Kingdom of Dublin

Kingdom of Dublin
Dyflin / Duibhlinn
Maximum extent of Dublin (pink) and other Norse settlements (green) in Ireland.
Capital Dublin
Languages Old Norse,
Old and Middle Irish
Religion Norse paganism
Celtic Christianity
Roman Catholicism
Government Monarchy
 • c. 853–871 (first) Amlaíb Conung
 • ×1170 (last) Ascall mac Ragnaill
 • Established 839
 • Disestablished 1170
Currency Silver penny

Preceded by

Succeeded by
Gaelic Ireland
Lordship of Ireland Coat of arms of the Lordship of Ireland.svg

Norwegian Vikings invaded the territory around Dublin in the 9th century, establishing the Norse Kingdom of Dublin, the earliest and longest-lasting Norse kingdom in Ireland. Its territory corresponded to most of present-day County Dublin. The Norse referred to the kingdom as Dyflin, which is derived from Irish Dubh Linn, meaning “black pool”. The first reference to the Vikings comes from the Annals of Ulster and the first entry for 841 CE reads: “Pagans still on Lough Neagh”. It is from this date onward that historians get references to ship fortresses or longphorts being established in Ireland. It may be safe to assume that the Vikings first over-wintered in 840–841 CE. The actual location of the longphort of Dublin is still a hotly debated issue. Norse rulers of Dublin were often co-kings, and occasionally also Kings of Jórvík in what is now Yorkshire. Under their rule, Dublin became the biggest slave port in Western Europe.[2][3][4][5]

Over time, the settlers in Dublin became increasingly Gaelicized. They began to exhibit a great deal of Gaelic and Norse cultural syncretism, and are often referred to as Norse-Gaels.

The extent of the kingdom varied, but in peaceful times it extended roughly as far as Wicklow (Wykinglo) in the south, Glen Ding near Blessington, Leixlip (Lax Hlaup) west of Dublin, and Skerries, Dublin (Skere) to the north. The Fingal area north of Dublin was named after the Norse who lived there.

In 988, Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill led the initial Gaelic conquest of Dublin. As a result, the founding of Dublin is counted by some from the year 988, although a village had existed on the site of Dublin since before the Roman occupation of Great Britain nearly a thousand years earlier.

In the mid-11th century, the Kingdom of Leinster began exerting influence over Dublin. Though the last king of Dublin was killed by the Norman conquerors of Dublin in 1171, the population of the city retained their distinctiveness for some generations.

