(A bare-chested Viking offers a slave girl to a Persian merchant in an artist’s rendering of a scene from Bulgar, a trading town on the Volga River. ILLUSTRATION BY TOM LOVELL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE)
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. (See “Did Vikings Get a Bum Rap?”)
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.
Archaeologists are using recent finds and analyses of previous discoveries—from iron collars in Ireland to possible plantation houses in Sweden—to illuminate the role of slavery in creating and maintaining the Viking way of life.
“This was a slave economy,” said Neil Price, an archaeologist at Sweden’s Uppsala University who spoke at a recent meeting that brought together archaeologists who study slavery and colonization. “Slavery has received hardly any attention in the past 30 years, but now we have opportunities using archaeological tools to change this.”
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