Slaves and Warriors in Medieval Britain and Ireland, 800 -1200


Modern sensibilities have clouded historical views of slavery, perhaps more so than any other medieval social institution. Anachronistic economic rationales and notions about the progression of European civilisation have immeasurably distorted our view of slavery in the medieval context. As a result historians have focussed their efforts upon explaining the disappearance of this medieval institution rather than seeking to understand it. This book highlights the extreme cultural/social significance of slavery for the societies of medieval Britain and Ireland c. 800-1200. Concentrating upon the lifestyle, attitudes and motivations of the slave-holders and slave-raiders, it explores the violent activities and behavioural codes of Britain and Ireland’s warrior-centred societies, illustrating the extreme significance of the institution of slavery for constructions of power, ethnic identity and gender.

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David Wyatt, Ph.D. (2003) in History, Cardiff University, is the Co-ordinating Lecturer in History at Cardiff University's Centre for Lifelong Learning.
"...David Wyatt is to be praised for focusing on, and giving us plenty of arguments for, the significant cultural aspect of medieval slavery...This work should be on the bookshelf of every student interested in early slavery in Europe...""
Stefan Brink, Early Medieval Europe, August 2011
“David Wyatt has produced the first comprehensive account of slavery in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, and England across the central four centuries of the Middle Ages. He is also sensitive to the Scandinavian influences and ancient Roman as well as Christian traditions that shaped a distinctive northern slavery along the shores of the North and Irish Seas... Vivid and compelling arguments and opinions make clear where Wyatt stands in the vast historiography on slavery... Wyatt has read widely in the sources and scholarly literature, and knows enough languages to recast the entire debate about slavery in northwestern Europe...”
Stephen Epstein, American Historical Review, June 2010, Vol. 115, No. 3: pp. 876-877
"Wyatt successfully presents an analysis of medieval slavery in cultural terms and offers a riposte to traditional interpretations warped by the lens of anachronistic economic principles...Whilst the book will be controversial amongst established medievalists, it offers a new and exciting exploration of how societies worked in Britain and Ireland during the early Middle Ages. As such, it is an essential read for anyone with serious aspirations to scholarship in that field." Richard Marsden, The Kelvingrove review, 5
"David Wyatt seeks to strip away our modern sensibilities to address the issues in the social political context of the time, in this case AD 800-1200...This is a detailed and scholarly book (shot full with footnotes and source references), fluently written, drawing on many and varied literary illustrations, with an impressive bibliography."
Caitlin McCall, Current Archaeology, September 2009, 234, pp. 46-7.
“truly a study of weighty historical scholarship underpinned by extensive research, utilising studies in many different modern languages, as well as employing archaeological evidence whenever needed. Wyatt seems equally at home with the very complex Irish and Welsh sources alongside the more widely known sources, such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. If you wish to understand early medieval society you could do no better than read this all-embracing study of slavery in our islands.”
Terry Barry History Scotland. Vol. 11, No.3, May/June 2011
List of Illustrations

1. Slavery and Historiography

Medieval slavery, modern sensibilities
Explaining away medieval slavery
Approaching slavery: a case study
Defining slavery
Approaching the sources
Slavery and progress: a self-reflexive perspective

2. Slaves and Warriors
Warfare, warriors and slavery
Anthropological approaches to the youthful warrior
Warfare and masculinity in medieval Ireland; the fían
The Mursi: an anthropological parallel
Warfare and masculinity: the Scottish context
Warfare and masculinity: the Welsh ynfydyon
Warfare and masculinity: the Old Norse and Old English evidence
Abduction, honour and virilization
Slave raiding and virilization: the ‘rape’ of a territory
Slavery and patriarchy
Ingroup-outgroup: Slaves and the warrior fraternity

3. Slavery, Power and Gender
Power, honour and gender
Powerlessness, shame and gender
Slavery and gender

4. Slavery and Sin
Sex, sin and slavery
Reform ideals vs. warrior norms
Challenging warrior norms in Anglo-Saxon society: a case study
Reforming the English: the impact of the Norman Conquest
Reconfiguring norms of power/gender in post-Conquest society

5. Slavery and Cultural Antipathy
The dynamics of cultural antipathy
Acculturation, antipathy and the Welsh warrior
Acculturation and antipathy in twelfth-century Scotland
A clash of cultures? The battle of the Standard, 1138
Invasion, antipathy and slavery in twelfth-century Ireland

Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of Medieval Slavery


Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Primary sources
Secondary sources

An academic audience of researchers, postgraduates and undergraduates. My argument has implications for all archaeologists and historians of medieval Britain. It also has significant relevance for gender studies/anthropological approaches.
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