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Historian uncovers cases of ransoms paid to Vikings in the 11th century

How much were two women worth in 11th century Iberia? For the Vikings the price was a blanket of wolf skin, a sword, a shirt, three scarves, a cow and some salt.

This fascinating story is part of research done by Helio Pires from the New University of Lisbon. His article, “Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia”, appears in the latest issue of Viking and Medieval Scandinavia.

Pires’ article examines the taking of prisoners and collecting of ransoms by Vikings on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula. He was able to uncover two documents, dating from the first half of the 11th century, where people described the payments they made to Vikings to return family members.

In the first case, Amarelo Mestaliz writes about how in 1015 a band of ‘Normans’ came up the Douro River, where they looted and took captives for nine months. “There they captured three daughters of mine, Amarelo, and [I] was left poor. The Normans started selling all their captives. Those daughters of Amarelo [were] called Serili, Ermesienda, Faquilo, and I did not have anything to give for them to the Normans.” The document goes on about how Amarelo received help from a woman named Froila Tructesindiz, who loaned him fifteen silver solidos, which Pires believes was the ransom amount. Two years later, Amarelo repaid Froila after selling some of his goods.

In the second case, which is found in a document dated to 1026, a man named Octicio describes how his wife Metilli and his daughter Guncina, were captured by Vikings in the same area. In his account, the women were released from the Viking ships after he gave them “a blanket of wolf skin and a sword andone shirt and three scarves and a cow and three modios of ground salt.”

Iberia was the target of Viking raids as far back as the ninth century, with Muslim and Christian communities being attacked. Pires’ writes, “It is fortunate that these two surviving documents not only provide a rare glimpse into the activities of Viking bands in the region in the eleventh century, but also a diverse one, given that they record two different sorts of ransom, one in money and another in goods.”

“Money for Freedom: Ransom Paying to Vikings in Western Iberia”, can be found in Viking and Medieval Scandinavia, Volume 7 (2011). The article can be accessed online through Brepols.

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