A Brief Overview On Viking Ships And The Way They Were Built

The longships were doubtlessly the most fastest and durable vessels of the early Middle Ages. Thanks to the ingenious building skills of the Norsemen in regards to ship construction and crafting, the Norse longships were able to sail on turbulent and calm waters alike, traveling very long distances along the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the North Sea, the North Atlantic Ocean as well as on many other bodies of water.

Færings Bindalsfæring and Fembøring (of the Nordlandsbåd type) in the river Vefsna, Norway. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

These longships could drift on both high and shallow waters and could have the needed space for embarkment of various goods (i.e. silver, gold, wood, food stockpiles, etc.) in order to establish a colony in a newly discovered land. But there’s more to the longboats than being a mere means of transportation, since they were also used in burial rituals as well. The Norsemen would inhume their dead on a burning ship, with or without several goods or slaves on it (depending on the social status of the dead).

The Oseberg ship at Kulturhistorisk museum (Viking Ship Museum), Oslo, Norway. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

During the Viking Age, with these ships, the Norsemen crossed the North Sea and then subsequently the North Atlantic Ocean in order to establish settlements in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland, and even in modern day Canada, namely in Newfoundland around a thousand years ago. The Vikings set foot on American soil and spotted the North American continent long before Columbus did.

To differentiate the Viking longships, two major categories should be taken into account:

  • the ships pertaining to the needs for exploration and/or war (singularly known as ‘langskip’);
  • the ships pertaining to the needs for trading, scouting, fishing and sailing on the course of rivers (the ‘knörrs’).

Nevertheless, in Viking Age Scandinavia there were many other ship types including:

  • Karve (passenger ship);
  • Snekke (passenger ship);
  • Byrding (transport ship);
  • Drake (the most used war longship);
  • Skeid (war longship);
  • Busse (war longship);
  • Sud (war longship);
  • Faering (scouting ship/fishing ship).

The longships had the edges of their hull planks overlapped, meaning that they were clinker built. They had shields attached next to the place of the oars and they could also feature a dragon head. They were narrow, light and had usually up to 16 oars on both sides of a vessel. Below you can watch two informative videos on the Viking longship building process for the contemporary longship replica Draken Harald Hårfagre (i.e. Dragon Harald Fairhair/Finehair), named after the first king of Norway and constructed in Haugesund, Rogaland, close to the North Sea in south-western Norway:

Below is a 3D animation of a recreated Viking ship, a video presentation created for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History for the ‘Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga’ exhibit on the occasion of the millennial anniversary of the Viking landings in the New World at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, Canada.

The information about the Viking ships stems from the Icelandic sagas as well as from various archaeological findings from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. To date, the best preserved Viking ships are exhibited in two museums from Scandinavia: the first one in Oslo, Norway (housing the three best preserved Viking Age ships, namely the Oseberg, Gokstad, and Tune ships) and the other one in Roskilde, Denmark (housing the Skuldelev ships).

There are also other noteworthy museums in Scandinavia such as the one in Ladby, Denmark as well as the Birka Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, and last but not least the Lofotr Museum in Borg, Norway.

Documentation sources and external links:

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2 Responses to A Brief Overview On Viking Ships And The Way They Were Built

  1. […] Read More – Viking ships and the way they were built […]

  2. William Smith says:

    The birth of the Viking ship was on the Island of Gotland. Their construction jigs still remain and their location was next to the ancient timber line. Over 200 stone jigs indicate the ships had a common construction with a built in lunar compass. The oarsman on each side made 30 total windows that allowed the ship to keep the moon in its window for the 24 hours it took for the next mid day sun and then place the moon in the window counter clockwise for maintaining direction. These building stone ship jigs allowed the cross beams to be steamed and bent into the ribs construction needed. The early ships were covered with skins before the lapboard construction.

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