I came across this truly remarkable Viking sculpture this week at an excellent 'Vikings' exhibition at the University of Nottingham. It's ninth century and depicts a Viking warrior (in kilt-like dress) with a fairly formidable sword in one hand and a woman he has abducted in the other. The display is labelled as below - and there's a little more detail here.
Was this the work of a Viking sculptor celebrating the warrior, or of an English sculptor recording Viking depredations? I'm not entirely clear. It's reasonable to assume that this warrior - whether converted to Christianity or not - was being depicted as valorous rather than criminal. And that there was among Vikings no social sanction against abducting foreign women. It's of course difficult to know if this woman was destined to be sold as a slave, or to become a domestic slave, or to be forced into marriage either with her abductor or with someone else.
It brought to mind the large-scale abduction of women which accompanied Partition and the independence of India and Pakistan.
I also thought back to a visit to Iceland a few years ago during which a tour guide casually mentioned that research into the DNA of the first generations of Icelanders suggested that while the bulk of the men were from Scandinavia, most of the women were from the British Isles. I checked - that's true. What we can't know for sure is whether these were women the Nordic setters had married while stopping at Scandinavian settlements in Scotland and Ireland on their way to Iceland - or whether these were women they abducted on their way. I imagine that many of these initial women settlers in Iceland were unwilling migrants.
Iceland is regarded as one of the most feminist-minded nations in the world - but it's likely that its national origins lie with the mass abduction of women. A startling irony.
Similar work on the DNA of the Faroese - residents of that small Danish-ruled island group between Shetland and Iceland - shows an even more stark and remarkable finding: 'Recent DNA analyses' - it's reported - 'have revealed that Y chromosomes tracing male descent are 87% Scandinavian. The studies show that mitochondrial DNA tracing female descent is 84% Celtic.' This has to suggest that the early Scandinavian settlers of the Faroe Islands picked up - that is, abducted - women from Scotland and Ireland while on their way to their new home. What an astonishing and unsettling revelation!
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