The Origins And Usage Of The Norse Longboats During The Viking Age

During the early Middle Ages, when the Norsemen commenced their campaigns of conquest and exploration throughout much of continental Europe and overseas, they built a wide range of longboats in order to navigate on seas, rivers, oceans, lakes, and channels. These Norse ships are mainly referred to as ‘drakkars’, but depending on the purpose for which they were built they also had various other denominations.

These vessels contributed to a large extent to the maritime supremacy of the Vikings during the Dark Ages, being thus reputed for their manoeuvrability and speed on all bodies of water. A classic Viking Age ship was 100 feet long and 25 feet wide and could carry a crew of almost 200 armed men with 50 oars, achieving speeds of 11 knots (or 20.372 kilometres per hour). Below is a top of the three main Viking vessels used during the Viking Age.

Reconstructed Viking Age longship at Puy du Fou historical theme park in western France. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

3. The Faering

Although not necessarily a longship, the Faering was one of the first types of ships to be built by the Norsemen in order to navigate on the coastlines. The term comes from Norwegian via Old Norse and it literally translates to ‘four-oaring’. Being an open boat, it has two pairs of oars and is very light. It is reminiscent to the Western and Northern parts of Scandinavia and was mainly used for fishing rather than navigation.

2. The Karve

The Karves were small Viking longboats which were used for transport and war alike. Because of their size, they were intensively used for coasting and they were extremely useful for stocking food, goods and weapons. Generally, the Karves had a maximum number of 16 oars.

1. The Knarr

‘Knarr’ stems from Old Norse and means a ship meant for long sea voyages, since it was mostly used as a merchant vessel. Its design is very much similar to that of the cog, another merchant ship used by the Hanseatic League in the Baltic Sea several centuries later. Below you can also watch a short documentary on how a Viking Age ship can be built and designed:

Documentation sources and external links:

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7 Responses to The Origins And Usage Of The Norse Longboats During The Viking Age

  1. Franck Blair says:

    like history really enjoy your site

  2. Melody Gjertsen says:

    Love the Norwegian history. So many interesting stories.

    • Victor Rouă says:

      Thank you, me too. I appreciate your positive feedback. Norwegian folklore is truly amazing indeed. My literary recommendation for you is definitely ‘East of the Sun and West of the Moon’ (there is also a beautiful a-ha album by this name) by Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe and illustrated by Danish artist Kay Nielsen. You can check it out on Amazon here:

      • its not really a norwegian fairy tale but a scandinavian one, very old. here is some info..Prince Hat under the Ground is the Swedish version of an old Scandinavian fairy tale. The Norwegian version is called East of the Sun and West of the Moon. It was collected in Småland or Blekinge by Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius and George Stephens and published in Svenska folksagor och äfventyr..

  3. Sarah Brumfitt says:

    How wonderful. I would have loved to worked on something like this.
    i was facinated to see that they didn’t use steaming.
    I saw a little clinker boat being constructed in the Scillies in the late 1950s and have remained intrigued ever since.
    I was brought up on “East of he Sun and West of the Moon”, Oh those illustrations!
    Thank you so much for letting me see this film. Congratulations all round.
    Sarah Brumfitt ( Morton)

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