Review: Thraldom: A History of Slavery in the Viking Age, by Stefan Brink

Thraldom: A History of Slavery in the Viking AgeThraldom: A History of Slavery in the Viking Age by Stefan Brink
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stefan Brink’s book about slavery in the Viking Age is a dense, academically focused tome, and also a fascinating read if this is a subject you find of interest. Certainly I do, mostly because of research with which I’m involved.

Having said that, even if you aren’t involved in research, Brink’s book illuminates another aspect of human behaviour in another age, underscoring the fact humans are, and likely will always be, a predatory species capable of equal majesty and malevolence.

The first segment of the book sets about to define the parameters of slavery as presented in the book, allowing the reader precise perspective. Thereafter, Brink relies upon what primary historical records there are regarding Viking slave trade, much of it coming from what we now know as the Middle East and eastern Russia, in specific traders and diplomats who were present in the markets across the known world where the Vikings did business. The events and descriptions are quite vivid. And to his credit, Brink offers no personal opinion, but instead presents history and facts as he found them. That nakedness is appalling in its reality.

It is made clear in the book why Brink relies upon reports from outside Viking culture, and the reasoning is also astonishing: the Vikings eschewed most written records. While there are rune sticks and stones, mostly those seem confined to boasts of accomplishments, rather than mundane record-keeping and journals of events.

All in all, this is a significant and valuable resource in any library.

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