La traite des esclaves

1 - Viking slave trade across the Pyrenees.

Abstract : According to Erik Oxenstiern, after 845 slaves captured in Western Europe were taken across Russia to Constantinople. However, texts, archeology and place names suggest that slave trade still existed between France and Spain until 980. Thraelleborg type names all over France indicate that slave trade was organized by Scandinavian traders. Those who controlled that trade were these Norsemen who conquered Gascony as soon as 840 and remained in charge until their final defeat in 982. Their defeat meant the end of the slave trade towards Spain and in some extend announced the end of the Viking era in Western Europe.

Slave trade is a remarkable aspect of Viking invasions. Fortresses named Trelleborg in Sweden and Denmark suggest that slave trade represented an important military and commercial matter during that period. Charts all over Europe mention massive captures of human beings who were carried away to become slaves. However, nobody ever tried to analyze Viking slave trade as a main subject. Among those who wrote about the Vikings, Erik Oxenstiern is maybe the most accurate and audacious as far as this trade is concerned. He’s insisting on two crucial points :  transportation and destination.

“We still haven’t mentioned the most important traffic of all, the most cruel, yet ever in demand -slaves…  They took up a lot of room on a ship, but had the advantage of fetching a very high price and if necessary, could be counted on to help with their own transport.” (Oxenstiern, 1965, p.92.) Janet Nelson disagrees with him  and considers that shipping slaves by that period was impossible. “Did they also take human cargoes to sell as slaves ? Sometimes, perhaps; but the logistics of that trade cannot have much sense for ninth-century warriors anxious about their own food supplies and travelling in boats of shallow draught.” However the same is writing : “In 882, Sigfred and Gorm “sent ships loaded with treasure and captives” taken in Frankia “back to their country”. (Janet Nelson, 1997. p.41.) “The logistics of that trade” may not have had “much sense for ninth-century warriors”, but obviously, it had sense for their chiefs.

If you consider that Vikings had only langskips, « boats of shallow draught », then mass transportation of slaves -or even warriors- is nearly impossible. You cannot launch successful and long expeditions in foreign land without heavy and perfect logistics. If you consider, like Ole Crumlin-Pedersen that Vikings had also cargo ships besides their langskips, then transporting slaves was no longer a problem. According to Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, the ship of Klaastad dated of 990, a merchant ship, proves that “since the very beginning of the Viking period, Scandinavians built merchants ships and not only war ships”. (Ole Crumlin Pedersen,  1992, p.43.) In 1969, Detlev Ellmers is even more audacious : “It is very likely that, already at the time of Tacitus, trade was made not on war ships already very characteristic, but on merchant ships built differently that we don’t know yet. Very probably the fact that warships have a sail is due to the merchant ships already existing.” (Detlev Ellmers,1969, p.75.)  In this article, I can produce an archeological trace of the presence of merchant ships in France as soon as 850.


The other point is the destination of the slaves. Oxenstiern notices : “An extraordinary demand for slaves on the continent was advantageous to the Vikings. This important commodity became suddenly scarce… In the days of Antiquity, the situation had been no different, but a rapidly developing Christian church turned sharply against slavery. Among the Mohammedans in Spain there was a tremendous demand for slaves… The European slave trading center in Lyons regulated all sales to the south.”

Alfred P. Smyth considers that during the Viking period, Irish slaves joined the Saxons and the Slaves. « Vikings not only sold slaves to the eastern islamic countries but possibly traded captives taken in Britain and Ireland to Muslim Spain as well ». (Alfred P.  Smyth, 1977, p159-164.)  Peter Sawyer agrees with Smyth : “The booty included ornaments and elaborated caskets, but Irish monasteries where not so rich in gold, silver and gems as those of Frankia and England. Captives, who could be sold to Muslims in Spain or north Africa were far more valuable. (Peter Sawyer, 1997.  p.10.) Oxenstiern is writing then “Slaves and furs France did not produce herself. The only conclusion is that the wares were brought by the Vikings from the Far North, and resold by Frank and Jewish merchants via Spain, to the Caliphate (of Bagdad).” (Oxenstiern, p. 94.) However, the historian suggest that the difficulties of that trade in France and especially “the new decree forbidding the transport of heathen slaves across Christian lands and selling them to the Mohammedans (Meaux 845)” obliged them to look for a new route, a route avoiding France and Spain and joining Bagdad across Russia. “There had to be a better solution… why not shorten the whole laborious, immeasurably longer trade route through France and across the Mediterranean and sell one’s furs directly to the Caliph of Bagdad, without any irritating middlemen at all ?”

On these last evaluations, we cannot follow Oxenstiern. The Historian is committing several mistakes in his analysis : first, we can hardly believe that a simple decree of Charles the Bald, whose kingdom was harassed for decades by massive raids, may have prevented these terrifying traders from crossing France and trading slaves. Second, the main buyer of slaves in Europe was not the Caliph of Bagdad, but Mohammedans of Spain –as Oxenstiern noticed- and renouncing to the Spanish market to cross Russia is not a clever calculation. Third, the best way to get rid of middlemen, whether they were Jewish or Franks, was not to reach Mediterranean Sea across Russia –a route which de facto increased the number of middlemen and costs-, but to deliver slaves directly to Spain across Aquitaine, a country out of the control of the Franks.

Peter Sawyer explains the death of the Spanish route differently : “It has been suggested that these early trading contacts between Scandinavia and the West were developed in response to a Muslim demand for Northern goods, and that when alternative routes were exploited across Russia this demand declined.” Once again, “alternative route”  suppose that there is only one buyer. We know they were two : Bagdad and Cordoba. Choosing the Russian route is not taking an alternative route, it's losing the Spanish market. “It is not unlikely that some of Dorestad trade was indirectly with Muslims, for they at least were the market for slaves, but the collapse of this trade is more reasonably explained by the increasing insecurity of the sea passage.” (Peter Sawyer, 1962, p.187.) So according to Sawyer, “the increasing insecurity” would explain the “collapse” of the Spanish route. I see two problems.  First, the “collapse” or the end of the Spanish route has never been proved, second those who are responsible for this “increasing insecurity” are those who were dealing slaves, Vikings themselves. In other words, Sawyer considers that Scandinavian traders were not able to find an agreement with their suppliers of human cattle to transport their cargo safely to Spain... In our mind, Vikings wouldn't have  neglected such a “win-win” agreement. 

