Raiders from the North: Irish Enslavement during the Viking Age
By Athena T. Knudson
Honor’s Thesis, University of Colorado Boulder, 2016
Abstract: In the Early and High Middle Ages the Vikings began to travel and raid across Europe and the Atlantic. During these expeditions the Vikings captured many people whom they enslaved or sold into the slave-trade. For the western portion of the Viking Expansion, many of the enslaved were Irish. The enslavement of the Irish by the Norse continued through the end of the Viking Age and occurred not only in the British Isles but also in Iceland. The process of the Viking Expansion and enslavement of the Irish influenced Norse culture and social identity.
This thesis will explore the Norse narrative in the Atlantic and analyze changes in culture and social identity as a result of Irish interactions and enslavement. A combination of primary, secondary and archaeological sources will be utilized. There will be a thorough discussion of Scandinavia and Ireland prior to the Viking Age, emphasizing their political and cultural states as well as previous forms of enslavement. Then there will be a description of the Viking Age in Ireland. Interactions between the Irish and the Norse will be analyzed as well as the enslavement of the Irish during this time. The thesis will conclude with an analysis of Iceland, which is the culminating location for Irish-Norse interactions and cultural change.
Both the interactions with the Irish as well as the enslavement of the Irish influenced Norse culture. Neither culture completely melded with the other, however, a hybrid culture emerged that maintained its Scandinavian origins while embracing its new Irish influences. This culture included many Norse traditions, such as Things, burials, lawmaking, and Norse-styled clothing, while incorporating the Irish style of poetry, folklore, and language. In Iceland, a new Norse-Irish identity emerged.