The viable and non-viable fractions of the bacterial community in a 2347-year-old permafrost soil from Spitsbergen were subjected to a comprehensive investigation using culture-independent and culture-dependent methods. LIVE/DEAD®BacLightTM staining revealed that 26% of the total number of bacterial cells were viable. Quantitatively, aerobic microcolonies, aerobic colony-forming units and culturable anaerobic bacteria comprised a minor fraction of the total number of viable bacteria, which underlines the necessity for alternative cultivation approaches in bacterial cryobiology. Sulfate reduction was detected at temperatures between −2°C and 29°C while methanogenesis was not detected. Bacterial diversity was high with 162 operational taxonomic units observed from 800 16S rDNA clone sequences. The 158 pure cultures isolated from the permafrost soil affiliated with 29 different bacterial genera, the majority of which have not previously been isolated from permafrost habitats. Most of the strains isolated were affiliated to the genera Cellulomonas and Arthrobacter and several of the pure cultures were closely related to bacteria reported from other cryohabitats. Characterization of viable bacterial communities in permafrost soils is important as it will enable identification of functionally important groups together with the as yet undescribed adaptations that bacteria have evolved for surviving subzero temperatures for millennia.