 In 1940, the French Medievalist Marc Bloch, by far the most brilliant of his generation, had no doubt that Spain had remained the main market for slaves. « Moreover, it seems that most of the human cattle rounded up on the Slav and Lettish territories beyond the Elbe or acquired from slave traders of Britain  took the road to islamic Spain. » He's adding a crucial remark : « The eastern Mediterranean was too abundantly  provided with this commodity from its own sources to have any need to import it on a large scale. »  (Marc Bloch, 1961, p.66.) In other words, the big market was not in the East, but in Spain. 

Such a trade passing by Aquitaine seems to be confirmed by Arab sources.


Texts mention slave trade across the Pyrenees. 

Ibn Khordadhbeh, a Persian geographer and bureaucrat, wrote around 870 The Book of roads and Kingdoms, in which he’s describing towns and commercial roads in the known world. Among the wares arriving in Saragosse from the Pyrenees, he mentions furs, weapons, amber ans slaves. This text is remarkable as it mentions slave trade in the Pyrenees after the 845 ban of Meaux, demonstrating that Oxenstiern is wrong when he’s suggesting that slave trade ended in France. Another interesting fact is that slaves are traded beside weapons, furs and amber, wares mainly traded by Scandinavians, especially during that period. If Scandinavian amber and furs arrive in Spain across the Pyrenees, we don’t understand why slaves captured by Scandinavians should be sent to Constantinople. (Kordadbeh, 1865, p 512.) The « increasing insecurity of the sea passage » was obviously not a problem in 870.

One century later, Ibn Hagal confirms that in the middle of the tenth-century slaves among other goods were still traded: “beaver from the land of the Slavs to Spain… from Spain to Egypt- Frankish and Gallic male and female slaves, and Slavonic eunuchs”. Ibn Hagal  mentions the trade of “Frankish and Gallic male and female slaves”. Who captured these people one century after the complete ban of slave trade in France? Who took these Christians to Spain to sell them to Mohammedans? Who is responsible for the such a backward mouvement of the ban of slave trade ? Frankish traders? Certainly not. Jewish traders who would have raided Frankish and Gallic villages and captured Christians? No. Who then? The only serious possibility is Scandinavian traders who ignored the Christian ban of slave trade. Verlinden is noting that under the reign of Abd-el-Rahman III (912-961), the number of slaves in Cordoba is passing from 3 000 to 13 000 (Verlinden, Bruxelles, 1958). Where these slaves were coming from if not France? According to Evariste Lévy-Provençal, after 980, Saqalibahs, slaves of European origin, who joined the elite troops of Spain until then are replaced by Mamluks  from Africa.  980 is marking the end of Northern slave trade towards Spain. Until then, Slavonic, Frankish, Gallic slaves were passing by the Pyrenees. Who traded them?

2- The route across the Pyrenees revealed by archeology



Texts clearly demonstrate that slave trade was still passing by Aquitaine in 870 and 950 after the ban of 845. The route across Aquitaine existed before the invasions and survived them. A fact confirmed by archeology. Bertill Almgren is writing about Dorestad : “The town’s trade does not, however, seem to have been concerned with imports destined for the Franks so much as with goods that eventually found their way through Frankish territory to Islamic Spain. The relative importance of south-western France and therefore, probably of Spain across the Pyrenees, is shown by coins from that area of France found at Dorestad.” (Tre Tryckare,1967, p. 122.) We also know that ingots of lead coming from Bordeaux have been discovered in Ribe (Jensen, 1992, p.23). Marc Parverie, a French Medieval coinage specialist, expresses the same opinion. Nearly 74 coins from Islamic Spain mainly produced between 716 and 864 have been discovered in France… These discoveries « confirm the existence, during that period, of an important stream between Muslim Spain and the south-west of Carolingian Gaul.”  Comparatively to the hoards found in Scandinavia and England, very few coins have been discovered in France and Parverie suggests that a strong Frankish power controlled their arrival and melted them immediately. “A strong Frankish power” in Aquitaine, a kingdom ravaged by civil war? Certainly not. The specialist mentions that two coins where bent in a “Scandinavian way” and four of them cut in two, which of course doesn’t prove anything. Parverie doesn't believe that Vikings are responsible for their presence as many of them obviously arrived in Aquitaine by the Pyrenean passes. (Parverie, 2012).

Nobody in France ever criticized the hypothesis of a “Russian route replacing the Pyrenean route”, a hypothesis which is illogical, contradicted by texts and proven false by archeology. The fact is that in France trade and slave trade are not considered as a major preoccupation of Vikings raiders. Lucien Musset (1932-2001), the most famous French Historian as far as Vikings are concerned wrote in 1992: “The capture of slaves remained from one end to the other a major motivation” of the Vikings, however “Personally we don’t believe in the importance of this trade before the end of the 11th century”. The Viking slave trade question in France was over. Classified by Musset. This is not the only subject classified by this Historian of Normandy. 

According to Musset, Vikings began to have territorial and so political ambitions only by 900 at the mouth of river Seine were Normandy was founded in 911. This is the only place where Vikings ever settled in France. “Vikings tried to settle at the mouths of two great French rivers: on the Seine at Rouen in 911, on the Loire at Nantes in 919; the last of these settlements collapsed as soon as 937.” (Musset, 1992, p.92.) There is a problem with such a statement: Annales Bertinianni indicate that as soon as 845, Danes who had ravaged Aquitaine the previous year –they had sailed up river Garonne to Toulouse and ravaged the country- settled quietly in Charente. “Settled quietly”. Sixty-six years before the foundation of Normandy, Danes settled quietly in Aquitaine… This is not the only text.  In 861, Andrea de Bergamo is writing about the terrible battle of Fontenay (841) “A great massacre was done especially among nobles of Aquitaine. Until that day (861), the nobility of Aquitaine is so ravaged that Norsemen seize its land and she has not the strength to resist them.”  The Italian chronicler is not mentioning the “plunder” of the land, but its seizure ! Why Musset doesn’t mention these seizures and settlements which preceded the foundation of Normandy? How can this Historian and his followers pretend that Vikings never settled anywhere except in Normandy ?  

