Steal Our Women? You Only Had to Axe; Why the Vikings' Raping and Pillaging Means Iceland Will Forever Be a Little Bit of Scotland

Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland), February 9, 2014 | Go to article overview

Steal Our Women? You Only Had to Axe; Why the Vikings' Raping and Pillaging Means Iceland Will Forever Be a Little Bit of Scotland


Byline: Victoria Raimes

The ordeal of Scots women kidnapped by the Vikings is laid bare in a stunning exhibition revealing the truth about the Norse warriors.

Thousands were rounded up, shackled in iron collars, loaded into longboats and taken to Iceland and Scandinavia more than 1000 years ago.

Two–thirds of women in Iceland have Scottish genes.

Their story of terror and slavery will be told in the exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend at the British Museum in London.

Exhibition curator Gareth Williams said: "Many of the Vikings who came to Scotland took with them slaves – known as thralls – including men and women, but mostly women.

"It might be pushing things to say they were taking them purely as sex slaves but there is that element to it.

"They sometimes took more than one woman, possibly for the combined role of household servant with the added benefits.

"It'd be a case of them arriving very suddenly with a fleet of ships and lots of weapons, tying them up and carrying them off.

"It's pretty simple and not that different to the way the slave trade was carried out in the west coast of Africa in the 18th century.

"We've got a rather nasty slave collar and ankle shackles in our collection and there are a number of items relating to slave trading generally."

The Vikings' first raids in Scotland are thought to have been on the holy island of Iona in 794AD.

Williams said little is known about the number of Scandinavians with Scottish genes but the picture is clearer in Iceland.

He said: "DNA testing indicates that the male pattern in Iceland largely corresponds with what one would expect in Norway, but something like a third of the female pattern points to Scotland and Ireland.

"In terms of building a settlement, they took away more women, and Viking men knew they'd need women there to bear children as much as anything else."

Alex Sanmark, researcher of medieval archaeology at the Centre for Nordic Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands, said she believed some Scots women would have left voluntarily.

She said: "We know from archaeological evidence the Vikings came over from the end of the eighth century.

"It's difficult to know exactly what happened because sources are scant but it was clearly a very intense period of raiding in Scotland and Ireland. We can see that they came back year after year to violently attack.

"To give some credit to the women of Scotland, some Vikings came and settled for a little while and some of them will have got happily married to these men.

"Maybe these women actually showed some initiative and thought, 'This is a fantastic and interesting man. I quite fancy going to Iceland. …

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