Vikings Part 1 Battle Part 3
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Part I




n the eight hundred years or so years that had elapsed since the invasion of the Romans, with their cultured ways and developed society, Britain lapsed into the dark ages again on their departure. Following on, came the Saxons. It took another four hundred years before the enlightenment was to return. The Christian faith, protected from total annihilation by the persecuted Celts, survived to become the overriding influence on England's re-emergence from the barbaric quagmire it found itself in. By the end of the eighth century, the country was close to being at peace, until the arrival of a powerful force of people from the north. These people were called the Vikings.


Who were the Vikings ?

generic term that encompasses invaders from the countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway. A seafaring people who at their height, were in control of much of northern Europe and made inroads as far south as Constantinople. Viking sailors were credited with discovering America and travelled deep into Russia. There seemed no place in the northern hemisphere that was beyond them and their longboats. We are concerned with their regular visits to Britain and the effect it had on her people. Many peoples impressions of the Vikings are of vicious, murdering, pagan barbarians. Although ruthless, I hope eventually to dispel the myth and include some of their good points, including their culture and contribution to the heritage of Britain.

Viking Map

Norway, Denmark and Sweden. The origin of the three Nordic races who collectively became known as the Vikings.


Why were they called Vikings ?

he origin of the name Viking is rather vague. It is thought to have originated from either the old Norse word vik, which means a creek or inlet ( of which there are many in Scandinavia ). The other may have been derived from an old English word, distorted from the Latin, wic. A wic was a place to trade, a camp where trading would take place or similar. The exact derivation is not known.


What qualifications were needed to be a Viking ?

Viking would be male, usually between the ages of fifteen and fifty. He would have to be physically strong, as the mode of transport was the longboat, which in earlier times relied more on muscle power than wind power. It could be considered a form of national service to be a crew member on such a boat. The ability to fight bravely was a prerequisite as many battles were amongst themselves. A Viking sea battle would consist of each opposing flotilla tying their boats side on and sailing towards one another head on. When the boats collided, they would fight until one side was victorious or they were totally exhausted or they could not pass over the dead bodies in front of them. A sense of adventure helped combined with a get rich quick philosophy. What percentage of the male population became Vikings is open to question, but I assume only the strongest and fittest with the right character were acceptable for these expeditions.


The Viking longboat

o description or story of the Viking people can be undertaken without a reasonable in depth study of the longboat. So much of their culture and legend surrounds them, but what are they and how were they built? To answer this question it is necessary to go back to the Bronze Age. The first boats made were probably skin covered frames dating back 3000 years. The next development was the clinker or planked boat. The earliest was discovered in a bog in southern Denmark. Named the Als boat or Hjortspring boat, it was a long, narrow bottomed with five overlapping planks tied together and probably made waterproof with pitch or tar soaked skin and would have been constructed around 350 B.C . It would be powered by paddles rather than oars. The next development was the Bjorke boat, found close to Stockholm. Dating to 100 A.D, this was a departure, as it was a carved out log with clinker board attachments. This would have been much stronger. From a bog in Jutland in 1864 was found a boat dating back to 400 A.D. Called the Nydam boat, This was a departure from anything that predated it. It was quite a large boat, much larger than would be required to simply ferry backwards and forwards between islands. It was clinker built out of oak with a single one piece keel. It had thirty positions each side for oarsmen and a paddle on the starboard side to act as a rudder. The find being in Jutland would indicate that it was constructed by the Jutes who originated from this area. Never the less it was the forerunner of the famous longboat that is popularly known today. This style of boat would have been used by the pirates who invaded Britain following the departure of the Romans in 410 A.D. With that many oarsmen it was probably capable of at least ten knots. This boat can be seen today in the Schleswig-Holstein museum in Schloss Gotturp. The most famous of all discoveries in England was of the Anglo Saxon longboat found at Sutton Hoo in 1939. It was a longboat 24 metres in length enclosed in soil ( barrow). Within the boat was found golden artefacts and other precious treasures. Strangely, no remains were found inside. It was thought to have been buried as a cenotaph to Raedwald, a powerful East Anglian king of the 7th century.


he next example of a pre Viking longboat was discovered in Kvalsund in southern Norway. Dating back to around 700 A.D. In a rotted state, it had a more complex keel. Designed to be rowed, as no evidence of a sail, mast or mast mounting was found in it. From this clinker build design can be seen as the progression to the full blown Viking longship.


wo fine examples of the definitive Viking longboat were found in Gokstad and Oseberg. The Gokstad ship as an example was found in 1880 in blue clay which preserved it in excellent condition. The boat dates to the mid 9th century and was preserved as a deliberate act. Unlike the Sutton Hoo burial mound, It was placed into a pre dug trench and the clay piled on top. It contained the body of a large Viking and many of his possessions including horses, dogs, a peacock and various weapons. The boat measured just over 23 metres long by 5 metres wide by 2 metres high. Clinker built out of oak, it weighed about 7 tons unloaded. This ship was a departure from the earlier examples because it was fitted with a central mast of pine which was used for a square sail of woven cloth. It had a starboard paddle for steering and holes in the sides for 32 oars ( 16 each side ). The oars were made of spruce and of different lengths to compensate for the profile of the boat so that they would be able to row in synchronicity. There were no seats or benches fitted because they would sit on their possessions which may have been contained in a sea chest of sorts. There were 64 circular shields found on the Gokstad boat. This would indicate two men per oar which would give the boat a good turn of speed if required. It was more likely that the crew were split into two. One would row whilst the other rested, ate and slept. The introduction of the sail, opened up the northern hemisphere to these people. What made the Vikings intrepid explorers and invade Britain and other countries is open to speculation. To the people in England the Viking age started in 793 and ended in 1066. The story begins in part 2.


Vikings Part 2

Vikings Part 3

Vikings Part 4

Vikings Part 5

Viking Photographs


copyright Glen Ray Crack - Battle - East Sussex - United Kingdom
Submitted 10th January 1998
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