Danish people
H. C. AndersenNiels Bohr • H. C. Ørsted • Sweyn Forkbeard

Peter SchmeichelSøren KierkegaardTycho BraheKaren Blixen

Total population
c. 7 million
Regions with significant populations
 Denmark 4,996,980[1]
 United States 100.000.00 [2]
 Canada 200,035 [3]
 Brazil 140,000
 Norway 52,510 [4]
 Australia 50,413 [5]
 Germany 50,000 [6]
 Sweden 42,602 [7]
 Argentina 13,000 [8]
 United Kingdom 18,493 (Danish born only) [9]
 Spain 8,944 [10]
 France 7,000 [11]
 Switzerland 4.251 [12]
 New Zealand 3,507 [13]
 Faroe Islands 2,956
 Iceland 2,802 [14]
 Ireland 809 [15]
 Austria 806 [16]
 Japan 500 [17]
 Lebanon 400 [18]

Related languages include Norwegian, Swedish, Faroese, Icelandic, and to a lesser extent, all Germanic languages.


Predominantly Lutheran;
small minorities of other faiths; secular.
See Religion in Denmark

Danish people or Danes are the nation and ethnic group that is native to Denmark, and who speak Danish.

The first mention of Danes within the Danish territory is on the Jelling Rune Stone which mentions how Harald Bluetooth converted the Danes to Christianity in the 10th century.[19] Denmark has been continuously inhabited since this period and although much cultural and ethnic influence and immigration from all over the world has entered Denmark since then, Danes tend to see themselves as ethnic descendents of the early Danes mentioned in the sources.

Since the formulation of a Danish national identity in the 19th century the defining criteria for being Danish has been speaking the Danish language and identifying with Denmark as a homeland. Danish national identity was built on a basis of peasant culture and Lutheran theology, theologian N. F. S. Grundtvig and his popular movement played a prominent part in the process.[20]

Today the main criterion for being considered a Dane is having Danish citizenship, although also people with a Danish ancestral or ethnic identity, living outside of Denmark such as emigrants, descendants of emigrants or members of the Danish ethnic minority in Southern Schleswig, can be considered Danes under a wider definition taking into consideration cultural self-identification.



The first mentions of "Danes" are recorded in the mid 6th century by historians Procopius (Greek: δάνοι) and Jordanes (danī), who both refer to a tribe related to the Suetidi and which inhabited the peninsula of Jutland, the province of Scania and the isles in between. Frankish annalists of the 8th century often refer to Danish kings. The Bobbio Orosius distinguishes between South Danes inhabiting Jutland and North Danes inhabiting the isles and the province of Scania.

The first mention of Danes within the Danish territory is on the Jelling Rune Stone which mentions how Harald Bluetooth converted the Danes to Christianity in the 10th century.[21] Between c. 960 and the early 980s, Harald Bluetooth established a kingdom in the lands of the Danes which stretched from Jutland to Skåne. Around the same time, he received a visit from a German missionary who, according to legend,[22] survived an ordeal by fire, which convinced Harold to convert to Christianity.

In the following years saw the Danish Viking expansion, which incorporated Norway and Northern England into the Danish kingdom. After the death of Canute the Great in 1035, England broke away from Danish control and Denmark fell into disarray for some time. Vikings from Norway raided Denmark sporadically. Canute's nephew Sweyn Estridson (1020–74) re-established strong royal Danish authority and built a good relationship with the archbishop of Bremen — at that time the Archbishop of all of Scandinavia.

