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A thrall (Old Norse/Icelandic: þræll, Faroese: trælur, Norwegian: trell, Danish: træl, Swedish: träl)was a slave or serf in Scandinavian lands during the Viking Age. The corresponding term in Old English was þēow. The status of slave (þræll, þēow) contrasts with that of the freeman (karl, ceorl) and the nobleman ( jarl , eorl ). The Middle Latin rendition of the term in early Germanic law is servus.
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Thrall is from the Old Norse þræll , meaning a person who is in bondage or serfdom. The Old Norse term was lent into late Old English, as þræl. The term is from a Common Germanic þragilaz ("runner", from a root *þreh- "to run"). Old High German had a cognate, dregil, meaning "servant, runner". 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).
The corresponding native term in Anglo-Saxon society was þeow (from Germanic * þewa- , perhaps from a PIE root *tekw-, "to run") A related Old English term is esne "labourer, hireling" (from Germanic *asniz, cognate with Gothic asneis "hireling", a derivation from *asunz "reward", from the same root as English earn ).
The thrall represents the lowest of the three-tiered social order of the Germanic peoples, noblemen, freemen and slaves, in Old Norse jarl , karl and þræll (c.f. Rígsþula ), in Old English corresponding to eorl , ceorl and þēow, in Old Frisian etheling, friling, lēt, etc. The division is of importance in the Germanic law codes, which make special provisions for slaves: Slaves are property, and may be bought and sold, but they also enjoy some degree of protection under the law.While the death of a freeman was compensated by means of a weregild, usually calculated at 200 solidi (shillings) for a freeman, the death of a slave was treated as loss of property to his owner and compensated depending on the value of the worker.
Thralls were the lowest class of workers in Scandinavian society. They were Northern and Eastern Europeans who were enslaved through being prisoners of war, incurring debt, or being born into the class via their parents. The living conditions of thralls in Scandinavia were variable depending on the master. The thrall trade as the prize of plunder was a key part of the Viking economy. While there are some estimates of as many as thirty slaves per household, most families owned one or two slaves.
In 1043, Hallvard Vebjørnsson, the son of a local nobleman in the district of greater Lier, was killed while trying to defend a thrall woman from men who accused her of theft. The Church strongly approved of his action, recognizing him as a martyr and canonizing him as Saint Hallvard, the patron saint of Oslo.
Despite the existence of a caste system, thralls could experience a level of social fluidity. 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, which is to say, there was a monetary penalty for unlawfully killing a slave.
The era of Viking raids resulting in the capture of slaves slowly ended in the 11th century. In the following centuries, more thralls obtained their freedom, either by purchasing it or on the initiative of their masters, the church or the secular authority.The thrall system was finally abolished in Scandinavia in the mid-14th century.
The Viking Age is the period during the Middle Ages when Norsemen known as Vikings undertook large-scale raiding, colonizing, conquest and trading throughout Europe, and reached North America. It followed the Migration Period and the Germanic Iron Age. The Viking Age applies not only to their homeland of Scandinavia, but to any place significantly settled by Scandinavians during the period. The Scandinavians of the Viking Age are often referred to as Vikings as well as Norsemen, although few of them were Vikings in the technical sense.
Vikings were the Norse people from southern Scandinavia who from the late 8th to late 11th centuries raided and traded from their Northern European homelands across wide areas of Europe, and explored westwards to Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. In modern English and other vernaculars, the term also commonly includes the inhabitants of Norse home communities during this period. This period of Nordic military, mercantile and demographic expansion had a profound impact on the early medieval history of Scandinavia, the British Isles, France, Estonia, Kievan Rus' and Sicily.
Weregild, also known as man price, was established on a person's life, paid as a fine or compensatory damages to the family when that person's life is taken or is otherwise injured.
An earl is a member of the nobility. The title originates in the Old English word eorl, meaning "a man of noble birth or rank." The word is cognate with the Scandinavian form jarl, and meant "chieftain", particularly a chieftain set to rule a territory in a king's stead. In Scandinavia, it became obsolete in the Middle Ages and was replaced by duke (hertig/hertug/hertog). After the Norman Conquest, it became the equivalent of the continental count. However, earlier in Scandinavia, jarl could also mean a sovereign prince. For example, the rulers of several of the petty kingdoms of Norway had the title of jarl and in many cases they had no less power than their neighbours who had the title of king. Alternative names for the rank equivalent to "earl/count" in the nobility structure are used in other countries, such as the hakushaku (伯爵) of the post-restoration Japanese Imperial era.
The Danelaw, as recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, is a historical name given to the part of England in which the laws of the Danes held sway and dominated those of the Anglo-Saxons. Danelaw contrasts with West Saxon law and Mercian law. The term is first recorded in the early 11th century as Dena lage. Modern historians have extended the term to a geographical designation. The areas that constituted the Danelaw lie in northern and eastern England.