The reason is simple, and absurd: Historians of Normandy were interested in the Vikings only as founders of Normandy and decided they wouldn’t study invasions south of river Loire. The problem is that our English, American and Scandinavian friends never imagined that French Historians made such a choice of ignoring half of the subject. Can you imagine English Historians choosing to study the History of Wessex and conclude that Vikings never managed to settle in Great Britain !?! Non French Historians have no choice but to trust their French colleagues, colleagues who never did the job. French Historians never understood anything to Viking invasions in France because they never studied them. I prove this fact in the article  Viking invasions, the French failure, 2014. Reading this, you can understand why I write in English.  French scholars have no  joy in reading what I write.

3- The Aquitanian historic gap.



Four years after the looting of Rouen in 841, Danes had territorial, and so political ambitions in Aquitaine. In other words, since the very beginning, invasions in France would not have been the fact of looters or even mercenaries, but of warriors who had political ambitions in Aquitaine. Since the very beginning, Viking invasions in France would have been a war. Annales bertinianni prove that Norsemen were not vulgar looters, but warriors. Their alliances with Lothar and his sons, with Pippin II of Aquitaine, with Salomon in Bretagne prove that they played a tactical game in Frankia. Never any French Historian tried to understand their game. Each time there is such an alliance, Historians look at them as mercenaries.  « Puppets of Gallic kings », kings who were divided and weak, that's the common belief. 

This map taken from the remarkable Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings is showing the discomfort of John Haywood as far as Aquitaine is concerned. He’s placing a map of the North Sea on an area where Norsemen are mentioned as soon as 795 in Asturias where they fight Saracens on the side of the local king. In 810, we know that Louis the Pious, still king of Aquitaine, is fortifying the mouth of river Charente. In 816 in Pays Basque, Scandinavians are allied with the king of Pampelona in his fight against Saracens. (Erkoreka, 2004). Their behavior is not the behavior of looters, but of men who look for alliances with local kings. In the same book, John Haywood is providing very good maps of Northern France, Normandy and Bretagne, but not a single map of the most important kingdom of all, Aquitaine whose king was allied with Norsemen… How can John Haywood ignore Aquitaine ?

According to French charts, Vikings invaded Cotentin and North Finistère as soon as 836, taking the control of strategic capes on the way to Spain. Four years later, in 840, they launched a massive attack over Gascony seizing the twelve cities and disarming them (Supery, 2009). An attack so devastating that Gascony remained out of the Christian world for one hundred forty five years. The settlement in Saintonge five years later is completing this invasion. What happened south of river Loire is not a minor subject. This is a crucial one. However, never any Historian of England, Scandinavia or United States heard of this invasion. When you ignore such important facts, it’s quite difficult to understand what Viking invasions were about.

This map of the Historian Charles Higounet (L’Or des Vikings, 1969, p.X.) clearly shows that Aquitaine has been severely touched by early Viking attacks, most of them before the invasion of England. However, Higounet chose to analyze these attacks as simple looting raids. He also decided to ignore the massive attack launched over Gascony in 840. Higounet observed that “ninth and tenth centuries are blank pages of History” in Aquitaine and that therefore Viking invasions which happened during that period couldn't become a historical subject for scholars of Aquitaine.

French Historians never studied Viking invasions south of river Loire.  French linguists never looked for place names of Scandinavian origin in Aquitaine. However, thanks to texts and archeology, we know that slave trade was active in Aquitaine during the period of Viking invasions. Could the Vikings be responsible for this slave trade in Aquitaine, and if yes, did they leave place names related to slave trade?


4- Slave trade revealed by place names.


Taillebourg, a Viking merchant port.

On river Charente, there is a village, active port during the Medieval period, which name is Taillebourg. Archeologists decided by 2001 to explore one kilometer of river bed. In few years, among many Medieval artefacts, they discovered artifacts of Scandinavian origin, more than in Normandy in two centuries (axes, four spades -Petersen X-, 87 fishing weights some of them shaped like boats, similar to those discovered in Dublin, weights,   cooking pots, shield bosses, a ring – similar to the ring of Groix, belt buckles, millstones, an anchor –similar to the anchor of Blackfriars, kitchen tools like those of Péran). More than twenty-five artefacts are of Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian origin. The greatest concentration discovered in France (except for the grave of Groix, 1906). They even discovered a jetty and a pier that could be dated by dendrochronology : they were in activity between 850 and 924 (Mariotti, 2013, 280). Scandinavians artifacts have been found on these jetty and pier. Jean-François Mariotti estimates : “ These fishing weights shaped like boats testify of contacts and/or exchanges with people from Northern Europe, but they could also become elements proving the presence on the benches of river Charente, during a certain period of time, of Scandinavians.” There is a place in Charente called Fiscarnaud which origin is obviously Scandinavian. There is also the use of the word « gord » in Charente and « gored » in Bretagne which confirm Scandinavians fishermen where active on the shores of France. Mariotti believes the port was under Scandinavian control : « Two structures related to navigation, artifacts of Scandinavian style, among which fishing weights shaped like boats and the permanent fishery … would be contemporary of this troubled period. Now, which political power could have practiced such activities on a river, main access for raiders without fearing the plunder ? Certainely not a religious structure which would have had by that time other preoccupations. » (Mariotti, 2013, 283) However, a French archeologist dismissed the hypothesis of a Scandinavian settlement with a wonderful statement: “Danes… arrive from the coast and join their boats once the raid is finished, after having entered inland by the river or on horseback by Roman roads.” (Chapelot, 2006)  In other words, Norsemen cannot have had a port or a base in Taillebourg because the idea could not come in the mind of these primitive looters. Obviously, this archeologist of the C.N.R.S. never read Annales Bertinianni. Taillebourg is located only twelve kilometers down river of Saintes where Danes “settled quietly”.

