Viking Ships: Construction Methods, Navigation, and Sailing of Viking Ship

Viking Ships: Throughout history, tales of the Vikings and their adventures have been told. They were reported to have established numerous new towns and flourished throughout the world.

However, what made them famous, and who were they?

How did their ships affect the world, and what were they?

Discover everything there is to know about the renowned Viking ships in this article.

Who are the Vikings?

The Vikings were a warrior and maritime clan that left Europe in the seventh century. Although they were originated from Scandinavia, they swiftly spread throughout most of present-day Europe and the West Coast of North America.

They adhered to the Norse language and religious system, which dates back to the sixth century. They started converting to Christianity after the 12th century and finally settled in the Nordic nations.

Indeed, the Viking ships play a crucial role in both the history of Europe and the rest of the world. The Scandinavian Vikings were a highly developed warrior race that reached its peak during the eighth and eleventh century A.D.

Numerous historians have without hesitation referred to them as “conquerors of the sea.” This was mostly due to their role in the discovery of numerous previously uncharted territories, including Iceland, Russia, Greenland, Britain, and even Turkey. They also overran these territories, pillaged them, and established their dominance there.

As of right now, there are no legally recognized “Viking” communities. However, their ancestors, the Norsemen, who live primarily in countries like Denmark, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Sweden, still occupy a sizable portion of North-Western Europe.

The Value of the Ships to the Vikings

The primary and most notable characteristic of the Vikings was their fleet of ships. The Viking ships of the Middle Ages were well-built, resilient, elegantly designed, and, in many ways, ahead of their time.

The Viking civilization, which was founded on a strict code of honor to be upheld in both law and combat, depended heavily on the sea and their warships.

They constructed their boats to be both flexible and robust in order to explore the world between the eighth and eleventh centuries.

Planks were overlapped and fastened together with rivets and large nails to construct these boats. This method is called “clinker” planking.

One thing that first comes to mind when looking at images of Viking ships is their boats’ narrow, elegant curve.

The hulls of even the larger military and trade boats were smooth. It wasn’t known at the time, but we now know that smooth hulls of specific forms are necessary to lessen hydrodynamic drag on the ship’s surface. \

Because of this, the Vikings are frequently given credit for inventing useful ideas that resulted from studying nature.

Classification of Viking ships

Classification of Viking ships
(Credit: National Geographic)

In general, there were four main types of Viking ships:

a) The Faering- A rowboat for with 2 pairs of oars
a) The Knarr- A large vessel for transportation
b) The Karve- A relatively smaller vessel used for near coast sailing and exploration and
c) The Longships- Which were used as military battleships.

Whether the Viking ships were used for trade, exploration, or combat, their designs were what made them so distinctive in the Middle Ages.

Every vessel was distinguished by a prow figure or head. This was affixed to the bow of almost every ship, although only the finest classes of ships were granted this honor.

It was standard procedure on all warships because they thought it would give the Vikings superhuman strength and terror in the hearts of their opponents.

These prow figures have acquired the names “dragon head” and “serpent head” over time. In actuality, though, not every Viking ship possessed these unique heads. These were mostly made for battleships, as well as some nobles’ and officials’ vessels.

The Vikings were able to build enormous ships for trade and transportation even back then; some of these ships required thirty-five pairs of oars.

They had also started to use sails and wind power to move their swift warships and reconnaissance boats. Despite having complex mechanisms and designs, the Vikings managed to create speedy ships that were incredibly agile and simple to maneuver.

The Scandinavian landscape, which restricted inland road transit (until the invention of railroads and heavy machinery following the industrial revolution), was the reason the Vikings became experts in shipbuilding.

The Vikings were compelled by mountains and woods to rely on seafaring for both transportation and subsistence.

They became experts in creating multipurpose, swift, and seaworthy vessels over time. It was such a significant aspect of Norse culture that the sea or a Viking ship may be seen on many Nordic coins and symbols.

Vikings commanded the oceans in the early and middle ages, traveling to many new areas to establish settlements, colonies, and naval bases. It is said that Leif Eriksen landed on North America’s east coast and established a colony in what is now Massachusetts and Boston.

The Vikings held that the highest honor among them was for warriors and chieftains to be buried with their ships. Like the ancient Egyptians, they were buried with their belongings and dressed out. Chieftains buried in their ships have been discovered throughout multiple excavations. Nordic tribes have been following this custom since 400 BC.

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Viking Ship Types and Designs

Viking Ship Types and Designs
(Credit: ArchaeoFox)

Viking ships fulfilled several functions for the different groups that made up their society. Traders and dealers preferred sturdy crafts with a lot of storage.

For them, these two qualities were more important than speed.

Conversely, battleships needed to be strong and swift. They had to endure the effects of maritime fighting while simultaneously carrying multiple warriors.

Viking-class vessels

Two hand-pulled oar pairs propelled the Faering, a tiny boat. It was a clinker-type watercraft, similar to the rowboat of today, and it dates back to the eighth century. Four-oared sailing, or “faering,” was primarily limited to coastal waters. Other cultures also adopted it, using it for personal crafts, fishing, and trading.

The latter variants had a sail that could be attached if needed, although the earlier models could only be rowed. The location of the rudder was the primary distinction between the two designs of the vessel.

While oars function as rudders on the side of the boat, a stern-mounted rudder that could steer the boat was needed. Several complete Faerings are on display at European naval museums. It included subclasses like the Fembøring and the Sunnmørsfaering.

The Knarr was renowned for both its carrying capacity and maneuverability. Larger capacity cargo ships that frequently carried huge loads were referred to as the Busse; other large-sized ships in the same class have also been named as the Sud, Snekke, Skeide, and Drakkar.

