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Tuesday, November 22nd, 2005, 06:22 PM
Saxon slave whip is star of exhibit

Mon Nov 21, 2005 10:04 AM GMT


LONDON (Reuters) - A 1,000-year-old multi-tailed leather whip that was initially associated with the sex trade but more recently identified as a slave scourge is one of the stars of a new exhibition.

The whip, whose knotted thongs are reminiscent of the later cat o'nine tails used to discipline navy defaulters, was found during excavations of the rubbish pit of a London house dating back to the late Saxon period between 900 and 1050 AD.

The Museum of London, which is staging the exhibition exploring the city's mediaeval history, said the location of the find indicated it was not connected with any brothels, which were all elsewhere.

"The truth is less saucy but more scandalous," it said. "In the late Saxon period many of the population were slaves, working as household servants and farm workers.

"Slaves were flogged for minor offences, mutilated or killed for more serious crimes."

Far from being a consumer of imported slaves, the Saxons of London were running a thriving export trade -- particularly of Welshmen and pretty young girls -- to Scandinavia.

The whip is among more than 1,200 objects from children's toys to pointed shoes and household objects and including eye-witness accounts of Viking raids, the Black Death and everyday life in the teeming streets of the ancient port city.

There is also a range of beer tankards from an era when ale was safer to drink than either water or milk -- both of which were likely to be heavily polluted with sewage -- and far cheaper than imported wine.

However, observations from the period suggest that the habit also had a not unfamiliar downside -- not only was there widespread drunkenness on the streets of the city but unbecoming vistas of vast beer bellies.

The exhibition opens on Friday.


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