The Ships of the Vikings
|One of the most important prerequisites for the expansion of the Vikings, were their ships. The Vikings became extremely capable naval architects and that applied to the famous longships as well as the more deep-draught freighters – the so-called “knarrar”.
Different Types of Ships
In virtue of a large fleet the Viking kings were able to rule large areas. As the Viking Age unfortunately is considered to be a militant period, it is a widespread misconception that the Viking ships exclusively were warships. This is clearly not the case. Of all the tens of thousands of Viking ships, which sailed the northern waters, only a small number were warships. The other ships sailed slowly, had a deep draught and were loaded with trade goods.
In the rich Icelandic saga literature we come upon lots of information on the ships of that age. In the following we only describe the types of ships, which are mentioned in the so-called Egil Skallagrimsson´s saga from the 10th century. As the main character of the saga, Egil, was an aggressive Viking, the longship figures frequently in the narrative. When the Icelander Arinbjørn for instance decides to go on a Viking raid, he equipped three large longships, which could carry 300 men. Another Viking, Torolv, launched a large longship. He manne dit with more than a hundred men, all of them fine and heavily armed. Egil himself had a longship, which could hold at least a hundred men.
The Vikings´ Ships
The Ships of the Viking Age
The Snekke and the Karv
However, there were also smaller longships. The above mentioned Torolv owns a longship, which can hold 60 men in the beginning of the saga. On it was dragon head and he equipped it magnificently. The ship type ”snekke” also belonged to the warship types. When Toroly and Eyvind Lambe were to visit king Harald they used that type of ship. ”They arrived with a twenty thwarted, well-manned snekke, which they had used for a Viking raid.”
Among the ship types, which were not warships, we find the term ”karv”. A karv had, even though it was a small ship, apparently given its owner a somewhat high status. It is apparent from the saga that these ships were painted on the exterior: ”They had a karv, which was rowed by twelve or thirteen men at each rail, and they brought almost thirty men with them. This ship they had taken on the Viking raid last summer. It was painted above the waterline and was beautiful. When they arrived in Tore, they were well received and stayed there for a while. The karv lay covered on the bank in front of the estate.” The small size as well as its high status is apparent from the saga, when they speak of Prince Rognvald´s ship. He had “a six year painted karv, with ten or twelve men, who always followed him.”
When it comes to merchant ships ”cargo ships”, ”skude” and ” knarr” are metioned. One of the cargo ships in the saga had a crew of twenty men. A skude had a thirty men crew and was very quick. The knar was the largest cargo ship, which were available to the people of the Viking Age. It had a deep draught and was weel suited to meet the great waves of the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. It was by means of knarrs that the Vikings and their families were able to populate the islands in the Atlantic Ocean, and because they were able to bring along live cattle. When Egil Skallagrimsson and his companion Kvællsulv once had to take off ”tow large knarrs were equipped for the journey. On each of them they had thirty physically fit men along with women and children.”
The War Harbour in Foteviken
In the Sound area Foteviken on the Scanian Sound coast forms a strategic situated natural harbour very likely for the Scanian war fleet. In the inlet´s mouth towards Høllviken they built an almost 300 metres long obstruction of stone and wood under the water. Only a small opening in the middle made it possible for a ship to sail through.
The obstruction at the mouth of Foteviken was found and partly examined in the beginning of the 1980´s. The place has been marked on a map drawn by hand as early as the 1680`s and was named ” Stiigan ”. The name alludes to the many wooden posts, which have been hammered down here. A year ring dating suggests that the construction may have been begun in the time of Harald Bluetooth and finished later. Later on stone was used to extend the obstruction. On the other side of the obstruction they had to row the ship almost a kilometre south in the deep channel, which runs in the otherwise shallow inlet. Finally they had to round a synthetic lake, before they reached the basin, which probably was here. Opposite the basin was the royal estate with a smaller chapel and the village. However, there have been no excavations in the exciting Viking Age environment.
Viking Ship with Soldiers