An interesting point about naval archeology, Ole Crumlin-Pedersen considers in 1992 : “Since the very beginning of the Viking period, Scandinavians built trading vessels and not exclusively war ships.” Jan Bill is more cautious. In his opinion, the Klaastad ship only proves that cargo ships existed by 990, but doesn’t say anything about their first appearance (Bill, 2003, 31) . Taillebourg may prove that cargo ships existed by 850. A pier and a jetty are structures needed for loading and unloading merchant vessels. Langskips or war ships could land anywhere and needn’t a pier or a jetty. The fact that the jetty and pier began to function as soon as 850 would prove that kauskips were existing beside langskips by that time. Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, the founder of the Viking ship museum of Roskilde, was right. An opinion which seems confirmed by Ragnar’s saga. Randalinn, Ragnar’s wife, is worried because her husband is building two huge merchant ships to invade England rather than several warships able to land anywhere and to escape even if there is no wind (Renaud, 2005). This discussion happened normally before the first attack on Dorestad in 834. We also have Muslim texts. Ibn–Adhari tells us : “In the year 229 (sept 29th 843 –sept 17th 844), the emir received a letter from Wahb-allâh Ibn-Hazm, governor of Lisbon, saying that the Madjous had appeared on the coast of his province with 54 ships  (warships) and many other boats (cargoships).”  (Perez de Laborda, 1996) This distinction made by the governor of Lisbon clearly means that Vikings had at least two kinds of ship when they were sailing in war expedition. Taillebourg was a merchant port, but what kind of goods were dealt there? 



Taillebourg, a Scandinavian thraelleborg.


The Cartulaire de Saint Jean d’Angély is mentioning this place as castro Traileburcense by 1007, Talliburgo by 1050, Talleburgensis by 1067 and Tralliburgo by 1074. Some experts suggested the origin was thraelleborg, « the fortress of the slaves », probably a place related to the slave trade. (Debord, 1984,53) Remarkably enough, we have texts, archeology and linguistic which all converge towards a Scandinavian hypothesis, but hardly any French specialist will defend such a hypothesis with a wonderful statement : « If Vikings had settled in Aquitaine, Historians would know it ». Of course, Vikings settled in Aquitaine. Why not? The land was rich, disorganized by Muslim invasion of the previous century, ill defended because of internal wars, very easy to conquer and exploit with its rivers, ideally located between France and Spain, Atlantic Ocean and  Mediterranean Sea. How could these adventurous and well informed traders ignore that wonderful land of opportunities offered to them ? They couldn’t. If Taillebourg is a Scandinavian thraelleborg, we could see in this place the southernmost point of a slave trade route taking local captives to Noirmoutier, a documented center of slave trade, and from there to Rouen, known as a slave market in the eleventh century. People from Aquitaine would have been then taken to Hedeby. This is a possibility –an absurd one.

Geographically, it’s absurd. According to Oxenstiern, slaves taken to Hedeby were sent to Russia, then down to the Black Sea where they were sold in Constantinople. From there they went on their journey to Bagdad and… Spain, the main buyer in Europe… To make the choice of passing by Novgorod and Constantinople to join Cordoba is not very clever, especially if you have your captives in Saintonge, only 450 kilometers from Spain. Most of the people who want to go from Aquitaine to Spain go down to the South and cross the Pyrenees. 

Commercially, the option of sailing North is not logical either: if they deliver slaves to Denmark, the question is : what is the counterpart ? Skins, furs, honey, wax, all kind of stuff they already have ? If they deliver slaves to Spain, then they get gold, silk, spices, gems, technological goods, all kind of stuff they are anxious to get… The commercial choice is easy : slaves were taken to the South.

There is a simple way to valid such a hypothesis. Logically, other places should have the same generic  name declined from thraelleborg.  Their position may help us to draw a pattern of the routes borrowed if they exist. 


Tallebo type names


Taillebourg in Charente is not the only one in France. There are two other Taillebourg, both of them on a river, river Garonne, a river having its source in the Pyrenees. If we point these three places on a map, we can see a straight north-south line. The southernmost Taillebourg is located at the feet of the mountains, in the Garonne valley providing a major access across the Val d’Aran to Spain… fifty kilometers away… The Russian route monopoly is getting less and less credible.


Taillebourg is not the only name to refer to slave trade.  Other names very similar exist. Taillebois in Normandy has the same origin. The evolution from bourg « borough » to bois « wood » is quite natural : borg was often pronounced  bo, bo was written bosc in the south (langue d’Oc) and bois in the North (langue d’Oil). It means that Taybosc in the Gers is the Southern alter ego of Taillebois in Normandy. Taybosc is not the only one. Talbo in Gironde, Talbot in Charente, Gironde and Dordogne, Talabot in the Landes and the Pyrenees belong to the same family. We can notice that there is a Tallebo in Sweden, a Talbo in Galicia, Talbott in Ireland and Port Talbot in Great-Britain, all places which were visited by Norse slave traders. Tallebay in the Landes near Dax and Tallebarde, Talebar, Tallebart north of Lyon could belong to the same family. If you point these names on a map of France, you have an interesting result.  

As we can see on the map above, tallebo type place names exist in Brittany and Normandy, places where Vikings settled, but the great majority of these names are found in Aquitaine where they are not supposed to have stayed. This could prove either that these names cannot be Scandinavian, or, that Norsemen also settled in Aquitaine. Carolingian Aquitaine was extending from river Loire to the Pyrenees, and from the Ocean to the Rhone valley.  There is also an interesting area : Burgundy where we find such names. Their presence not far from Switzerland reminds us of an event mentioned in the saga, the Story of Norna-Gest. Björn and Ingvarr are said to besiege Vifillsborg, which is Flensburg or Avenches in Switzerland. We can guess that if Björn and Ingvarr really reached Vifillsborg, they came from Saintonge. 


Trellebo type names.

Now, thraelleborg may have had another phonetic evolution. Tallebo type names come from Talleburgensis and Talliburgo, but Tralliburgo and Traileburcense may have generated other names, trellebo and trallebo type names. If we discover such names in the areas where we find tallebo type names, then the chances for such names of being Scandinavian in origin increase.

