How Was Life For a Viking Thrall?

Viking thrall or Viking slave has always been a topic for those who are interested in the Vikings. Some believed that Viking thrall used to be an important part for the Viking community while others showed their opinion against the former. This blog post is to illustrate the life of Viking thralls based on archaeological and literal texts that I have read.

From my personal viewpoint, the Viking thralls were one of the most important commodities in the Viking Age. There were many ways to become a slave in the Viking Age but few to get rid of this title. Literal texts mentioned the Viking thralls and archaeological evidence also cemented this. They showed that the Viking slaves could have been buried with their masters when the masters died.

Slave trade

Trading slave was one of the easiest way to become wealthy but where to find and capture slave wasn’t. The Vikings sold their slaves in the trading centers such as Hedeby. With an amount of money, one could go to the trading centers and buy a slave for their family. Few sources mentioned how much a slave could cost. But we have a little hint that if the Viking A killed a Viking B’s slave, then the Viking A could pay an amount of compensation as much as the amount to buy a cattle.

Viking thrall trade in Viking Age
A painting shows a Viking selling a slave girl to a Persian merchant.

Of course, back to the Medieval Age, the Vikings were not the only force that traded slave. This was a trend back then.

The Viking slave still affects our language in the modern time. That’s “to be held in thrall” meaning “to be under one’s power”.

It was quite easy to become a Viking thrall but for a slave to get freedom wasn’t. The freedom of the Viking slave could be bought by others or the slave owners could set the slaves free as well.

Rights for Viking thralls

The Viking thralls were the ones without rights. The Vikings viewed their thralls as the cattle or animals for work only. Archaeologists and historians believed that these thralls lived at the back of the longhouse with the cattle. They had no beds and could not sit on chair around the table for food. If they would not behave well, their owners could beat them.

There would be no rights for the Viking thralls
Viking thralls would enjoy no basic rights (Cre: “Valhalla Rising”)

Viking slaves were also necessary for sexual exploitation.

Archaeological evidence also proved that the life of thrall depended on their masters. Some archaeological findings turned out to be that an individual beheaded was put to rest in a grave with another. They had no trace of kinship and the beheaded individual showed signs of mistreatment as well.

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