Viking Ships 1
Think Vikings – think the dragon-headed Viking Long Ship
The Viking ship are described by some scholars as perhaps the greatest technical and artistic achievement of the European dark ages. These fast ships had the strength to survive ocean crossings while having a draft of as little as 50cm (20 inches), allowing navigation in very shallow water.
Their unique structure, used in Scandinavia from the Viking Age throughout the Middle Ages, were a vital part of Viking society, not only as a means of transportation, but also for the prestige that it conferred on her owner and skipper. Their ships permitted the Vikings to embark on their voyages of trading, of raiding, and of exploration.
Images of ships show up on jewelry, on memorial stones, and on coins from the Viking age. Some people were buried in ships, or ship-like settings made of stones, during the Viking age.
Two different classes of Viking era ships were found: warships called langskip and merchant ships called knörr or knarr.
Typically, a warship is narrower, longer, and shallower than a knörr, and is powered by oars, supplanted by sail. The warship is completely open and is built for speed and maneuverability. In contrast, a knörr is partially enclosed and powered primarily by sail. Cargo carrying capability was the primary concern.
The Longships were slender and flexible boats, with symmetrical ends with true keel. They were clinker built, which is the overlapping of planks riveted together. Some might have had a dragon’s head or other circular object protruding from the bow and stern for design, although this is only inferred from historical sources. Viking ships were not just used for military purposes, but for long-distance trade, exploration and colonization.
A typical warship might have had 16 rowers on each side.
The crew’s shields may have been arrayed along the gunwales, held in place by a shield rack outboard of the ship. This kept them out of the way, but also provided some slight additional protection against wind and waves.
Several pieces of evidence suggest that shields were not routinely displayed while underway. On some ships, the shields interfere with the oarholes, preventing the oars from being used. Shield racks, to which the shields were fastened, were not robust, and probably were incapable of holding the shields securely in rough seas. Last, modern sailors of replica ships say they are very impractical.
Find out more
Viking Life by John Guy and Richard Hall (Ticktock, 1998)
Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age by John Haywood (Thames &Hudson, 2000)
Cultural Atlas of the Viking Age edited by Graham-Campbell et al (Andromeda, 1994)
Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings by John Haywood (Penguin, 1996). Detailed maps of Viking settlements in Scotland, Ireland, England, Iceland and Normandy.
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Hi, I’m Rob Shackleford. I am author of a number of novels, though so far only Traveller Inceptio and Traveller Probo have been officially published. As Traveller Inceptio looks at the fates of modern historical researchers sent to the early 11th Century Saxon world, Vikings do feature.
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