Viking Ships

Viking Ships

Throughout the Middle Ages, Scandinavia employed Viking ships, which had a distinctive structural design. Depending on the purpose of the ship, the boat types varied quite a bit, but they were typically described as having slim and flexible boats with symmetrical ends and genuine keels. They were clinker constructed, which involves riveting together an overlap of boards. Although this is only assumed from historical texts, some could have had a dragon's head or other round item protruding from the bow and stern for design. Viking ships were employed for long-distance trade, exploration, and colonization as well as for war objectives.

The two main types of Viking ships that are typically depicted in literature are commercial ships and warships, with the latter looking like nimble "war canoes" with a lower payload capacity but a faster speed. Even so, certain cargo ships would also be included in battle fleets, so both groups are interconnected. The bulk of Scandinavian ships were of a lighter construction since ship routes mostly followed coastal waters, although a few varieties, like the knarr, could travel over the ocean. The Viking ships traveled from the Baltic Sea to locations distant from the Scandinavian homelands, such as Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and Newfoundland, as well as to the Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Africa.

The Viking ship's relatively light weight is one of its main advantages. This makes land transportation and portages simple, such as when entering or leaving the Baltic Sea by traveling over Jutland rather than around Skagen.

The Construction of Viking Ships

When you add together all the many parts of the process, building a longship was a massive project that took tens of thousands of hours of labor to finish. The ship's main body had to be constructed, the nails and other iron parts had to be forged and fastened in place, the tar had to be burned, the ropes had to be made, and the sail had to be woven and sewn. To achieve this shared objective, a sizable proportion of both men and women have to be working toward it.

Large quantities of premium wood were necessary for shipbuilding. Wood was used for more than only the ship's main body planks, including "treenails and wedges, oars, rudders, rigging blocks, gangplanks and bailers; for clamps, battens, stakes, beaches, and the stocks on which the boats were built; as well as for skids and launching ways."

Due to its extraordinary strength and flexibility, oak, which grows in southern Scandinavia, was the most sought wood for shipbuilding. In reality, the term "oak" was commonly employed as a metaphor for "ship" in Viking poetry. In the absence of oak, pine, maple, or birch were substituted. 

Instead of using a saw, the boards of Viking-age ships were cut with axes and wedges perpendicular to the wood's natural grain. They become more pliable and bendable as a result. They were then put together to create the ship's hull using the "clinker" or "lap-strake" method, which entailed overlapping the planks just enough to give the appearance of steps. After nailing the planks together, frames and ribs were added to the ship to guarantee that it would maintain its shape.

The most popular material for caulking between the planks to fill in any gaps was wool. Pine tar was then applied to the whole hull to make it watertight.

The lifespan of Viking ships that engaged in any substantial amount of battle and travel (as opposed to being merely trophies displayed by their owners) was limited to a few decades at most until they were no longer seaworthy and had to be replaced. In this way, they were similar to our autos.

Variety of Viking Ships

Vikings used a variety of different boats designed for the various levels of the river as they moved up rivers to trade and conduct raids. Although the Vikings' longships were very light, they could only travel so far upriver before the river became too shallow and narrow for them, forcing them to switch to smaller, shallower vessels. Even those boats would become too big and deep if they traveled far enough interior, at which point they would transition to dugout canoes fashioned from a single tree stump. To travel between rivers or to avoid hazardous stretches of a river, the Vikings might carry any of these smaller boats overland.

The Vikings also constructed specialized cargo ships that were substantially larger than their longships beginning in the eleventh century. These modern cargo ships were wider, and thus slower because of higher wind resistance, than the thin longships that were constructed to enhance speed in order to transport bigger cargoes.

Viking freight ships were capable of transporting between five and sixty tons of cargo. They were immensely useful for commerce and transportation since they could move more things than their forebears at a lesser cost. This included moving people, animals, and supplies to and from the Viking settlements on the North Atlantic islands.

Norse cargo ships relied on their sails for propulsion; while they may have had a few oars for maneuvering, they weren't enough to truly move the ship forward. They had greater capacity for freight because they were intended to be operated by a small crew. The crew was exposed to the elements, but the cargo was protected by water-resistant skins as if to accentuate this point. However, this was also true of the crew and cargo on Viking longships.