In Saintonge, we find Treillebois and Treuil Bois around Taillebourg, which obviously come from thraelleborg. Interesting coincidence, in the village of Athis-de-l’Orne, neighbor of Taillebois in Normandy, we find a place name Treillebois. In Normandy like in Charente, treille and taille are found together, fact which supports that trellebo and tallebo names belong to the same family. We also find Trelebois in Bretagne, Terrebourg, Terrefort, Terrefont in Aquitaine, Treffort in the Alps, but also Trébois, Trébosc,  Trébons, Trébouilh, especially in the Pyrenees, Le Trébon in Provence, Tréban in Languedoc.  If we point these names on the map, they complete interestingly tallebo type names.  There are also trallebo type names : Tralebois  in Vendée, Tralbot  in Poitou, Tralbaud in Charente, Tralebeau in Massif Central, Teralbo in Languedoc. We see that trellebo, trallebo and tallebo type names are found in the same areas : Brittany, Normandy, the Carolingian Aquitaine and Rhone valley area. 

Now, there are other names we can add. Thraellegat , “the gate of the slaves”, is the probable origin of Trélagot at Donges, a port at the mouth of river Loire. Thraellemund , “the mouth of the slaves”, is the logical origin of Talmont. Talmont-st-Hilaire near Sables-d’Olonne and Talmont sur Gironde –ancient Tallemonde- on the Gironde, the mouth of river Garonne. If we consider these places located on the coast as boarding bases, they should mark the end or the beginning of land routes.

The map above has absolutely no Historical value. It’s a pure speculation. We pointed place names supposed to come from thraelleborg, and then try to join them with all the subjectivity we could to form a coherent road system. Our conviction is that this road system drained slaves to the South, and certainly not to the North. Our other conviction is that this road system extended across Neustria were thraelleborg evolved in Tremblay. If you point these Tremblay type names on a map, you’ll discover routes completing perfectly this scheme. We could explore only France, but we can guess that these routes ending at the French border must go on abroad in Italy, Switzerland and Germany.

In the area of Brittany and Normandy, place names seem to indicate slaves were taken to Trélagot, at the mouth of river Loire, where they may have embarked to reach Southern Aquitaine. It would seem that Norsemen avoided to carry their prisoners by ships around Brittany, a perilous journey, and preferred a pedestrian short-cut, as Oxenstierna had supposed. In Aquitaine these names form routes which seem to converge from the river mouths (Charente, Gironde, Adour) towards the Val d’Aran in the Pyrenees. The Val d’Aran is a traditional pass, but it was not used by the Roman road system which avoided central Pyrenees. Vikings probably chose this remote pass because of its safety. We also see at least four east-west routes crossing Massif Central to join the Garonne valley. This would suggest that Scandinavian traders chose to buy their slaves in traditional markets (Verdun, Lyon, Ratisbonne, Avenches) and to carry them across Francia Mediana, the kingdom of their ally Lothar and across the kingdom of Pippin II. It’s a violation of the slave trade ban of Meaux edicted by Charles the Bald, but the fact is that Charles was powerless in these areas. These routes confirm in a way the opinion of Marc Bloch : the real buyer was Spain.

In Provence, we also discover several place names Le Trébon at the mouth of river Rhone. This area is in Francia Mediana, the kingdom of their ally Lothar. We have reasons to believe that Norsemen reached Provence across Massif Central as soon as 844 when their fleet reached Toulouse (Supery, 2009). One can imagine that the death of Lothar by 855 may have endangered their positions in Provence and encouraged them to raid the Rhone valley by 860. This raid could have had two purposes: first, to prevent Charles the Bald from invading this weakened territory, which would have endangered their trade routes. Second, it could have been a message sent to the sons of Lothar that their interest was to renew the treaties accepted by their father. The attacks suffered by Italian cities in the following months sustain the second probability. Hastein attacked Arles, Nimes, Valence, Romans-s/Isère, cities which were involved in a North-South trade as if he wanted to destroy the traditional Rhone valley route to Spain. Destroying the competing route was the best way to meet success on their own east-west routes. These attacks let us imagine that after the death of Lothar, his son, king of Provence, tried to regain control of the slave trade towards Spain, a trade he knew very lucrative. Of course, Norsemen couldn't accept such a choice.

 What is certain is that Norsemen stayed in the Rhone valley after the plundering of these cities : according to Annales Bertiniani,  « Danes who were on the River Rhone leave for Italy, take and plunder Pisa and other cities ». The fact that the chronicler mentions « Danes who were on river Rhone » let us imagine there were other Danes who were not on river Rhone. The fact is that the following year, in 861, « Charles... advanced in Burgundy with his wife to the city of Macon. He was called by some against Norsemen and to take domination of Provence... but as things were not prospering, after having done a lot of plunder, he came back at his palace of Ponthion. » This text means that Norsemen were numerous enough in the area to incite local lords to ask for help, not to their king, but his rival Charles the Bald. These numerous men didn't reach the area with the fleet, but with their feet. Their presence enlightens the fall of Clermont in 856 and in 864. Clermont was a stronghold of the Frankish power; the seizing of Clermont and the killing of its count, the most powerful military chief devoted to Charles the Bald south of river Loire, may have been a way to secure the Vikings on the river Rhone. Vikings settled in this part of France as many place names in the area of Arles, Manosque and Sisteron suggest it. Controlling commercial routes in the area seems to have been the main motivation of Norsemen. Place names related to slave trade north of Lyon and in Provence give us informations about their ambitions. This Viking presence is not documented, but a careful reading of local sources may change that fact. The problem is that, as Gascony, Provence didn't produce any text for two centuries. Maybe we could wonder in which extent the « Saracens » who settled in the area and remained at la Garde-Freynet until 970 were not blond and blue eyed, as some text suggest it. Today, the arms of Avenches represent the head of a dark skin Saracen in souvenir of this time, but it would seem that until the nineteenth century, the Saracen of Avenches was blond and blue eyed... 

