Cross-cultural comparative approaches to Viking slavery

Author(s): Ben Raffield

Year: 2016


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 literary accounts. Given that Viking Age Scandinavian societies were clearly hierarchical, slaves likely formed a substantial portion of the population. Despite this, we have little knowledge of how such people were acquired and transported, where and how they were sheltered, provisioned for, or what conditions they had to endure. We also have little idea of what infrastructure was in place to support the transportation of slaves across great distances. Focusing on comparative aspects of the transatlantic slave trade, this paper will detail the potential benefits of large-scale, cross-cultural points of comparison in helping us to better understand Viking slavery. This includes the consideration of slave markets and emporia, theorisation of the Viking ‘slave ship’ (a neglected and important topic), and the contemporaneous moralities that underpinned and legitimised slaving.

Cite this Record

Cross-cultural comparative approaches to Viking slavery. Ben Raffield. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403140)


Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;