Importance of ships in Vikings' success

The mechanical excellence of the Vikings' shipbuilding contributed significantly to their success. They showed to have extremely quick ships. Despite the fact that the Vikings seldom ever fought in naval combat, these long, narrow ships could fit up to 50–60 rowers and a complement of soldiers, making them capable of transporting sizable forces quickly to favourable land positions. Viking ships could dock directly on sand beaches as opposed to mooring in heavily defended harbors because of their shallow draft. With documented attacks, Viking ships made it feasible to travel rivers in Britain and the Continent and to land almost anywhere on a shore a great distance up rivers including the Elbe, Weser, Rhine, Seine, Loire, Thames, and many more. The enormous system of waterways in Eastern Europe was also used by the Vikings, although they tended to conduct commerce rather than raids.

Depending on the available materials, the ships were mostly constructed of sturdy oak, though some also used pine. All of the boards were hewn, preserving the wood's natural grain and producing light, yet incredibly strong and flexible strakes. A single rudder at the stern was used for steering. The mast was rather short, which made rigging and unrigging quick. When the winds were favorable, the low mast, which was designed for speed, could frequently easily sail beneath bridges placed over rivers. Charles the Bald of West France built reinforced bridges between 848 and 877, and these masts were built to fit below them. These vessels only require a shallow draft of one meter of water. Because Viking longships were constructed with flexibility and speed in mind, Norse shipbuilders were able to create powerful yet beautiful vessels.

A common example of a typical Viking ship is the almost 28-meter-long, five-meter-wide Gokstad ship. In order to transport commodities, some of these longship variations were built with deeper hulls, but what they gained in hull depth and endurance they lost in speed and maneuverability. Unlike Drakkar warships, which were made to be swift, these cargo ships were made to be strong and robust. The Knörr are mentioned in skaldic poetry as being utilized as warships. Specifically, a Knörr being employed as a battleship is described in the poem "Lausavisor" by Vgfss Vga-Glmsson.


The Vikings made an increasing number of ocean trips as a result of these technological advancements since their ships were more seaworthy. However, the Vikings had to create reasonably accurate navigational techniques in order to travel across ocean seas. The majority of the time, a ship's pilot used conventional wisdom to determine the ship's route. To navigate, the Vikings mostly relied on prior knowledge of tides, sailing periods, and landmarks. For instance, researchers claim that the Vikings could identify a ship's orientation by spotting a whale. The observation of a whale served as a warning that land was nearby since whales eat in highly nutrient waters, which are frequently seen in situations where landmasses have driven deep-water currents into shallower areas.

However, some researchers have hypothesized that the Vikings also created more sophisticated navigational tools, such the use of a solar compass. At first glance, a wooden half-disc discovered on the coast of Narsarsuaq, Greenland, appeared to confirm this theory. The perforations etched onto the disc are disproportionately spaced, though, and additional examination of the device showed that it cannot actually serve as an accurate compass. It has been proposed that the device is really a "confession disc" that priests use to keep track of the number of confessions in their parish. Similar to this, historians and experts continue to disagree on how the Vikings used the sunstone for navigation.

A sunstone makes it possible to polarize light, making it a viable way to establish orientation. The sunstone has the capacity to reveal the position of the sun even when it is blocked by clouds by displaying the direction in which light waves oscillate. Only when the stone is held in a location with direct sunshine does the stone change color depending on the direction of the waves. Therefore, the majority of academics question the validity and believability of utilizing a navigational aid that can only discern direction under such constrained circumstances.

Viking sagas frequently describe expeditions when the Vikings were "hafvilla" (bewildered)—expeditions plagued by severe weather or fog, where they entirely lost their sense of direction. This explanation argues that when the sun was hidden, they did not utilize a sunstone. Furthermore, if the Vikings' abilities were mostly based on traditional knowledge, it would be assumed that they would have relied on prevailing winds to navigate as this similar confusion may occur when the winds died.

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