Among these, the Drakkar were the warriors and officials of higher status, and as such, they possessed the traditional dragon-shaped head. Skute, Byrdling, and Ferje were a few other smaller-sized versions of medieval Viking ships that served different functions.

The Knarr was mostly used as a cargo transport ship. Its deep and broad hull made it easier to propel with fewer crew members. The medium-sized boats were more than 16 meters in length and could support up to 25 tons.

When supplies were transported to these Knarrs’ establishments in other Norse settlements, the North Atlantic region was their most frequent route. The Skuldelev 1, on display in Denmark, and the Askekarr, on show in Sweden, are the only two Knarr ships that have been found mostly undamaged.

Viking Ship Knarr

A type of longship known as a karve was employed for various tasks. They were similar to the Knarr type, but they also looked like a scaled-down longship.

Their wide hulls allowed them to transport heavy loads and soldiers over great distances. It was incredibly strong and resilient, able to endure the harsh Atlantic Ocean weather. They carried supplies for the front lines and landed men who formed the vanguard throughout wars and conquests.

Being extremely broad had the advantage of allowing for a suitable reduction in hull draft. Because of this, the Karves were able to land where other Viking ship types were unable to.

Additionally, they could transport cargo across the choppy and shallow Nordic coasts via ferry. Given the size of the vessel, Karves generally required a large number of personnel. These boats might have a beam (or breadth) of 17 to more than 20 meters. The public can view the Tune ship, which is on exhibit in Norway, to witness a Karve.

Last but not least, the Vikings’ most popular and favored means of maritime transportation were longships. In actuality, the longships are mentioned in the majority of the books and visual materials that we have on Norse civilization. Because of this, historians have come to assume that these ships were extremely adaptable and had several uses.

These were mostly utilized as naval vessels and for exploration. During the seven centuries that the Vikings ruled the oceans, it changed into many different kinds. The ordinary longship may reach a top speed of 15 knots, but its greatest reputation is its speed.

To put it into context, modern oceangoing vessels with sophisticated technology may attain speeds of up to 20 knots. Nevertheless, the longship was a well-proven naval vessel that only used sails and oars for propulsion.

The longship was long, sleek, curved, and shallow, which gave it its speed. This made it possible for the ship to pass along coasts where landings would normally be impossible.

The Vikings’ ability to land even on the most dangerous shores has led to the collapse of many a nation. The ship was incredibly light, however it could transport a lot of soldiers throughout the conflict. They may have set aside a small contingent to bear the ship on their shoulders.

These longships were distinct in that they were symmetrical about the midship. They were mostly reliant on rowing for steerage, thus they could be used either way. They could easily shift directions without having to physically turn the vessel around because to its double-ended design.

Large groups of oarsmen occupied the length of the vessel on each side, contributing significantly to the vessel’s tremendous speed. This made it possible for the longships to overtake other ships and transport sizable armies across oceans.

Several vessels were lined up and joined together when moving sizable cavalry or infantry formations. This served as a sizable platform that made it simple to move the troops and supplies. These longships were best distinguished by their dragon prow, which denoted their function as naval vessels.

Construction Methods, Navigation, and Sailing of Viking Ship

Construction Methods, Navigation, and Sailing of Viking Ship
(Credit: Wkipedia)

It might be argued that the Viking ships were both speedy and sturdy due to their unique design. With the meager technological resources at their disposal, they constructed ships with overlapping, thick wood planks, a single mast, and long, parallel oars. It is difficult to locate an engineering design like this among their peers.

As was already noted, this style of overlapping panel design is called “lapstrake” or “clinker.”

Oak was the chosen material for Viking ships, particularly the older types. The individual planks were split from the main trunk using a process known as splitting to make the planks. This method is not the same as just sawing the trunk to the required size and shape.

This is because split boards preserve the natural fibers that give the boat extra strength. The planks got more sophisticated as building methods were enhanced. It has been discovered that the thinnest plank utilized in seagoing vessels is as little as 2.5 centimeters.

Wooden ribs served as a foundation for the planks, forming the fundamental skeleton. The planks were then fastened together with overlapping rivets. Above the bottom layer would be a layer of boards to provide basic waterproofing.

The deck would follow this pattern. Moreover, a waterproof hull was created using caulking. The primary technique of fastening was with iron rivets.

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Despite its size, the entire construction was very manageable and flexible. Large warships carrying more than a hundred men were available, and the method was also applicable to smaller Faerings.

To go outside of Scandinavia, the Vikings also invented methods of navigating. This includes being aware of the many landmarks along the way, the direction of the tides, and the currents.

Whales were a unique way for the Vikings to tell when they were getting close to land.

High nutrition, which whales need, is found as currents migrate inland. Whales were a sign that they were getting close to shore.

In the vicinity of Viking archaeological sites, crude versions of sun-based compasses have also been discovered. There are stories of how Vikings frequently arrived at new locations simply because they were unable to determine the direction, but they were unable to create more precise navigating techniques.

Viking Ships Open to the Public

The majority of Viking ships are quite old, hence the quantity of intact ships is quite little. Over time, they rusted and were eaten into since they were constructed of wood and fastened together with metal rivets.

Most of the undamaged vessels that are currently on display for the public to see are housed in museums in the countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

The well-known ones are:1. Gokstad, spanning 23.3 meters in length
2. Oseberg, spanning 21.5 meters in length
3. Skuldelev vessels, which were 5 ships that were located together in Denmark
4. Tune, spanning 18.7 meters in length
5. Gjellestad site, where an ongoing exploration is underway as of 2020. The ship is believed to measure over 20 meters in length

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