Viking Slave Work


Being a slave during the Viking era was not a walk in the park. Viking slaves or thralls were given a lot of dirty and heavy work that not all non-slaves liked to do and take part of. Let’s find out what kind of work they had to endure just to survive and stay alive. 

Viking Slavery

Slaves were known to bring wealth to their masters since they provided a proportion of the manpower of a variety of building projects. They were not only taken advantage of to work on building-related tasks though, some of them were also assigned to stay in Viking households. Those who were assigned to work on farms were sadly seen as “cattles” since they had to live with other domestic animals while they were not working. Aside from going through harsh living conditions, they were also not safe from being beaten if their masters felt like they were misbehaving. There were also cases when they were sexually exploited by their evil owners.

Living as a Viking slave back in the day was hard because their owners could basically do whatever they wanted with them since they owned them. These unlucky individuals were looked at as important commodities for all the unpleasant work they were required to do and capable of pulling off. Unfortunately, it’s quite ironic that these “valuable possessions”  were not given fair treatment since they were looked down by society and didn’t have any kind of rights.     

One of the most difficult jobs that was considered “socially degrading” for male slaves at that time was herding. There were a lot of sheeps, pigs and cattles that could have been found in numerous parts of Iceland and Scandinavia. Slaves had to successfully maintain and bring these animals together into a group. There were also instances when they had to move these groups of animals from one place to another. On the other hand, slave field work consisted of fertilizing the soil with foul-smelling dung or poo. Even though they worked with their masters, they were always given the harder task and were not given the chance to help with ploughing or sowing the fields during harvest time.   

Aside from herding and fertilizing soils with nasty animal waste, other jobs that were reserved for male slaves based on several archaeological sources, law texts and sagas were fishing, hunting, forest work and cutting pieces of turf from the ground. Meanwhile, female slaves were tasked with cow milking, grain grinding, fire sitting, food preparation, and they were even given the responsibility of taking care of children. 

The scope of slave work and level of job difficulty depended on their respective masters. If slaves were lucky, they could have  been given freedom by being set free by their owners or having someone else bought their freedom. However, attractive female slaves could have it easier way back then. They were able to experience respect and given the opportunity to live in better living conditions. The same experience probably applied to male slaves who were particularly skilled craftsmen.         


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