Charles is a masculine given name predominantly found in English and French speaking countries. It is from the French form Charles of a Germanic name Karl. The original Anglo-Saxon was Ċearl or Ċeorl, as the name of King Cearl of Mercia, that disappeared after the Norman conquest of England.
A churl, in its earliest Old English (Anglo-Saxon) meaning, was simply "a man" or more particularly a "husband", but the word soon came to mean "a non-servile peasant", still spelled ċeorl(e), and denoting the lowest rank of freemen. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it later came to mean the opposite of nobility and royalty, "a common person". Says Chadwick:
we find that the distinction between thegn and ceorl is from the time of Aethelstan the broad line of demarcation between the classes of society.
The Norsemen was a North Germanic ethnolinguistic group of the Early Middle Ages, during which they spoke Old Norse language. The language belongs to the North Germanic branch of the Indo-European languages and is the predecessor of the modern Germanic languages of Scandinavia. During the late eighth century, Norsemen embarked on a large-scale expansion in all directions, giving rise to the Viking Age. In English-language scholarship since the 19th century, Norse seafaring traders, settlers and warriors have commonly been referred to as Vikings. The identity of Norsemen derived into their modern descendants, the Danes, Icelanders, Faroe Islanders, Norwegians, and Swedes, who are now generally referred to as 'Scandinavians' rather than Norsemen.
The Swedes (Swedish: svear; Old Norse: svíar / suar were a North Germanic tribe who inhabited Svealand in central Sweden and one of the progenitor groups of modern Swedes, along with Geats and Gutes.
A fyrd was a type of early Anglo-Saxon army that was mobilised from freemen to defend their shire, or from selected representatives to join a royal expedition. Service in the fyrd was usually of short duration and participants were expected to provide their own arms and provisions. The composition of the fyrd evolved over the years, particularly as a reaction to raids and invasions by the Vikings. The system of defence and conscription was reorganised during the reign of Alfred the Great, who set up 33 fortified towns in his kingdom of Wessex. The amount of taxation required to maintain each town was laid down in a document known as the Burghal Hidage. Each lord had his individual holding of land assessed in hides. Based on his land holding, he had to contribute men and arms to maintain and defend the burhs. Non-compliance with this requirement could lead to severe penalties.
The term thegn, also thane, or thayn in Shakespearean English, comes from the Old English þegn, ðegn, "servant, attendant, retainer", or "one who serves".
A housecarl was a non-servile manservant or household bodyguard in medieval Northern Europe.
Runes are the letters in a set of related alphabets known as runic alphabets, which were used to write various Germanic languages before the adoption of the Latin alphabet and for specialised purposes thereafter. The Scandinavian variants are also known as futhark or fuþark ; the Anglo-Saxon variant is futhorc or fuþorc.
Rígsþula or Rígsmál is an Eddic poem, preserved in the manuscript, in which a Norse god named Ríg or Rígr, described as "old and wise, mighty and strong", fathers the classes of mankind. The prose introduction states that Rígr is another name for Heimdall, who is also called the father of mankind in Völuspá. However, there seems to be some confusion of Heimdall and Odinn, see below.
Anglo-Saxon law is a body of written rules and customs that were in place during the Anglo-Saxon period in England, before the Norman conquest. This body of law, along with early Scandinavian law and Germanic law, descended from a family of ancient Germanic custom and legal thought. However, Anglo-Saxon law codes are distinct from other early Germanic legal statements – known as the leges barbarorum, in part because they were written in Anglo-Saxon instead of in Latin. The laws of the Anglo-Saxons were the second in medieval Western Europe after those of the Irish to be expressed in a language other than Latin.
The Gutes were a North Germanic tribe inhabiting the island of Gotland. The ethnonym is related to that of the Goths (Gutans), and both names were originally Proto-Germanic *Gutaniz. Their language is called Gutnish (gutniska). They are one of the progenitor groups of modern Swedes, along with historical Swedes and Geats.
Norse funerals, or the burial customs of Viking Age North Germanic Norsemen, are known both from archaeology and from historical accounts such as the Icelandic sagas and Old Norse poetry.
Early Germanic law was the form of law followed by the early Germanic peoples. It was an important element of early Germanic culture.
The Law of Æthelberht is a set of legal provisions written in Old English, probably dating to the early 7th century. It originates in the kingdom of Kent, and is the first Germanic-language law code. It is also thought to be the earliest example of a document written in English, though extant only in an early 12th-century manuscript, Textus Roffensis.
North Germanic peoples, commonly called Scandinavians, Nordic peoples and in a medieval context Norsemen, are a Germanic ethnolinguistic group of the Nordic countries. They are identified by their cultural similarities, common ancestry and common use of the Proto-Norse language from around 200 AD, a language that around 800 AD became the Old Norse language, which in turn later became the North Germanic languages of today.