was the term for a serf or unfree servant
Serfdom is the status of peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to Manorialism. It was a condition of bondage or modified slavery which developed primarily during the High Middle Ages in Europe and lasted to the mid-19th century...
The history of Scandinavia is the history of the region of northern Europe known in English as Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.- Pre-historic age :...
culture during the Viking Age
Viking Age is the term for the period in European history, especially Northern European and Scandinavian history, spanning the late 8th to 11th centuries. Scandinavian Vikings explored Europe by its oceans and rivers through trade and warfare. The Vikings also reached Iceland, Greenland,...
Thralls were the lowest in the social order and usually provided unskilled labor during the Viking era.
Thrall is from the Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....
meaning a person who is in bondage or serfdom.
The Old Norse term was loaned into late Old English, as þræl
. The corresponding native term in Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...
society was þeow
The term is from a Common Germanic root *þreh-
"to run" and the Old Norse term in origin referred to "a runner".
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...
had a cognate, dregil
The English derivation thraldom
is of High Medieval date. The verb to enthrall
is of Early Modern origin (metaphorical use from the 1570s, literal use from 1610).
Thralls were the lowest class workers in Scandinavian society. When Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...
arrived in Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...
, there was increasing demand for non-Christian slaves, and the Scandinavians had a de facto monopoly
A monopoly exists when a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular commodity...
on trading them because of geographic access to large non-Christian populations. In 1043 Hallvard Vebjørnsson
Hallvard Vebjørnsson , commonly referred to as Saint Hallvard, is the patron saint of Oslo. He is considered a martyr because of his defence of an innocent woman.-Background:...
, the son of a local nobleman in the district of Lier
Lier is an affluent municipality in Buskerud county, Norway. The administrative centre of the municipality is the village of Lier. The municipality of Lier was established on 1 January 1838...
, was killed while trying to defend a thrall woman from men who accused her of theft. The Church strongly approved of his action, recognized him as a martyr, canonized him and venerated him as Saint Hallvard, the Patron Saint
A patron saint is a saint who is regarded as the intercessor and advocate in heaven of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person...
Oslo is a municipality, as well as the capital and most populous city in Norway. As a municipality , it was established on 1 January 1838. Founded around 1048 by King Harald III of Norway, the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1624. The city was moved under the reign of Denmark–Norway's King...
Despite the existence of a caste system, thralls could experience a level of fluidity not seen in other ethnic groups. Thralls could be freed by their masters at any time, be freed in a will, or even buy their own freedom. Once a thrall was freed he became a "freedman" - a member of an intermediary group between slaves and freemen. He still owed allegiance to his former master and would have to vote according to his former master's wishes. It took at least two generations for freedmen to lose the allegiance to their former masters and become full freemen. If a freedman had no descendants his former master inherited his land and property.
While thralls and freedmen did not have much economic or political power in Scandinavia, they were still given a wergeld, or a man's price. There were monetary consequences for unlawfully killing a slave.
While there are some estimates of as many as thirty slaves per household, most families only owned one or two slaves.