 Finally, place names in Massif Central seem to indicate that routes coming from the east were crossing France to join the “Pyrenean hub” of Val d’Aran. Ibn Al-Cutia, a chronicler of the tenth-century, is telling us : « After this (the attack on Seville in 844), the emir Abd-el-Rahman took measures of protection, edified a shipyard in Seville, ordered the construction of ships, recruited seamen on the coast of Andalusia, who had a good pay, giving them war and nafte machines. » (Morales Romero, 2004.) These fleets were to sail from Cape Finisterre in Galicia to France on the Mediterranean side. The Emir obviously considered that the Viking danger was not only coming from the West, but also from the Mediterranean side. These measures meant two things : first the emir knew the Viking threat was serious and would remain (he never considered Norsemen as vulgar looters), second, he knew that Gascony had been invaded by people who had ambitions in Mediterranean Sea,  a fact confirmed by Nowairi, Ibn al-Qutiyya and Ibn al-Athir : « In the year 230 (sept 18th 844-sept 6th 845) the Madjus (Pagans) who occupied the most remote part of Spain invaded the land of the Muslims ». By that time, Saracens considered river Garonne as the Northern limit of Spain. (Mussot-Goulard, 1996). Gascony was in Spain.

Such a map representing more than 80 place names supposed to come from thraelleborg is quite puzzling. Some may object « as in Scandinavia, the name Trelleborg is associated with an earth-ring, this would mean we should discover these same earth-rings all over France. If not, then these names cannot mean Thraelleborg ». This is not so simple. In Norway, there was a very important market place which name was Kaupang, which means market. Kaupang was also a port. This would mean that Copen, Caupenne, Copenne, Campan, Campagne we discover in Gascony cannot describe market places as they are not associated with a port. Absurd. Thraelleborg wouldn't describe the earth-ring, but the function. Not all the rings are called Trelleborg. The fact that we find so many such names positionned along valleys would simply mean that Norsemen had to prevent their human cattle from escaping or being attacked. Every night, they had to be under cover as a fleet sailing along the coasts. We know that by that time, forests were covering a great part of France and we also know that Norsemen were able to build fortresses hidden in the forest, protected not with earthworks -useful mainly in an open plain which is the case in Denmark and Scania-  but with edges of trees and bushes which branches were intertwinned to form an impassable vegetable wall. (source?) These vegetable fortresses were nearly invisible by their time and left no traces behind them. In our opinion, most of these thraelleborg dissiminated in France, in hostile land, were discreet vegetable fortresses. These traders hated being visible and avoided using routes and crossing cities inherited from the Roman empire, places controlled by the local power. Place names suggest that in Massif Central and in the Pyrenees, Norsemen created there own routes beside the Roman road system. (Supery, 2009).


Objections to this map.


There is something wrong with this map. In Scandinavia, the name trelleborg is associated with an ring fortress. If these names really come from trelleborg, then we should have discovered some eighty ring fortresses all over France. As we didn't find a single one, these names cannot come from Trelleborg. Such an objection is over-simple.

First, the name Trelleborg is associated with two  ring fortresses in Scandinavia, but there are other ring fortresses (Aggersborg, Fyrkat) which have different names. This means that Trelleborg doesn't describe a type of fortress, but a function, related to slave trade. 

Second, in Denmark and Sweden, these Trelleborgs are found in  open plains. That means there was no natural stronghold that could be exploited. These fortresses had to be built ex nihilo, which explains their geometric perfection. An other point is that these fortresses were more of a matter of prestige  to show political power than of a military or commercial one. Third, it is clear that if Norsemen built camps to recieve convoys of slaves crossing France on their feet, the function was more important thant the appearance. Such Trelleborgs wouldn't have looked like the Trelleborgs of Scandinavia. First, most of the trelleborg type names are found in hilly or montainous areas, where it was more convenient and useful to occupy a promontory or an oppidum. Second important point is that most of these camps were in « instable » territories (disputed by competing Frankish powers in deliquescence) ; the interest of Norsemen was to be as discreet as possible. They wanted neither to show their strength, nor to take the  political and military control of these territories. They just needed to cross safely these areas. One can imagine that many camps were built in lowlands, in swampy areas or in deep forests in the way of a brigand nest. Norsemen knew how to build nearly invisible  fortresses made of trees which branches were intertwined to form impassable natural walls behind which they were living. Such fortresses are of course impossible to trace. D'après Ernest Nègre, le toponyme plessis désignait une défense avancée de branches entrelacées. Jean François Mérachal précise : « Dans les fouilles de mottes, il est à remarquer que rarement sont retrouvées les traces de pieux et de planches, ou postérieurement de murs; cela s'explique bien par l'utilisation courante de haies au Moyen-Âge. » (Maréchal, p.14) »La Haie de Nangis près de Provins constituait même une ligne de défense de frontière féodale... épaisse de 200 mètres et surveillé par des mottes » Ypres en Belgique « ne remplace ses « haies vives » par des murs et palissades qu'après le siège de 1383. » « La palissade était uniquement et nécéssairement utilisée par les Normands dans leurs conquêtes pour la simple raison que la haie n'avait pas le temps de pousser. » p 14 Jean François Maréchal, les Origines vikings des mottes castrales, Revue « Le Pays d'Auge », 1977.

In other words, the trelleborgs of France would have marked out the paths borrowed by the slaves as harbors marked out maritime routes. At sea, Vikings used to touch land every night to enjoy rest, a fire and warm food and we can imagine that these convoys were reaching every night a shelter, a trelleborg, where to take refreshment. These trelleborg needn't to be powerful ring fortresses. A fenced enclosure may have been enough.

A last point. These names  let us imagine a massive slave trade. This slave trade made the fortune of those who ruled over Gascony. These Trelleborg may have become the symbols of the prosperity and the success of these Sea kings who invaded France as soon as 840. Those who erected the Trelleborgs of Sjaelland and Scania around 990 may have chosen these names to pay hommage to a trade and a name that made  the fortune of their precursors.

5 - Origins and end of Viking slave trade


The ban of Slave trade in the Carolingian world may have given birth to the Viking phenomenon. 

