Viking slaves from Grimsta. Photo: Ove Hemmendorf, 1974/Swedish National Heritage Board

The Archaeology of Slavery in Early Medieval Northern Europe

Vikings were not just raiders and traders, but also slavers. Until now the role of slave-trading has primarily been explored through written sources. A new comprehensive overview of the archaeological evidence offers valuable insights into this “invisible commodity”.

The Archaeology of Slavery in Early Medieval Northern Europe. The Invisible Commodity
Ed. by Felix Biermann and  Marek Jankowiak,
Series: Themes in Contemporary Archaeology
Springer Verlag, September 2021


This volume is the first comprehensive study of the material imprint of slavery in early medieval Europe. While written sources attest to the ubiquity of slavery and slave trade in early medieval British Isles, Scandinavia and Slavic lands, it is still difficult to find material traces of this reality, other than the hundreds of thousands of Islamic coins paid in exchange for the northern European slaves. This volume offers the first structured reflection on how to bridge this gap. It reviews the types of material evidence that can be associated with the institution of slavery and the slave trade in early medieval northern Europe, from individual objects (such as e.g. shackles) to more comprehensive landscape approaches.
The book is divided into four sections.

The first part presents the analytical tools developed in Africa and prehistoric Europe to identify and describe social phenomena associated with slavery and the slave trade. The following three section review the three main cultural zones of early medieval northern Europe: the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Slavic central Europe.

The contributions offer methodological reflections on the concept of the archaeology of slavery. They emphasize that the material record, by its nature, admits multiple interpretations. More broadly, this book comes at a time when the history of slavery is being integrated into academic syllabi in most western countries. The collection of studies contributes to a more nuanced perspective on this important and controversial topic. This volume appeals to multiple audiences interested in comparative and global studies of slavery, and will constitute the point of reference for future debates.


Felix Biermann is an Associate Professor of early medieval archaeology at the University of Szczecin, Poland. His research interests include the archaeology and history of the Baltic Sea area, Middle and Eastern Europe from c. 500-1500, with special emphasis on social and economic structures, interregional contacts and the archaeology of fortified settlements.

Marek Jankowiak is an Associate Professor of Byzantine history at the University of Oxford. In addition to his interests in Byzantine social and economic history, he works on the slave trade system that connected the Islamic world and northern Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. He was the co-investigator of the AHRC project “Dirhams for Slaves” and co-edited “Viking-Age Trade: Silver, Slaves and Gotland” (2020).


Viking slaves from Grimsta. Photo: Ove Hemmendorf, 1974/Swedish National Heritage Board


Thraldom. A History of Slavery in the Viking Age
By Stefan Brink
Oxford University Press 2021

The slave markets of the Viking world: comparative perspectives on an ‘invisible archaeology’
By Ben Raffield
In: Slavery & Abolition. A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies, Volume 40 (2019), Issue 4, pp. 682-705 | Published online: 02.04.2019

Piratical Slave-Raiding – the Demise of a Viking Practice in High Medieval Denmark
by Thomas K. Heebøll-Holm
In: Scandinavian Journal of History .Published online: 04.06.2020



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