physiological differences have helped the Vikings in wars and conquests is hard to answer. It is logical that a bigger man has an advantage over a smaller man when it comes to combat, but in war there are so many different factors to consider. My personal opinion is that the possible advantage coming from physiological differences that might of occurred when the Vikings encountered and fought some of the other groups, is negligible.


There probably were some physiological differences, at least in height, between the Vikings and some of the other groups of people in Europe. But this difference is probably negligible and have not played any significant role in wars.

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    My dad, an Osage (a Native American tribe noted for being unusually tall), is always quick to point out that physical size is only an advantage in hand-to-hand fighting. Once you introduce firearms, it pays to have a lower-profile.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 5, 2017 at 16:27
  • It also pays to have a lower profile if you are taking any kind of transportation. Those vikings would be absolutely miserable on an Economy-class plane flight, rush hour subway ride, or even being crammed into a small car!
    – SPavel
    Jan 5, 2017 at 17:23
  • The Romans were recorded as being fairly short, and that didn't hinder their military ability. Apr 2, 2017 at 16:34
  • De bello gallicum describes the first contacts with gallic and germanic warriors as quite scary. The average roman was 156cm tall by 1bc, just like the average moor during the 7th-8th century in spain, while the average celtic or germanic was 175cm. That's an open hand of reasons to be scared about them.
    – CptEric
    Apr 3, 2017 at 7:53

IMHO opinion there were no ethnic Vikings. Scandinavians were ethnic Danes, or Norse, or Swedes. The pagan Scandinavians who sailed to raid and pillage foreign lands were vikings by occupation.

Scandinavians who wanted to be vikings and were accepted into viking crews probably had distinctive personalities. Egil's Saga says he killed a boy when he was seven years old and his mother suggested with his violent personality he should be a viking when he got older. ("Son be a viking"?). And Egil did go on viking voyages.

And possibly viking crews recruited bigger than average Scandinavians in the belief that would make them better at fighting. In real life the average viking raider might have been significantly bigger than the average native of the lands they raided, but various factors probably made some vikings smaller than usual.

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    Problem I have with the 1st pargraph is that from the 9th to 13th centuries all scandanvians spoke the same language: Old Norse. So while "Viking" may well have been a job, not an ethnicity, "Norse" was in fact an ethnicity at the time, and using the modern country names in any but a geographic sense is probably anachronistic.
    – T.E.D.
    Jan 9, 2017 at 20:46
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    T.E.D. Language is not the only definition of ethnicity. How many modern ethnic groups speak Spanish or Arabic, for example? Thus it is uncertain what proportion of Scandinavians thought they were ethnic Norse and hat proportion thought they were ethnic Danes, Norwegians, or Swedes. And maybe a lot thought that they were ethnic members of a small region in one ofthe modern countries.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 2, 2017 at 23:32
  • @MAGolding Agreed. It's a widely held misconception that language spoken=ethinicity/nationality (even before nationality was a thing). Partially due to contemporary European politics, and also because often with ancient cultures their language is one of the few things that survives so we tend to group them into 'this group spoke Akkaddian' etc. Aug 7, 2018 at 8:49

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