Captivity and Slavery in Viking Age Scandinavia

Part of: Society for American Archaeology 81st Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL (2016)

Perceptions of Viking raiding have often considered these activities to have been primarily motivated by the acquisition of portable wealth and plunder. However, explicit accounts in historical sources and sagas demonstrate that many Viking groups sought not only material wealth but also to abduct large numbers of captives. While some captives were quickly ransomed or killed, there is also evidence attesting to the long-distance trafficking, employment and exploitation of slaves across a geographical area that would encompass much of the Viking world, ranging from southern Spain to the lands of the Rūs in the east.

In recent years, the evidence for captivity and slavery has become better conceptualised within theoretical and methodological frameworks. Recent novel and innovative analyses of archaeological material have similarly allowed light to be shed on the nuances of slavery among Scandinavian societies. This session will provide a multidisciplinary forum for the presentation of both new and continuing research on captivity and slavery during the Viking Age, in addition to the discussion of these practices within their wider contexts.

Geographic Keywords

Resources Inside This Collection (Viewing 1-5 of 5)

  • Documents (5)

  • BACK AND FORTH ALONG THE EASTERN SLAVE ROUTE. Archaeological traces of long-distance trafficking. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson. Torun Zachrisson.

    With the expansion of the Eastern trade route during the 9th and 10th centuries a regular contact with the markets of the Muslim world was established. Long-distance trafficking of slaves became an important commodity. It was a high risk venture that required a new level of organisation, control and logistics. The full extent of the trafficking is not known but it included moving people and goods in both ways along a route that offered little infrastructure and difficult terrain. Trafficking of...

  • Cross-cultural comparative approaches to Viking slavery (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Ben Raffield.

    Slavery was an integral part of Viking culture, as attested by a variety of contemporary sources such as the observations of the tenth-century Arab envoy Ahmad Ibn Fadlān, which describe the capture, trafficking, sexual exploitation, and employment of slaves amongst Scandinavian societies, including their role in ritual and their treatment after death. Slavery nonetheless remains largely underrepresented in the archaeological record, although a small corpus of finds support historical and...

  • Diet and slavery in Viking Age Norway – the potential of isotope analyses of human remains in studies of social differences. (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Elise Naumann.

    Viking Age Norway was a society structured by clear social differences. Archaeological finds from burials and settlements show a hierarchical distribution of material goods among the Norse, although the distribution of food has traditionally been difficult to trace. In the last few decades, advances in isotope analyses of human remains have made possible a discussion of these aspects, providing information on individual dietary variation. Considering the harsh climate of Scandinavia, the control...

  • Slavery and the subaltern: bioarchaeological analyses of Viking Age Swedish populations (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Anna Kjellström.

    The definition of slavery during the long Scandinavian Viking Age (AD c.750–1100) is far from simple. In recent years scholars have pointed out that the terminology for slaves, and the attitudes towards unfree labourers, found in Icelandic Sagas, on rune stones or in law codes, actually reflect a significant variation in social rank. Even though slaves and the slave trade constituted an important and determining element in the Scandinavian economy during this time, a material culture clearly...

  • Slavery and the Vikings: archaeological perspectives (2016)
    DOCUMENT Citation Only Neil Price.

    The cultures of the Viking Age in Scandinavia (AD c. 750-1100) were economically dependent on widespread, complex and deeply rooted systems of slavery. However, this aspect of the period was long neglected by scholars, partly due to the diluting influence of contemporary terminology. A Viking slave was a träl, producing the rather weaker English word 'thrall', and the nationalistic approaches to the period that dominated Viking studies far into the twentieth century often tended to subsume an...