During the Carolingian wars, Saxons and Slaves when they were not all executed or amputated, were sent to the south. The traditional route is well known. Saxons were led to Verdun, then Lyons. Slavonic prisoners came from Ratisbonne or Avenches and joined Lyons. Then, the prisoners were taken down the Rhone valley to Arles. They were then embarked and delivered to Almeria and Valencia in Spain, the main slave buyer in Western Europe. When Louis the Pious became emperor by 814, the time of foreign wars was arriving at an end. No more prisoners of war to be sent south. The Christian emperor began to ban this trade considered as immoral, at least as far as Christians sold to Mohammedans were concerned. Slave trade to Spain began to trickle. This situation was of course very problematic for Saracens who needed slaves. In the same time, Scandinavians traders are mentioned in Asturias by 795 and in the kingdom of Pampelona by 816. They were there as traders. Scandinavians were anxious to buy all the goods coming from Mediterranean trade (spices, perfumes, jewelry, silk), but they had a problem : the goods they had to offer in exchange (furs, millstones, wax, honey, ivory, amber) were not enough to balance their trade with their southern partners. When the Frankish power began to ban slave trade, these men quickly understood they had a chance to balance their trade. They would provide Saracens with slaves that Franks no longer exported. This commercial opportunity may explain why Vikings began to raid Ireland, a country where permanent wars were generating many captives for sale.  

But it would seem that people captured during raids in Ireland, Great Britain and Gaul were not enough to satisfy Norsemen. They wanted more. Ibn Hagal mentions the trade of “Slavonic eunuchs” still active by 950 while Franks no longer fight Slaves. These slaves were not captured by Viking raiders, but bought by Scandinavian traders as place names across Massif Central suggest it.  Why would they bother to buy slaves of Slavonic origin?

A commercial reason seems to be the answer : as they control all the sources of trade towards Spain (Irish, Welch and English coming by sea, Bretons, Franks and Aquitains  coming by land), they had a monopoly and could fix the prices on the Spanish market. To control the market and maintain the prices, slaves imported from the East had to remain under their control. Traders of Lyons had no choice but to deliver their human cattle to Scandinavian traders who marched them across the ”Mounts of Aquitaine” (Massif Central), and then down to the Val d’Aran. With these two sources of slaves, Vikings were also reducing the risks of shortage. Raids couldn’t last forever and a regular flow from the East was probably much more secure as the testimony of Ibn Hagal expresses it.


The end of slave trade in Western Europe 

This route was active a long time and began to encounter difficulties around 950, mainly in the Pyrenees. We see then new naval expeditions trying to sail around the Peninsula in the years 966-971. (Almanzan, 2004). Most of Historians believe these fleets were coming from the North. After the murder of William Long-Sword, son of Rollo, in 942, the king of France was about to annexe Normandy to his kingdom.  In 945, a Danish chief named Harald came to Normandy, captured the king of France and established the young Richard on his throne. Nobody knows who was Harald. He's unknown in British Isles and Scandinavia. Frankish chroniclers (Flodoard and Richer) gave a strange information about the leader of this expedition saying “Hagroldo qui Baiocensibus praerat”, which means “Harald who ruled Bayeux”. (Richer, p. 290) Bayeux is in Normandy and the idea that an unknown chief named Harald ruling Bayeux was so rich he could have a fleet and was powerful enough to defeat the king of France was so absurd that Normand chroniclers (Wace, Duddo, Calculus) didn’t repeat that information saying just he was a « Danish king ». There could be however an interesting explanation of this strange origin. If instead of writing “Baiocensibus”, the chronicler had written “Baionensibus”, then Harald doesn’t rule Bayeux, but Bayonne in Gascony. Only one letter and the saving of Normandy stops being an enigma. The brothers of Gascony knew that if Normandy collapsed, then Gascony would be the next one on the list. This hypothesis is comforted by following events. In 960, the duke of Normandy was once again in danger and he called Harald again. The chief came of the Seine and settled on Jeufosse island, the island where Bjorn Ironside had founded a base one century earlier to plunder Paris and Neustria. Harald ravaged Neustria. After having obtained a treaty and saved once again Normandy, Harald and his fleet left for Galicia where he'll be defeated, but strangely enough nobody heard of his fleet anymore. In 964, another fleet -coming from nowhere- arrived in Galicia.  Her chief was Godfred. Vikings plundered Santiago de Compostella by 966, killing its bishop Sisnando and remaining three years in Galicia. The political background of this attack is interesting. After the death of the king of Galicia without any heir, the king of Asturias, a traditional ally of the Norsemen of Gascony, was about to become king of Galicia. We can guess that his friendship with Pagans who had conquered Gascony was unbearable for the bishop of Santiago de Compostella, a sacred place. The bishop may have ordered the assination of the Asturian king. In our mind, this was the reason of the plunder of Galicia and the murder of Sisnando. The Norsemen who had an interest in punishing Sisnando were not Norsemen coming from Norway, but the friends of the king of Asturias, Norsemen of Bayonne. The fleet of Harald didn't disappeared in Galicia, but returned to Bayonne and came back to Galicia with Godfred.

After the three years expedition in Galicia, Scandinavian fleets tried to push further in the south, being stopped not far from Gibraltar. Another political event may explain these late expeditions. One century earlier, by 858, Vikings had captured the king of Pampelona and kept him for one year until the complete payment of a seventy thousands gold coins ransom (Melvinger, 1955). He was the prisoner of Norsemen of Gascony who had plenty of time to explain to their neighbor the common political and commercial interest in accepting peace. (Supery, 2009) This peace between Bayonne and Pampelona lasted more than one century. But, then, by 972-973, the queen of Pampelona, Urraca, daughter of Garcia-Sanche, king of Navarre (925-970), married the count Guillaume Sanche who considered himself as Dominus totius Vasconiae. (Goyeneche, 2000 p.184) He pretended to reconquer Gascony still ruled by Nordic lords.  Urraca decided to help her husband to recover his inheritance. This diplomatic reversal closed the Pyrenean passes to Scandinavian traders. Slaves couldn’t cross anymore the Pyrenees. Harald of Bayonne had to find another way. This was maybe the reason of the last expeditions trying to turn Iberian Peninsula. A failure. The game was over for Scandinavian lords of Gascony.