The Reformation, which originated in the German lands in the early 16th century from the ideas of Martin Luther (1483–1546), had a considerable impact on Denmark. The Danish Reformation started in the mid-1520s. Some Danes wanted access to the Bible in their own language. In 1524 Hans Mikkelsen and Christiern Pedersen translated the New Testament into Danish; it became an instant best-seller. Those who had traveled to Wittenberg in Saxony and come under the influence of the teachings of Luther and his associates included Hans Tausen, a Danish monk in the Order of St John Hospitallers. The Dano-Norwegian Kingdom grew wealthy during the 16th century, largely because of the increased traffic through the Øresund, which Danes could tax because Denmark controlled both sides of the Sound. After a failed war with Sweden the Treaty of Copenhagen, removed the areas of Bahusia and Terra Scania from Danish control. Thus establishing the boundaries between Norway, Denmark, and Sweden that still exist today. In the centuries after this loss of territory the populations of Scania and Bahusia who had previously been considered Danes came to be fully considered Swedes. Later in the early 19th century Denmark suffered a defeat in the Napoleonic wars Denmark lost control over Norway and Territories in what is now Northern Germany. The political and economic defeat ironically sparked what is known as the Danish golden age in which a Danish national identity first came to be fully formed.The Danish liberal and national movements gained momentum in the 1830s, and after the European revolutions of 1848 Denmark became a constitutional monarchy on June 5, 1849. The growing bourgeoisie had demanded a share in government, and in an attempt to avert the sort of bloody revolution occurring elsewhere in Europe, Frederick VII gave in to the demands of the citizens. A new constitution emerged, separating the powers and granting the franchise to all adult males, as well as freedom of the press, religion, and association. The king became head of the executive branch.


Danishness (danskhed) is the concept on which contemporary Danish national and ethnic identity is based. It is a set of values formed through the historic trajectory of the formation of the Danish nation. The ideology of Danishness emphasises the notion of historical connection between the population and the territory of Denmark and the relation between the 1000-year old Danish monarchy and the modern Danish state, the 19th century national romantic idea of "the people" (folk), a view of Danish society as homogeneous and socially egalitarian as well as strong cultural ties to other Scandinavian nations.[23]

Importantly, since its formulation Danish identity has not been linked to a particular racial or biological heritage, as many other ethno-national identities have. Grundtvig for example emphasised the Danish language and the emotional relation to and identification with the nation of Denmark as the defining criteria of Danishness. This cultural definition of ethnicity has been suggested to be one of the reasons that Denmark was able to integrate their earliest ethnic minorities of Jewish and Polish origins into the Danish ethnic group. Jewishness for example was not seen as being incompatible with a Danish ethnic identity as long as the most important cultural practices and ideologies were shared. This inclusive ethnicity has in turn has been described as the background for the relative lack of virulent anti-semitism in Denmark and the rescue of the Danish Jews[24]

This ideology of Danishness has been politically important in the formulation of Danish political relations with the EU, which has been met with considerable resistance in the Danish population, and in recent reactions in the Danish public to the increasing influence of immigration.[25][26]


According to the Danish statistics institute, approximately five million people of Danish origin live in Denmark today. In this context "Danish origin" is defined as being born to parents who are Danish citizens, and the number is arrived at by subtracting from the total population (5,564,249) those who are born abroad to non-citizens who are themselves born abroad (called immigrants), and those who are born in Denmark to parents who are either immigrants or who have foreign citizenship.[1]

Danish citizenship is granted to anyone who has one parent of Danish citizenship, whether the child is born in or outside of Denmark. Citizens of Greenland and the Faroe islands are considered Danish citizens for all purposes. Those who do not achieve Danish citizenship by birth (or by Adoption) can only receive Danish citizenship through decree of law. Danish citizenship is automatically lost if one applies for foreign citizenship or when a 22 year old child of Danish citizens has never lived in Denmark and has not formally applied for Danish citizenship.

Danish diaspora

A minority of approx. 50,000 Danish-identifying German citizens live in Southern Schleswig in Germany, a former Danish territory, forming around 10% of the local population. In Denmark, the latter group is often referred to as De danske syd for grænsen (Literally: The Danish south of the border), the Danish-minded ("De Dansksindede") or sydslesvigere (South Schleswigers).

Due to immigration there are considerable populations with Danish roots outside of Denmark in countries such as USA, Canada and Argentina. Some of these communities, such as Solvang, California, Racine, Wisconsin and Necochea, Argentina maintain cultural ties to Denmark, but these populations are not considered to be Danes for official purposes by the Danish state, and heritage alone can not be used to claim Danish citizenship, as it can in some European nations.

