Servants in the Afterlife

To ancient peoples the afterlife was somewhat as in life and the deceased would thus want to take their favourite possessions with them. For a Viking freemen these would include weapons and riding equipment. A nobleman might also be buried with their wives, servants, warriors, slaves and animals. These practices occurred in many cultures around the world, most famously by the ancient Egyptians. The Hindu practice of suttee; where the wife of the deceased was burned alive with her husband’s corpse had been practiced for thousands of years before being put down by the British. The Japanese called the practice Junshi meaning ‘following the lord into death’ or ‘suicide through fidelity’. In Japan the practice was banned in 646 but instances occurred for over a thousand years. The ban was probably due to the importance of the people who followed the lord; as noted in the case of Shogun Tokugawa in 1651. Perhaps imagine the prime minister being followed in death by half the cabinet.

In 921, Ahmad Ibn Fadlan; an emmisary of the Abbasid caliph, travelled from Baghdad to the river Volga to meet with the Bulghar Khan. He kept an account of his journey including descriptions of the Viking Rus. The account describes the rituals of the burial of a Rus noble and of the sacrifice made of his servant girl by a fearsome, old witch; called the 'Angel of Death'. The funeral took place on the nobles' ship, upon which a bed matress was placed with Byzantine silk brocade. The man's favourite animals, which included a dog, horses and food animals, were killed in plain fashion and thrown onto the boat alongside his weapons. Next a servant girl, who had earlier volunteered for the sacrifice, visited in turn the tents of several other men whom she had sex with. In each case the man told the girl that what he had done was for their love of the dead chieftan.

The sex was because the Vikings believed that the embrace of death was an erotic one:

"the sexual rites with the slave girl show that she was considered to be a vessel for the transmission of life force to the deceased chieftain."

Steinsland & Meulengracht Sørensen 1998:89 through Wikipedia

As the slave girl entered the boat's pavillion with the dead man, it appears she began to panic and cry, and so the men began to beat their shields with staves to drown out the noise. They did not wish the other slave girls to hear her cries and be afraid to die with their own masters. She was forced into the pavillion by the Angel of Death and made to lay next to the dead man. She was then strangled with a cord by two men while the Angel stabbed her repeatedly between the ribs until she died. The boat was then lit and consumed by fire.

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