Kings of Dublin

Ruler Reign Notes
Amlaíb Conung c. 853–871 Co-king; titled “King of the Foreigners” in 863
Ímar c. 857–873 Co-king; titled “King of the Foreigners” in 863; titled “King of the Northmen of all Ireland and Britain” in 873
Auisle c. 863–867 Co-king; titled “King of the Foreigners” in 863
Oistin mac Amlaíb* 873–875 Probable co-king; not explicitly named as king in the annals
Bárid mac Ímair 873–881 Probable co-king; titled “head of the Northmen” in 881
Albann^ 875–877 Claimed Dublin but never ruled
Sichfrith mac Ímair 881–888
Sitriuc mac Ímair 888–893/896 Rulership disputed by Sitriuc Jarl in 893
Sichfrith Jarl^ 893-? Claimed Dublin in 893 but unclear if ever ruled
Glúniarann*  ? Not explicitly named as king in the annals; speculated to have succeeded Sitriuc
Ímar ua Ímair  ?-902 Driven from Dublin in 902 by native Irish
Dublin abandoned by the Norse from 902 to 917.
Sihtric ua Ímair (a.k.a. Sihtric Cáech) 917–921 defeated Niall Glundub; also king of Jórvík
Gofraid ua Ímair 921–934 grandson of Ímar
Olaf III Guthfrithson 934–941 son of Gofraid ua Ímair
Blácaire mac Gofrith 941–945
Sigtrygg (Sitric) 941–943
Amlaíb Cuarán 945–947
Blácaire mac Gofrith 947–948 restored
Gofraid mac Sitriuc 948–951
Amlaíb Cuarán 952–980 restored
Glúniairn 980–989
Ivar of Waterford or Sigtrygg Silkbeard 989–993
Ivar of Waterford 994–995
Sigtrygg (Sitric) Silkbeard Olafsson 995–1036
Echmarcach mac Ragnaill 1036–1038
Ímar mac Arailt 1038–1046
Echmarcach mac Ragnaill 1046–1052
Murchad mac Diarmata 1052–1070
Diarmait mac Mail na mBo 1070–1072
Toirdelbach Ua Briain 1072 Member of the Uí Briain; seized overlordship of Dublin following Diarmait’s death; given kingship by the Dubliners in 1072; allowed Dublin to be locally ruled by Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill under his overlordship.
Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill 1072–1075 Member of the Meic Ragnaill (Uí Ímair); ruled under the overlordship of Toirdelbach; expelled from kingship by Toirdelbach in 1075; possibly identical to Gofraid mac Sitriuc, King of the Isles (died 1070).
Domnall mac Murchada 1075 Member of the Meic Murchada (Uí Chennselaig); gained kingship following the expulsion of Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill; may have seized Dublin without the consent of the Uí Briain, or else ruled under their overlordship; died within the year.
Muirchertach Ua Briain 1075–1086 Member of the Uí Briain; installed king by his father, Toirdelbach.
Donnchad mac Domnaill Remair 1086–1089 Member of the Uí Cheinnselaig; seized kingship following death of Toirdelbach; killed in 1089; control of Dublin appears to have been gained by Muirchertach not long afterwards.
Gofraid Crobán c. 1091–1094 Possibly a close relative of Ímar mac Arailt and thus a member of the Uí Ímair; founder of the Crovan dynasty; ruler of the Isles; seized kingship in about 1091 and expulsed by Muirchertach in 1094.
Domnall mac Taidc Member of the Meic Taidc (Uí Briain); possibly installed king by his uncle, Muirchertach, after Gofraid Crobán’s expulsion; certainly installed as ruler of the Isles at about this time.
Domnall Gerrlámhach Member of the Uí Briain; possibly installed king by his father, Muirchertach, after Gofraid Crobán’s expulsion; certainly held kingship at a later date.
Magnús berfœttr 1102–1103 Ruler of Norway; appears to have seized Dublin in the early twelfth century, having taken Orkney and the Isles before the turn of the century; seems to have intended for his son, Sigurðr, to rule as king of these newly-won overseas Norse territories.
Domnall Gerrlámhach Defended Dublin from Leinster attack in 1115; possibly installed king by his father long before battle, immediately before, or immediately afterwards.
Diarmait mac Énna meic Murchada ×1117. Member of the Meic Murchada (Uí Chennselaig); died 1117.
Domnall Gerrlámhach 1117–1118 Seized kingship after Diarmait ‘s death.
Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair ×1118 Member of the Uí Conchobair; drove Domnall Gerrlámhach from kingship.
Énna Mac Murchada ×1122–1126 Member of the Meic Murchada (Uí Chennselaig); either seized kingship or was installed king by Toirdelbach; reigned under Uí Conchobair overlordship.
Conchobar Ua Conchobair 1126–1127 Member of the Uí Conchobair; installed king by his father, Toirdelbach; deposed in 1126.
Conchobar Ua Briain 1141–1142 Member of the Uí Briain; gained kingship in 1141; died in 1142.
Ottar mac meic Ottair 1142–1148 Member of the Meic Ottair; gained kingship in 1142; slain by the Meic Torcaill in 1148; may not have reigned continuously from 1142 to 1148.
Ragnall mac Torcaill 1144×1146 Member of the Meic Torcaill; styled king on his death in 1146, which could be evidence that his reign interrupted that of Ottar; another possibility is that he was merely a subordinate of Ottar.
Brodar mac Torcaill ×1160 Member of the Meic Torcaill; killed in 1160.
Gofraid mac Amlaíb 1150s or 1160s Member of the Crovan dynasty; ruler of the Isles; held kingship of Dublin briefly at the behest of the Dubliners, although the chronology of his short reign is uncertain.
Ascall mac Ragnaill ×1170 Member of the Meic Torcaill; deposed in 1170; killed attempting to regain kingship in 1171.

