National Geographic and Slavery in the Viking Age

In late December, US publication National Geographic published an article on the topic of slavery in the Viking Age, specifically commenting on "attempts to soften the raiders' reputation". The article claims that not enough focus has been placed on the role of slavery in Viking Age society and that that slavery was "vital to the Viking way of life". A quote from the article:

A 1908 illustration by W. G. Collingwood from the Poetic Edda poem Rígsþula, in which the enigmatic god Heimsdallr visits an elderly man and woman. After he sleeps between them, the elderly woman is pregnant with the embodiment of a social class, Þræll ('slave, serf, thrall'). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

"The ancient reputation of Vikings as bloodthirsty raiders on cold northern seas has undergone a radical change in recent decades. A kinder, gentler, and more fashionable Viking emerged. ...

But our view of the Norse may be about to alter course again as scholars turn their gaze to a segment of Viking society that has long remained in the shadows."

Although aims to be as objective as possible, the reader benefits from some commentary on some of these claims. Last I was aware, these comments regarding a 'kinder, gentler Viking Age' were in response to the monastery-derived image of vikings as a mindless "pagans", carrying the torch of earlier material, such as saint hagiographies, that portrayed Christianization as a sort of light bringer of culture to non-Christian peoples. The article also lacks discussion about how the notion and function of slavery differed from the modern era and how widespread slavery was during the period beyond Germanic Europe, particularly in Arabic society (in light of the mention of Ahmad ibn Fadlan).

In addition, the article makes rather speculative comments regarding polygamy during the Viking Age, for which there is no clear evidence.

Still, the article is worth a read, particularly regarding the discussion on grooved teeth that have been discovered in sites such as around what is now Lund, Sweden. For more, albeit brief, discussing regarding slavery during the Viking Age, see this National Museum of Denmark article.

Looking Back at 2014: Additions to the Viking Age Archaeological Record

In 2014, at least a handful of articles were published on Viking Age archaeological discoveries. These articles included such finds as:

* Near Køge, Denmark: An apparently 10th century ring fortress was discovered; "the first discovery of its kind in Denmark in over 60 years".

* Vadstena, Sweden: A "major Viking hall" around 50 meters in length has been detected with ground penetrating radar; "archaeologists have now revealed that [a mound at the site] is a foundation platform for a long building, most likely dating from the Viking Period".

* Arctic Canada: 2014 saw reports on new Viking Age finds in this region, which "may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico."

* Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland: The Dumfriesshire Hoard was unearthed, consisting of "more than 100 gold and silver objects from the Viking Age".

I employ "at least" because these articles, by way of social media and word of mouth, are what trickled down to me during the course of the year of 2014. There may well have been more (an issue that I hope that this site will assist in addressing). Over the next few months, I will look back at 2014 and provide posts covering relevant topics that readers may have missed during the year.