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The Slave Trade of Dublin: Ninth to Twelfth Centuries

The Slave Trade of Dublin: Ninth to Twelfth Centuries

By Poul Holm

Peritia, Volume 5 (1986)

Abstract: From the ninth century, the taking of slaves was an integral part of Viking warfare. Though never the prime motive for raiding, it was a means of indicating defiance and was followed up by the extraction of ransom and tribute. Slave-trading with Scandinavia and Iceland developed slowly. In the eleventh century, when the Irish internal struggle for overkingship escalated, the taking of slaves became a widespread phenomenon. Warring Irish kings sold prisoners of war in the Dublin slave-market and Dublin experienced a growing slave-trade with western Europe. In the second half of the eleventh century, there seems to have developed a specific Irish-Sea slave-market, but in the twelfth century Norman legislation against the slave-trade seems to have been effective and Dublin’s control of the Irish Sea was broken.

Introduction: One result of the Viking raids was the taking of captives who risked the fate of being enslaved. There is no agreement between scholars on the social and economic importance of this phenomenon, and more often than not historians are content to state the problem and illustrate their story by random selections from annals, twelfth-century sagas and laws. It is however, often assumed that taking of slaves reached it peak in the ninth and tenth centuries and that the advent of Christianity made the institution of slavery morally unacceptable.

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