^ Disputed * Speculative

Timeline of Kings of Dublin

Ascall mac Ragnaill Gofraid mac Amlaíb Brodar mac Torcaill Ragnall mac Torcaill Ottar mac meic Ottair Conchobar Ua Briain Conchobar Ua Conchobair Énna Mac Murchada Toirdelbach Ua Conchobair Domnall Gerrlámhach Diarmait mac Énna meic Murchada Domnall Gerrlámhach Magnus Barefoot Domnall Gerrlámhach Domnall mac Taidc Godred Crovan Donnchad mac Domnaill Remair Muirchertach Ua Briain Domnall mac Murchada Gofraid mac Amlaíb meic Ragnaill Toirdelbach Ua Briain Diarmait mac Máel na mBó Murchad mac Diarmata Echmarcach mac Ragnaill Ímar mac Arailt Echmarcach mac Ragnaill Sigtrygg Silkbeard Ivar of Waterford Glúniairn Amlaíb Cuarán Gofraid mac Sitriuc Blácaire mac Gofraid Amlaíb Cuarán Blácaire mac Gofrith Olaf Guthfrithson Gofraid ua Ímair Sitric Cáech Ímar ua Ímair Glúniarann Sichfrith Jarl Sitriuc mac Ímair Sichfrith mac Ímair Halfdan Ragnarsson Bárid mac Ímair Oistin mac Amlaíb Auisle Ímar Amlaíb Conung O'Brien dynasty Uí Ceinnselaig Uí Ímair Uí Ímair

See also

Slavery may be characterized negatively by an absence of judicial status, meaning that the slave was considered by law to be an object in a slave-owner’s possession rather than as a person in his or her own right. Status as a slave might be temporary or permanent, and although the actual procedures are not known, a slave could obtain status as a free person. There were three sources of recruitment for slaves: (1) prisoners of war, (2) debt slaves, and (3) children born of slaves. Medieval Irish sources for slavery are abundant but often treat the subject cursorily and non-systematically. A full picture of Irish slavery must therefore remain impressionistic in character.

The most common names for slaves in Irish were mug for male and cumal for female slaves. Cumal was also widely used as a unit of value for cattle and land. “Martyrologies” often refer to slave labor as an image of personal debasement. The vita of St. Senan tells of the men of Corcu Baiscind who were admonished to obey St. Senan to not suffer such hunger that “a man would sell his son and daughter in distant territories for nourishment.” A vita of the ninth century relates that St. Ciaran, a slave to the king, had to grind the grain every day. Slaves are never associated with husbandry but mainly with heavy agricultural labor such as sowing, harrowing, thrashing, and grinding.

Ship raids on Britain in the fifth century after the collapse of the Roman Empire provided prisoners of wars who were treated as slaves. These raids seem to have ceased as a result of the stabilization of Britain in the seventh century. Children born of these prisoners continued to be a source of an Irish slave population, although they are rarely mentioned in the idealistic status system depicted by early medieval Irish laws. Recurring mention of the sale of children in hunger years attests to the existence of “debat-slavery” as an institution throughout the early Middle Ages.

The effect of the Viking attacks and subsequent settlements was to accentuate slavery as a social institution.

Viking warfare did not respect the sanctity of monasteries and brought about a change in the norms of warfare, which included an acceptance to reduce prisoners of war to slave status. The Irish annals record 23 instances when Vikings took prisoners en masse, which must be taken as an indication of slaving operations. While hostages for tribute were termed geill, the annals refer to these prisoners as brat (captives). The early instances of Viking slave raids do not, however, indicate large-scale operations for a full-blown slave market, but rather seem to be spectacular acts of defiance and humiliation against the enemy. After the battle of Tara in 980, the king of Meath is reputed to have freed all the Irish slaves of Dublin, an act that was repeated by Brian Boru’s and Mael Sechnaill’s joint action on Dublin after the victory over Leinster and the mercenaries of Dublin in 999. During the first half of the tenth century, slaves were still a by-product of a particular kind of war, namely retaliatory actions and military adventures designed to vaunt the capabilities of the would-be successor. Overall, there is no evidence to suggest that the institution of slavery in Ireland and even in Dublin was anything more than a marginal phenomenon of luxury for the nobles.

However, in connection with the heavy expenditures caused by the struggle for the kingship of Ireland in the early eleventh century, Irish kings began taking captives in large numbers. In the decisive campaigns up to 1014, punitive actions seem to have greatly increased. The Cenel nEogain king Flaithbertach was the leading slaver in a number of actions on neighboring territories. In 1011, he united with the son of Brian Boru and allegedly took many cows and 300 captives (brait, a word hitherto restricted to Viking assaults) from the Cenel Conaill, and the following year he is credited with the largest booty any king had taken of captives and kine from the Ulaid. In later years, the annals repeatedly note the massive taking of prisoners, and more mundane events were changed by new attitudes to the defeated. Irish warfare had traditionally seen many plain raids that were not part of a larger political scheme but rather must be seen as seasonal traditional manifestations of the bravado of young warriors. This long-established custom was called crech, a prey or a raid for cattle. By the mid-eleventh century, the taking of captives also became part of these heroics. The rising power of the Northern over kings is marked in the annals by heavy exactions upon neighboring kingdoms. The Ua Conchobair kings of Connaught, who were at times near achieving total supremacy over Ireland, also practiced the new kind of warfare in their campaigns. The climax came in 1109, when Muirchert-ach of the Dal Cais mustered a large force against the Ui Briuin of Connaught and took many captives from the islands of Loch Oughter. The Ui Briuin took revenge upon Meath, the ally of Muirchertach, by burning, killing, and leading off many captives. The final blows to Dal Cais supremacy were accompanied by great predatory expeditions in 1115 and 1116, but the prisoners of the last campaign were released afterward as an homage to God and to St. Flannan of Killaloe—the patron saint of the Dal Cais.

