What is a Viking Ship?

written by: Raunekk • edited by: Lamar Stonecypher • updated: 1/30/2010

Viking ship is a kind of ancient ship which was used by a group of Scandinavian people known as Vikings. Viking ships are supposed be known as one of the best ships of ancient time, mainly because of their usual design and great sea going capabilities.Read inside the article to know more about them.

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    Viking Ship

    Viking ship is an ancient ship which was used by a group of Scandinavian people known as the Vikings. Made from wood and generally used for fishing and trading activities, Viking ship is supposed to be known as one of the greatest achievements of ancient shipbuilding. Viking ships are still famous around the world for their extraordinary design and constructional features.

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    Who were the Vikings?

    Vikings as mentioned earlier was a name given to a group of Scandinavian people who got famous as seafarers and innovative shipbuilders. Though Vikings were not the first people to make ships, they definitely made some of the most magnificent ships ever made in the ancient time. Vikings ruled the coasts of Europe and various other parts of the world from eighth to the eleventh century.

    As time passed, Vikings started making more and more robust ships which helped them to spread their empire to far off places. They also discovered some of the best known weapons and techniques which made them famous as warriors, apart from seafarers and shipbuilders. However, today Vikings are remembered as talented shipbuilders and innovative architects.

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    Viking Ship Design

    Viking ships were basically wooden ships made out of oak, a type of wood which was abundantly found in the Scandinavia at that time. Viking ships were made for different purposes and it is said that no two Viking ships were of the same type and design. However, there are a few characteristics that were found in each and every Viking ship, and which in fact made them distinct and famous. Though initially made for carrying cargo and fishing, Viking ships were later also made for war purposes.

    Almost all Viking ships were provided with a dragon face or a protruding structure at the front and stern of the ship. The wooden carved dragon and snake head was the main characteristic of Viking ships; however, the significance of the feature is still not known. Some of the historians and expert believe that the dragon shaped faces were attached to the front of the ships to drive away enemies and sea creatures, or was considered as a symbol of great strength and power. Some people still call Viking ships as “dragon ships."

    As far as the design of the ship is concerned, the hull was made by an “overlapping plank method" wherein wooden planks were overlapped one above the other and joined together using iron rivets. However, to retain the flexibility of the ship, some of the Viking ships had their hulls attached to the ship’s main frame using horizontal beams instead of conventional iron nails. Moreover, the overlapping plank method as such made the ship robust and flexible.

    All the types of Viking ships had a common design feature. They were made pointed at both the ends and had additional width towards the center. This made them more suited for shallow waters and provided greater safety. Moreover, Viking ships were mainly run my wind power and thus had sails, usually one per ship. The sails were usually square in shape and were made out of wool. However, most of the ships also carried oars to help in propulsion during lesser winds. It is to note that Viking ships didn’t have specially designed seats for the crew in order to use the oars. Therefore, the crew used to sit on sea chests or movable wooden benches to row the ship. The ship also had a huge paddle at the stern and towards the starboard side, which helped in steering the ship.

    Viking ships are still famous for their architectural style and constructional methods. Experts and researchers still use them as reference for understanding and innovating new concepts and methods.

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