By 982, there was a last battle at Taller, near Dax. The cartulaire de Condom (Condom is a little town in Armagnac)  tells us :  «  In these times, the perfid people of Norsemen, Christians in appearance but not in truth, invaded the maritime shores of Gascony and settled in a large plain called Taller. » This text confirms that Norsemen settled in Gascony and converted to Christianism. « Guillaume-Sanz provoked a pitched battle and made such a carnage that still today we see more bones lying on this plain than  vegetation. » Local Historians claim this battle is a repelled  raid, but then why bother to mention « Christians in appearance but not in truth »?... Obviously the chronicler wants to justify an agression on people who have been there for a long time. The chronicler is giving then an interesting detail: “Among them was a Norseman, very strong, his name was Airald who, protected by his armour, was giving great blows and received some but without being wounded. Finally, he was captured, his armour was taken away, then one discovered a cross around his neck.”  They took it away and finally could kill him. (Mussot Goulard,  1983). Airald may have been “Hagroldo qui Baionensibus praerat”. 

After the battle of Taller (see the map of Higounet), Gascony was no longer a hub for slave trade. Many Norsemen migrated to England and Barcelona, many stayed in Gascony. An American citizen, Paul G., looking for his roots in Perigord was very surprised of the genetic signature of his Y-chromosom ancestor : he was I-M-223, the « Viking marker ». This is how he discovered my works. A Genetic study looking for Basque markers shows incidentally the presence of I-M-223 and I-M-253 in Pays Basque and surroundings (24 people out of 845 tested) in Chalosse (5/58), Bigorre (4/44) on the French side.  Navarra (2/60), Araba (3/51), Guipuzkoa (2/47) and Rioja (2/54) on the Spanish side).  (Martinez Cruz, 2012). By 1000, the slave market of Rouen, dealing with Irish slaves, is closing. With the end of slave trade across the Pyrenees, invasions were nearly over.



Slave trade across the Pyrenees and the Scandinavian settlements in Aquitaine and probably in Provence –never studied- allow us to suggest that Viking invasions in Western Europe were a commercial war. They began with the opening of the Spanish market when Franks stopped to trade slaves and ended with the defeat of Taller, meaning the loss of the Spanish market. Those who launched these invasions were Ragnar and his sons Björn and Ingvarr, they were from Vestfold, in Norway. Ragnar understood that the growing power of the king of Hedeby could not be matched from Vestfold. To survive as a powerful king, Ragnar decided to leave his land and take the control of a route even richer than the Danish route. He chose to take control of Gascony, an area militarily and politically weak with a wonderful access to Mediterranean Sea and Spain. Once he controlled the area, he had to prevent Charles the Bald from reconquering his kingdom of Aquitaine. Each time, there was a danger in Aquitaine, his men counter-attacked on river Seine. Neustria was a battlefield. As long as the Franks were obliged to defend themselves, they had  to delay their expeditions to “deliver” Aquitaine. In 858, after having taken Paris and many other cities of Neustria, Björn came to Verberie, the palace of Charles the Bald, near Compiegne, North of Paris and “put his hands in the hands of the (defeated) king”. Annales Bertiniani describe this event as a submission. But there are two objections : Björn had crushed his Frankish enemy and the text doesn’t mention any counterpart; now when there is a treaty, there is always a counterpart.

We discover the counterpart in 868. On this year, Charles the Bald in peace with the Vikings for the first time in thirty-four years (Dorestad fallen in 834 was Charles’ city) is taking back control of Aquitaine; he’s fortifying Angoulême, Périgueux and Agen, but neither Saintes where the Danes settled quietly in 845, nor Bordeaux fallen again in their hands in 855 are mentioned. Bordeaux, Saintes, and Gascony were the counterparts granted to Björn at Verberie in 858. The fact is that after that Gascony disappearing from the charts of the Frankish kingdom. “Haraldus qui Baionensibus praerat” is the logical descendant of Björn Ironside. William Calculus is telling us : « This king (Ragnar), rminding the laws of ancestors, forced his son named Bier Costa Ferrae to leave his kingdom with great many young people and with Hastings, his governor, a man full of hate in any point, so that, sailing to foreign countries, Bier could conquer by the arms a new residency. » (Calculus, book 1, Chapter 5)  This land may have been Gascony, first country invaded as soon as 840. Bayonne is named after Björn. Biarritz, anc. Bearis, is Bearhus, the House of Bear. Le Pays de Born, around Mimizan, where earthworks reveal the existence of a naval base (Supery, 2010) and le Pays de Béarn -locals say Biarn-, neighbor of Pampelona, are the Lands of Björn, the great organizer of slave trade in Western Europe.

All this may seem quite incredible to many specialists. However, there are facts in Gascony which have never been explained until now. Basques inherited many technics and traditions of Scandinavian origin (whale hunting, boat building, house building, vadmall). Thousands of place names of Aquitaine can be explained by this presence : Arengosse (Haeringhus), Bardos (Bardhus), Esténos (Hasteinhus), Bernos (Björnhus). Bergerac (Berggeirhaug), Tourtinhac (Thorsteinhaug), Tourtirac (Thorstyrhaug), Lavardac (Lavardhaug), Goutevernisse (Gudbjörnhus), Escatalens (Asketilhus), Gatebourg (Gatborg), Caupenne (kaupang) etc… We have identified more than two thousands place names (Supery, 2009). The largest concentrations on the coast and the Pyrenees, but extending across France up to Rhone valley. If you add political institutions quite original : the right on wrecks, banishment, vergilt « an ancient gascon law » according to Pierre de Marca (Marca, 1640), assemblies of free men voting laws and taxes… If you add genetics and history : Gascony disappeared in a historic gap for two centuries. Then, all this seems suddenly coherent.

This coherence frightens French scholars because if we are right, many of them : Historians, Linguists, Archeologists paid by the C.N.R.S. are wrong. According to French bureaucratic logic, an agreement between scholars to negate an event makes the truth. We hope that abroad, in countries less involved in this Historic failure, intellectual honesty and the envy of discovering the past are stronger than the respect of  egos and hierarchy.


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  • Nom du fichier : Les Gascons trafiquants d'esclaves ?
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