What were the driving motives behind the massive taking of prisoners by Irish kings of the eleventh and early twelfth centuries? First, there was a striking similarity between the warfare of Dublin and Irish kings. Simple lessons of the humiliating function of massive imprisonment to the prestige of any king were well learned by the Irish, and it seems plausible that once learned, they put it to their own use. Further, Irish cattle raids and petty warfare between minor kings took on a far larger and more devastating character when the Irish invited Viking warriors for wars of conquest and paid them in kind by the wealth of the enemy, including prisoners of war. We know that the great struggles of the over kings for supremacy were largely decided by the use of naval fleets. These fleets were either indirectly controlled by the over king as a consequence of their control of Norse cities or they were hired from Norse settlements in Ireland or the Scottish Isles. The decline of Dublin’s political power forced many warriors either to settle or to take up freebooting, more or less out of control of the Dublin king. These half-independent warriors may have supplied the Dublin slave market with captives that had not been taken because of political complications, but simply for profit. From the middle of the twelfth century, we know that the Dublin fleet was hired for thousands of cattle that were driven to the city in payment. It is also conceivable that payment in the eleventh century was in slaves.

As the evidence stands, there is, however, no way to substantiate the hypothesis that the Irish captives of war were in fact sold to Norse slave dealers. What exists is a relatively clear-cut case that slavery became more widespread during the course of the eleventh century. We have much circumstantial evidence of the importance of slavery to Irish kings in eleventh century writings such as Lebor na Cert (Book of Rights) and Cogadh Gaedhel re Gallaibh. The distinction in these texts between male and female slaves reveals some functions of slavery. Female slaves are referred to as “full-grown,” “swarthy,” “fair,” “graceful,” and “valuable;” and the Leinster king is obliged to give “eight women whom he has not dishonored.” Male slaves are described as “lads,” “hard working,” “strong-fisted,” “willing,” “expensive,” and “spirited.” If we may deduce anything from these descriptions, the slaves seem primarily to have been intended for the household: as servants, concubines, mountebanks, and the drabants of the court. The old use of cumal for a female slave was evidently obsolete by 1100, and instead mna (daera) or the crude banmog were used. In the Leinster list, Dublin is entitled to “thirty women with large families”—an indication perhaps of the furnishing of Dublin warriors with concubines. Further, Lebor na Cert draws a clear distinction between native and foreign slaves (“foreigners who do not know Irish,” “women from over the great sea”), an indication that not only were slaves recruited by internal warfare but some were also supplied by foreign trade.

Ireland has no mineral wealth, and foreign luxury goods could be bought by Irish kings mainly for two export goods, cattle and people. Labor and concubines were in demand wherever a new elite had established itself, and hides for parchment were in strong demand. Tenth and eleventh century wars and not least the Norman conquest of Britain must have generated a strong market for the Irish commodities. Very little is known about the actual trade mechanisms and balances, but one indicator is the growing number of instances recorded in the annals of the taking of slaves by the Irish. In the eleventh century, Dublin was probably the prime slave market of western Europe, furnishing customers in the British Isles, Anglo-Saxon as well as Norse, and the Scandinavian countries. In 1102, however, Dublin’s slave trade to Bristol was prohibited on religious grounds, while the trade also seems to have been despised for its antisocial character. Demand in Scandinavia declined for the same religious and social reasons as it did in Britain. The trade and Irish slave raids seem therefore to have petered out in the early twelfth century. However, some trade must have continued, as indeed the Irish synod of 1170 welcomed the Norman Conquest as just punishment for the abuses of the slave trade. Slavery as such was not put to an end overnight, as we are well reminded by the synod of Armagh of 1170. Even as late as 1235, the mark of slavery was still felt by some people; in Waterford a man was known as Philippus Ley sing, Philip the manumitted, or freed slave.



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