The Danish nation in a political context

Det danske folk (The Danish people) as a concept, played an important role in 19th century ethnic nationalism and refers to self-identification rather than a legal status. Use of the term is most often restricted to a historical context; the historic German-Danish struggle regarding the status of the Duchy of Schleswig vis-à-vis a Danish nation-state. It describes people of Danish nationality, both in Denmark and elsewhere. Most importantly, ethnic Danes in both Denmark proper and the former Danish Duchy of Schleswig. Excluded from this definition are people from the formerly Norwegian Faroe Islands and Greenland as well as members of the German minority as well as members of other ethnic minorities.

The term should not be confused with the legal concept of nationality, danske statsborgere (Danish nationals) i.e. individuals holding Danish citizenship.

See also


  1. ^ a b Danmarks Statistik (pdf, written in English) reports that Denmark, per 1 April 2011, has 4.996.980 inhabitants of Danish origin.
  2. ^ The 2000 American census reports that the United States, in the 2000 census, has 1,430,897 inhabitants of Danish ancestry.
  3. ^ Statistics Canada
  4. ^ Statistics Norway. "Persons with immigrant background by immigration category, country background and sex. 1 January 2009 (Immigrants and Norwegian-norn to immigrant parents + Other immigrant background)". http://www.ssb.no/english/subjects/02/01/10/innvbef_en/tab-2009-04-30-05-en.html. Retrieved 2009-08-27. [dead link]
  5. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006 Census Table
  6. ^ National minorities at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany
  7. ^ Statistics Sweden
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Danish Immigrants to the UK (2001)
  10. ^ Spanish National Statistics Institute
  11. ^ http://www.udvandrerne.dk/JLKM/Udvandre.nsf/Uniq/688507Reference Danes in France
  12. ^ Danes in foreign countries
  13. ^ Statistics New Zealand
  14. ^ "Population by country of birth 1981-2006 by country and year: Denmark, 2006". Statistics Iceland (English version). 31 December 2006. http://www.statice.is/?PageID=1174&src=/temp_en/Dialog/varval.asp?ma=MAN12100%26ti=Population+by+country+of+birth+1981%2D2006+%26path=../Database/mannfjoldi/Faedingarland/%26lang=1%26units=Fj%F6ldi. Retrieved 2008-03-06. 
  15. ^ CSO Ireland - 2006 Census
  16. ^ Ties between Austria and Denmark Laut den letzten Zählungen sind 806 Dänen in Österreich (2001)
  17. ^ Danish immigrants in Tokyo
  18. ^ History of Denmark and Lebanon
  19. ^ http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Danmarks_geografi_og_historie/Danmarks_historie/Danmark_f%C3%B8r_Reformationen/daner?highlight=Daner
  20. ^ Ostergard, Uffe , Peasants and Danes: The Danish National Identity and Political Culture. Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 3-27
  21. ^ http://www.denstoredanske.dk/Danmarks_geografi_og_historie/Danmarks_historie/Danmark_f%C3%B8r_Reformationen/daner?highlight=Daner
  22. ^ Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen, trans. Francis J. Tschan (New York, 2002), pp. 77–78.
  23. ^ Jenkins, Richard. The limits of identity: ethnicity, conflict, and politics. ShOP Issue 2: November 2000 [2]
  24. ^ Yael Enoch. 1994. The intolerance of a tolerant people: Ethnic relations in Denmark. Ethnic and Racial Studies. Volume 17, Issue 2, 1994
  25. ^ Lise Togeby (1998). “Prejudice and tolerance in a period of increasing ethnic diversity and growing unemployment. Denmark since 1970”. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21, 6: 1137-115
  26. ^ Jens Rydgren. 2010. Radical Right-wing Populism in Denmark and Sweden: Explaining Party System Change and Stability. Volume 30, Number 1, Winter-Spring 2010

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