Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – part 2

Illustration of a very well armed Viking. One had to be well off to afford a sword and rather rich to have a helmet and mail to protect the neck. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I’m going to take a look at finances of the Viking era.

Before doing so, I’d like to provide some context of the horrid barbarity of warfare in ancient times.

Previous post mentions the slaughter during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.

Next I’ll describe the gathering of slaves by Alexander the Great accompanying his path of destruction across the ancient world. Today we would call that human trafficking.

People taken away into slavery by Alexander the Great

I previously made some guesses how many slaves were taken by Alexander the Great. See my post on 2/2/17: Wild guess on the tally of people enslaved by Alexander the Great.

Professor Frank Holt did a lot of research on the plunder taken by Alexander: The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World.

In Appendix 2, the professor tallied the known and unknown references to plunder and slaves.

I previously mentioned:

I just went through the Appendix looking at the tally of slaves taken.

There are 19 incidents with no number mentioned.

There are four incidents with specific tally of slaves: 30,000, 30,000, 40,000, and 70,000.

The professor points out that large numbers, especially 30,000, usually is not a specific count but a broad estimate, meaning a really big amount.

So with that information, here is my formula for the number of people who spent the rest of their short life as slaves of the Greeks:

  • 19X + (30,000 + 30,000 + 40,000 + 70,000)

Those 23 incidents simplify to:

  • 19X + (170,000)

I’ll introduce a measure of the uncertainty:

  • 19X + (170,000 +/- 25%)

I’ll make an uneducated guess that each of those X incidents is not just grabbing a few people here or there. I’ll guess it is the total number of soldiers who surrendered, residents in a town that surrendered after a siege, and basically anyone in the area who could not run faster than soldiers when an army tried to stand up to Alexander. Essentially, everyone the soldiers could capture in those 19 incidents.

So, the accountant in me desperately wants to further reduce that formula of 19X + (170,000 +/- 25%).  So, here is my uneducated guess multiplied by pull-it-out-of-thin-air assumptions.

I’ll start with the point estimate of 170K, then add 25%, then subtract 25%. I’ll completely assume since the X incidents weren’t “30,000” events that they were smaller. I’ll assume 5k, 10k, and 15k. Then I’ll combine those strings of wild assumptions.

I substituted 5K, 10K, and 20K for each X and added/subtracted 25% to the cited point estimates.

Excluding the table which shows my calculations, here is a summary of my results:

The results of my long string of wild guesses and blind assumptions would suggest Alexander made slaves of somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 people. My unsupportable guesses suggest most likely number is 300,000 or 400,000. (Are you catching on to the idea that those are astoundingly soft numbers?)

A third of a million people spending the rest of their life suffering in slavery. That is a staggering amount of human misery.

Keep in mind that doesn’t include the massive number of people killed in the carnage of battle or who ran to the hills and died of hunger after the army moved on. I cannot imagine how we could even start to quantify that number.

Given the populations in Scandinavia at the time, along with the populations in the areas raided for slaves, I rather doubt the Vikings came close to inflicting the same level of suffering from human trafficking that Alexander pulled off.

Not even close.

But that’s just a guess.

As a frame of reference, keep in mind Alexander the Great carried off into slavery somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000 people.

So, perhaps that puts the brutality of the Vikings into a little different perspective.

2 thoughts on “Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – part 2”

  1. The viking age were probably amazing times. In good and bad ways. Keep in mind it’s more accurate if you use the word Scandinavians instead of Vikings, because the word “viking” simply means pirate. It’s a word used to describe a profession and it could point to people from several countries, including Jutes or Frisians.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Vikings are best known as raiders and plunderers. They were also merchants. They were also settlers. Granted they settled land they conquered and, from what I’ve learned, could alternate between merchant and raider depending the goal for a particular trip.

      The term is quite broad and from my cursory stretching my brain by new reading, could include others under that umbrella name.

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