Are Norwegians and Swedes the Same People?


To an outsider, there may be no noticeable difference between Norwegians and Swedes. You may even be wondering whether Norwegians and Swedes are the same people.

Norwegians and Swedes have a shared history. In fact, many scholars consider them to be the same people. However, modern Norwegians and Swedes have many differences, which may be subtle at first. Some Norwegians have British-Irish heritage, while some Swedes have Finnish / Baltic / Russian heritage.

In this article, you will learn more about the shared history of the Norwegian and Swedish peoples, as well as what sets them apart in the modern era.

History, Origins, and the Viking Age

Norwegians and Swedes have a shared history. For example, both of them went through the Viking Age. [1]

Before the 4th millennium, Battle Axe people emigrated to Norway with their livestock. [2] The Battle Axe people spread Indo-European languages around Scandinavia and eventually led the way into the Nordic Bronze Age. [3]

Sweden was first mentioned in Germania, which talks about the Suoines, a powerful Nordic tribe residing in Sweden. [4]

Both modern-day Norway and modern-day Sweden went through the Viking Age. However, as CJ Adrian correctly points out, not all Vikings were necessarily the same people. [5] 

We tend to think of Vikings as one people, but there were probably at least three different Viking groups, determined by their geographic origins. 

To modern-day humans, it would probably be difficult to determine any differences between them, but to them, those differences may have been striking. 

According to CJ Adrian, the Swedish Vikings were referred to as the Rus, while the Danes and Norwegians were referred to as two separate groups in the Annals of Ulster.

The groups saw themselves as distinct from each other and often waged war with each other. 

Unfortunately, in the eyes of some historians and explorers, they were seen as one pagan group. 

Eventually, the Swedes (or Rus), who were looking to open trade routes, assimilated into Slavic culture. 

Norwegian and Swedish Unions

Harald Fairhair was known as the first King of Norway; he ruled around 900 BC, in the Viking Age, and unified the Norse kingdoms. [6]

The Norse people resided in Scandinavia and spoke Old Norse, which is where modern Scandinavian languages come from.

 Both Norwegians and Swedes, as well as other modern-day Scandinavians (such as those in Iceland and Denmark), trace their origins back to the Norse. 

Eventually, the Norse people converted to Christianity. Several separate kingdoms were born, including Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. It remained this way for a while, but eventually, Norway and Sweden united. 

The United Kingdoms of Norway and Sweden was ruled by one monarch and adopted one foreign policy; it existed for less than 100 years, starting in 1814 and ending in 1905.

However, while the kingdoms entered into a union, the two states remained separate, and they both had their own currencies, constitutions, armies, and laws. 

In fact, many Swedes at the time regarded Norway as being a prize of war and an inferior country.

Disputes remained, and eventually, the union dissolved, with Sweden and Norway going back to being completely separate countries. 

Are All Scandinavians the Same People?

As we saw, both Norwegians and Swedes have a lot of history in common. But are they the same people? According to some scholars, they are. 

In fact, as Edwin Grosvenor writes, “The Scandinavians, or the Danes, Norwegians and Swedes, Teutonic peoples, are so intimately related in race and history, that, except with frequent repetition, it would be impossible to discuss them separately.” [7] 

Of course, even though they share a lot of history, things do change over time. For example, Norway was a seafaring nation. This meant that a lot of traders came to Norway, including from places like Britain and Ireland.

As such, in Western Norway, there is a higher percentage of people who have British and Irish ancestry, leading to traits such as darker hair.

On the other hand, many Swedes had contact with people residing in present-day Russia or in the Baltics. 

It would be impossible to know the genetics of any specific Norwegian or Swede just by looking at them. However, the two groups are closely related and generally share many physical characteristics. 

However, as the two countries had remained separate for quite some time (and even when there was a union, the two kingdoms nevertheless did not fully assimilate), there are many differences between modern-day Norwegians and Swedes. 

As such, they can be considered separate peoples with their own unique cultures, cuisines, and ways of life. 

How Are Norwegians and Swedes Different?

There are many differences between Norwegians and Swedes. A casual visitor who is just visiting Norway and Sweden for a few days may not pick up on these subtle differences; they may see all of Scandinavia as being very much alike.

However, this is far from the case, and the more time you spend in Sweden (or Norway), the more you will realize how the cuisines, cultures, attitudes, and patriotic values are different in the two countries. 

Language

Of course, one major difference is the language. The Norwegian and Swedish languages indeed have many similarities. [8] However, they remain distinct languages, and speaking one will not necessarily allow you to understand the other. 

However, both countries have a high level of education, and a lot of people will be able to understand and/or speak English in both countries. 

Patriotism

While Norwegians tend to be very patriotic, Swedes are also patriotic but also very open-minded. Swedes tend to be very well-traveled and open to understanding other cultures. 

Swedes adore their traditions just like Norwegians do, but they don’t celebrate traditional activities and days of celebration to the extent that Norwegians do. Generally, Swedes are more open to “modernization.” 

Of course, both Norwegians and Swedes take pride in their respective countries. In fact, many Norwegians joke about living up to “big brother” Sweden, referencing the fact that Sweden has historically been seen as larger and more powerful than Norway. 

However, modern-day Norway is a powerful and important country in its own right as well. 

Cuisine

There are many similarities between what people eat in Norway and what people eat in Sweden. Norwegians eat a lot of fish in their diets, including sardines and mackerel, two types of fish that are mostly considered canned food in the United States and many other “western” countries. [10]

They even enjoy codfish oil in the morning, which has many health benefits. 

On the other hand, while still enjoying a Scandinavian diet, Swedes enjoy smorgasbords of beef, meatballs, smoked fish, and other yummy dishes. Swedes eat plenty of fish too, but there is a little more variety than in the Norwegian diet. 

Sweden has many interesting dishes that are not really found in Norway. For example, Falukorv, a dish made of smoked meat with potato starch flour, cooked together with onion and spices. [11]

Conclusion

Many historians and scholars consider Norwegians and Swedes to be the same people. If you are comparing the peoples of two separate countries, it is hard to get closer than the closeness Norwegians and Swedes share. 

Nevertheless, both countries are distinct and unique, as are the people living in them. Many people in Norway will have British heritage, while others in Sweden will have Finnish or Baltic heritage.

To an outsider, differences in culture, language, and way of life may not be immediately apparent, but the more time you spend in these amazing countries, the more you will notice them. 

Sources

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_Age

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_Axe_culture

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nordic_Bronze_Age

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germania

[5] https://cjadrien.com/2019/06/21/difference-danish-norwegian-swedish-vikings/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harald_Fairhair

[7] https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101077278099&view=1up&seq=473

[8] https://americannorseman.wordpress.com/2012/11/25/norwegians-swedes-whats-the-difference-part-ii/

[9] https://americannorseman.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/norwegians-swedes-whats-the-difference/

[10] https://slightnorth.com/norway-vs-sweden/

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falukorv

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