Origins of Criminal Profiling in Viking Sagas? Skip to content

Origins of Criminal Profiling in Viking Sagas?

Viking-Age Icelanders may have been the first to adopt criminal profiling, according to an expert.

westmanislands-vikingboat_ipaViking ship with the Westman Islands in the background. Photo copyright Icelandic Photo Agency.

Dr. Tarrin Wills from the University of Aberdeen says that the Icelandic Sagas contain detailed descriptions of individuals most people would choose to avoid, according to The Press Association.

According to the Dr. Wills’ study, the sagas focus on aspects of physical appearance, such as a wide forehead and face, bushy beard, broad shoulders and receding hairline, which are now known to be associated with high levels of testosterone and aggression. Dr. Wills says the descriptions of wild and violent Vikings returning from raids served as warnings of to the rest of society.

The study, published in the journal Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, states that typical causes of conflict among Vikings included stealing neighbors’ land, arguing about horses and creating insulting poems.

“This was a particular problem in Iceland because Icelanders, like the rest of Scandinavia, had a very sophisticated legal system but no central government, no way of enforcing the law,” Wills writes.

“Iceland at the time of the Vikings was akin to the Wild West – an open territory with lots of young men where each person was trying to acquire enough land for himself, a wife and family. As a result it was extremely competitive and often violent,” he continues.

Dr. Wills says Icelanders may have been the first to use criminal profiling. “I’ve yet to encounter any similar kind of descriptions in the early literature that I’ve read. And they certainly had what seems to be an evidence-based approach that was very close to our modern scientific knowledge of the relationship between physiology and behaviour.”


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