AskDefine | Define thrall

Dictionary Definition



1 the state of being under the control of another person [syn: bondage, slavery, thralldom, thraldom]
2 someone held in bondage

User Contributed Dictionary



Old English þrǣl, from Old Norse þrǽll.



  1. one who is enslaved
  2. the state of being under the control of another person


one who is enslaved
the state of being under the control of another person

Related terms

Extensive Definition

A thrall (Þræll; Þír, f.) was a variety of slave in Scandinavian culture during the Viking Age. Unlike many of the forms of slavery throughout human history, the state of being a thrall could be entered into voluntarily, as well as involuntarily. Slavery was one of the primary sources of income for the Vikings. Thralls were first described by the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote in AD 98 that the Swedes (Suiones) had no right to carry arms, but that the weapons were locked inside and protected by a slave only to be distributed when they were attacked by enemies.
The system of slavery was supported by Norse mythology, which claimed that the thralls had a separate ancestry through Ríg.
A person could become a thrall by giving himself up because of starvation, being captured and sold, or being born into a thrall family. The first was considered to be the most shameful way of entering slavery and was the first method of acquiring slaves to be forbidden. The most common way of acquiring thralls remained the capture of prisoners in foreign countries or the buying of such captured foreigners. As in the Roman practice of slavery, Nordic thralls could be of any ethnic origin. Furthermore, a thrall had social status but to a lesser degree than other castes in the society, regarded more like a domestic worker.
The thralls were kept as livestock and their master had the power of their life and death. A thrall might be a human sacrifice in the funeral of a Viking chief. One who was born of a female thrall by a free father was considered to be free, whereas those who were born by a free woman having a thrall father were considered to be thralls.
When Christianity arrived in Northern Europe, there was increasing demand for non-Christian slaves, and the Scandinavians had a de facto monopoly on trading them because of geographic access to large non-Christian populations.
thrall in Danish: Træl
thrall in Japanese: スレール
thrall in Norwegian Nynorsk: træl
thrall in Swedish: träl

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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