Slavery and Thralldom: The Unfree in Viking Scandinavia

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Slavery and Thralldom: The Unfree in Viking Scandinavia

Message  LA le Lun 19 Mar - 11:42

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Viking castes
Ríg (Heimdall) according to the 10th century Rígsþula (The Lay of Ríg), was believed to have created them all by sleeping three nights in three different families.
[list][*]Jarl: nobles and kings.
[*]Bondi or free yeoman: farmers, craftsmen, landowners, and other freeborn people.
[*]þræll or "thrall", literally, "an unfree servant".

Sigil of the thrall
[list][*]A metal slave collar around the neck, with rivets hammered into place by a blacksmith and would have to be cut off with a cold chisel when the thrall was freed.

Viking slave collar from birka

The inscription reads "thrall"

[*]Short-cropped hair
[*]A simple costume, tunic or shift of undyed homespun.[l/ist]

Vikings' slave trade
  • Slavery or ánauð refers to persons enslaved as a consequence of warfare or raids: Nordic slaves or exotic breeds from Serkland (the Arabic peoples) or Mikligarðr (Byzantium)
  • Others were sold into slavery to pay unredeemed ransoms.
  • Fostre, or "fosterling": hereditary thralls had a probably a more beneficent relationship with their owners. Favored male thralls could become overseers, bailiffs, or personal valets.

Thrall tasks
  • Male thralls performed the heaviest and nastiest labor (building walls, spreading manure, pig and goat herding, and peat digging).
  • Female thralls ground corn and salt (backbreaking tasks when using a hand-quern), milking, churning, and washing, with some seeing occasional service as bed-slaves, nannies, or personal maids.
  • Both sexes also took part in the "lighter" tasks of running a farmstead, including the spring pasturing of livestock, ploughing, planting, harvesting, slaughtering, and spinning.

Laws regarding slavery
  • Killed another man's slave meant owning him damages for the value of the thrall (as if he had killed one of his cows or pigs).
  • Obligation to provide medical care and a living for thralls injured or crippled in their service.
  • Most slaves could not own property, could not be married, and their children belonged to their owners, slave themselves no matter the rank of their father, but when the slave-owner allowed them to work a portion of land (its proceeds were owned by the thralls which could sell any cottage-crafts produced in their free time).

Freeing of a thrall
  • "Bond-servants" could purchase their freedom by paying their purchase price (self-redemption), be freed by their owners as a gift, or be bought free by a third party.
  • The granting of their freedom was an occasion for ceremony, as the former thrall had no existence as a human in the eyes of the law until his cash redemption.
    The thrall had first to pay down one-half of the redemption price in currency at the time he announced his desire to be freed ("freedman's ounces", six pounds of silver in front of six witnesses), then paid the remainder during a ritual known as frelsis-öl, literally a "free-neck-ale" (usually translated as "freedom -ale-drinking") or freedom feast, which required "ale brewed from three measures" (very strong brew, perhaps in excess of 14% alcohol). The thrall would invite his master to be his guest of honor at the freedom feast where he served him as a slave for the last time, and ritually behead a sheep wearing his neck-ring for "his master is to take his neck redemption off its neck": the new freedman symbolically has killed his unfree social status, and presented the bloody neck-ring to the master.
  • The freed thrall was usually adopted into his master's family, and given the same rights as any other free person, but had a status somewhat different from free-borns. Their wergild was always lower than them, from one-half to a full wergild. The freedman had ties of obligation to the former owner, a sort of "honored family retainer" status, "duties of respectfullness in attitude and behavior, socially expected and legally required"; they were expected to get their master's approval for business undertakings, marriage, lawsuits etc, could not move their residence without explicit permission, had to split any money won in a lawsuit with the master who served as the their heir if their had no legitimate children born after their freeing, and always inherited some portion of it. Freedmen who failed to observe these restrictions could be re-enslaved for "lack of gratitude". In return, the master owed the freedman support, advice, legal protection and maintenance.


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Date d'inscription : 26/02/2012

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