What would have been the equivalent of high-tech a thousand years ago? The fast-moving Viking ships, perhaps? These advanced constructions helped to build cultural coherence in Europe, and they were also crucial in the process of unifying the Norse tribes into a state.
The Vikings put their mark on northern Europe forever, and the many remains of their culture can transform any holiday into an adventure.
The Viking period began in the year of 793 with the attack on the Lindisfarne monastery in England, which is the first known Viking raid. The occasion that marks the end of their glory days is the killing of king Harald Hardrada at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066.
The Vikings are mostly known for their relentless robbing, and rightly so. At the same time, many of them lived peacefully as traders and farmers, and many expeditions were based on barter deals. Those who stayed away from seafaring robbery to work from home supported their families by simple farming activities. Their daily life might have been tough and demanding, but it was not without joy. The most well-known Viking drink is mead (“mjød” in Norwegian), an alcoholic beer-like brew sweetened by honey.
The explorers brought their cultural identity to continental Europe, but they also imported foreign cultures, languages and knowledge. By the 1100s, the Vikings were weakened due to domestic disputes and resistance from other European countries, which had painfully learnt to defend themselves against attacks by building fortified targets.
Top speed? On a good day, the rowers could move at around 15 to 17 knots.
The swiftness of the Viking ships is key to understanding how these warriors could gain such a sudden and surprising momentum. Their maritime innovations provided a link between northern and southern Europe, which had a strong effect on the continent.
The architecture of the Vikings’ archetypical vessels, known as longships, was adopted by several other cultures and influenced ship construction for centuries. In general, overlapping planks of oak were nailed together and protected by layers of tarred wool and sometimes animal hair.
The secret behind the fast-moving longships was the long, narrow body, kept stable by a keel. Light enough to be carried, it was designed for speed and easy navigation in shallow waters. The longship was double-ended, allowing it to reverse direction without the need to turn around. This was a significant advantage in a sea filled with concealed icebergs and sea ice.
Longships had oars along almost the entire length of the boat, and later versions combined rowing power with sailing power.
Here, you can walk around the world’s best preserved Viking vessels and smell the scent of the tar of the Oseberg ship, the Gokstad ship, and the Tune ship.
What about women’s rights in Viking history?
Well, women are said to have had a stronger position in Viking society than in most other parts of Europe. They usually had the right to divorce, and if their spouse passed away, they would inherit him and could keep his belongings. In part, they were protected by law against sexual harassment and a woman was respected as the head of the farm when her husband was away, which he could be for a long time. Today’s growing appeal of the Viking culture is not only based on the image of them as relentless sea warriors, but also because of the way they lived and developed a new and more modern society.
Visit historical sites, take a sea voyage in a Viking ship, or go all the way and be a Viking for a day.