leysingi (ON) leysingr (ON) noun

A freed slave was a person whose freedom was limited or imperfect. The man was variously termed frælsgivi (OSw), frælsgive ODan) and frjálsgjafi (ONorw) (freed slave, freedman), the woman frælsgiva (OSw) and frjálsgjafa (ONorw) (freed woman, freedwoman). It should be added that the word frjálsgjafi in OIce (Grg) means ‘freedom-giver’. A different set of terms was leysingi and leysingja. Among free men, frjálsgjafar and leysingjar occupied the lowest rank in society with respect to personal rights and social status. The difference between the two categories was marked by the frelsisǫl (freedom ale).The frjálsgjafi (OIce grefleysingr) was a person whose manumission had been granted, but not confirmed (made public). Until he had given his freedom ale, he ranked below the leysingi. (This terminological distinction was not always strictly observed: the word leysingi was sometimes used to denote frjálsgjafi as well.) Nevertheless, frjálsgjafi and leysingi belonged to the same class with respect to the system of compensation for insults etc. (bǿtr, see bot).

The leysingi could attain a practically free status either by giving his freedom ale or by other means (e.g. through performing extra work, or having his freedom granted by others). In ODan and OSw laws — with the exception of ESjL — manumission presupposed that the slave to be freed was adopted into a free kin. Still a freedman had a lower status in society. With respect to compensation for offences, whether suffered or performed, he was worth less than a (completely) free man. Although his master had to provide him with a place where he could live, the master inherited the frælsgivi and could decide whom the latter was allowed to marry. When he got old, he had to rely on the care of the church. In any case, the act of manumission had to be confirmed by oath and later announced in public, either at the assembly or in the church.

ON laws also show that the freedman was not entirely free from dependence on his master. His disability in this respect was inherited in the form of special loyalty commitments (þyrmslir) (which might end after twenty years). His freedom was also restricted in other respects. He could not leave his fylki (q.v.) without his master’s permission (GuL ch. 67). If he had not given his freedom ale he could not make any bargain that exceeded the worth of one ertog, i.e. 1/3 eyrir (GuL ch. 56), in the FrL 6 counted aurar (Kvb ch. 23); his master made decisions about his marriage (GuL ch. 63) and inherited from him. The children of a freedman could not inherit from him, unless the freedman was married to a freedwoman and they had both given their freedom ale (GuL ch. 65). The master was also responsible for his freedman’s contribution to the levy, if the latter could not pay (GuL ch. 296).

His right to compensation (in case of injury) was 6 aurar (GuL ch. 200), half of what the bóndi (householder) could claim. According to the BorgL he was buried in the quarter leysingjalega, which was farther from the church than (and inferior in rank to) the quarter where the householder was buried. The EidsL (I 50) has a similar provision.

The system of slavery implied in this terminology was gradually abolished. The GuL (Krb ch. 4) states that the assembly each year had to give one slave his freedom, and slavery seems to have disappeared in Norway towards the end of the twelfth century. In Sweden, slavery disappeared gradually under the influence of the church and the king. An important step in this direction was marked by the Skara stadga (1335). In Denmark slavery disappeared in the thirteenth century. In Iceland slavery was never officially abolished, but seems to have disappeared in the twelfth century.

freed slave ONorw EidsL 48.3
freedman OIce Grg Vís 96 Bat 113 Arþ 119, 127 Ómb 128, 134 Feþ 146
ONorw FrL Mhb 4, 49 ArbB 10 Rgb 35 LlbA 15 Bvb 1
ONorw GuL Krb, Kvb, Løb, Llb, Arb, Mhb, Leb

fully freed slave ONorw BorgL 9.5 12.6
ONorw EidsL 50.3

Helle 2001, 125−32; Hertzberg s.v.v. frjálsgjafi, leysingi; Iversen 1997, 41−43, 190−91, 199–204, 210–28, 235–40, 258−65, 281–84; KLNM s.v.v. böter, leysingi, stænder, årboren mann; Nevéus 1974, 46−50, 80−86, 102−05, 128−31, 150−56, 162, 165; RGA2 s.v. freigelassene; Robberstad 1981, 348; Strauch 2008b, 250–53; 2016, 35–37

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

  • http://www.dhi.ac.uk/lmnl/nordicheadword/displayPage/3193