ambat (OSw) ambut (ODan) ambatn (OGu) ambátt (ON) ambot (OSw) ambut (OSw) noun

A female slave, a bondwoman, usually serving as a housekeeper or a housemaid. This was the common Nordic word for a female slave, the equivalent of þræl(l) for a male slave. There were, however, other words in use, particularly collectively: hemakona, huskona. The ON þý appears in GL in the words þybarn, þydotir, and þysun (q.v.) in reference to the children of slave women, usually those fathered by the householder. The ambat did the indoor work on a farm and despite their low status they appear to have been given time off after childbirth (ÄVgL Gb 6 §3). In GL (chapter 6) it states that if a slave (male or female) worked on a Holy day, the master of the slave was fined and the slave had their period of slavery extended by three years, which seems excessively harsh. It does indicate, however, that lifetime slavery was disappearing and that slavery was perhaps viewed more as a punishment for crime, a means of supporting oneself by voluntary subjugation, or a way of discharging a debt, rather than a ‘state’, although domestic slavery does not seem to have disappeared from Sweden until the beginning of the fourteenth century (Karras, 138–40). The deghia (q.v.) was the most senior female slave in the household with special duties and rights, the female equivalent of the bryti (q.v.).

bondmaid OIce Grg Rsþ 229
bondwoman OIce Grg Vís 111
ONorw FrL Mhb 5 Rgb 47 Kvb 20 Bvb 8
ONorw GuL Krb, Løb, Mhb, Tjb

female slave OGu GL A 2, 6
ONorw EidsL 7
OSw UL Mb, Kmb
OSw VmL Mb

female thrall OSw YVgL Äb
slave ONorw FrL KrbA 1
slave-woman OIce Grg Feþ 144, 156
ONorw EidsL 50.5
OSw SdmL Mb

thrall woman OSw ÄVgL Äb, Gb, Rlb, Tb
OSw YVgL Gb, Rlb, Tb, Add

unfree servant ODan VSjL 86 Refs:

Hertzberg, s.v. ambátt; Karras 1988; KLNM, s.v.v. kvinnearbeid, træl; Nevéus 1974, 26; Peel 2015, 120 note 16/23−26; Schlyter 1877, s.v. ambat; SL GL, 260−61 note 11 to chapter 16; SL UL, 125 note 93; SL VmL, 98−99 note 128; Stuard 1995, 4, 15, 16

  • ‘ambat’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.