Male-biased operational sex ratios and the Viking phenomenon: an evolutionary anthropological perspective on Late Iron Age Scandinavian raiding

Ben Raffield, Neil Price, Mark Collard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

In this paper we use a combination of evolutionary theory, ethnographic data, written sources, and archaeological evidence to develop a new explanation for the origins of Viking raiding. Our argument focuses on the operational sex ratio, which is the ratio of males to females in a society who are ready to mate at a given time. We propose that a combination of two practises—polygyny and concubinage—and the increase in social inequality that occurred in Scandinavia during the Late Iron Age resulted in a male-biased Operational Sex Ratio. This would have created a pool of unmarried men motivated to engage in risky behaviours that had the potential to increase their wealth and status, and therefore their probability of entering the marriage market. With high-status men looking to instigate expeditions to acquire plunder and develop their reputations as war leaders, raiding represented a mutually beneficial means of achieving social advancement and success.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-324
Number of pages10
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume38
Issue number3
Early online date30 Oct 2016
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2017

Keywords

  • Vikings
  • Late Iron Age Scandinavia
  • raiding
  • polygyny
  • concubinage
  • Operational Sex Ratio
  • male-male competition

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