History Podcasts

Nydam Ship

Nydam Ship


Nydam Moor

Nydam Moor or Nydamer Moor (Danish: Nydam Mose ) is an approximately twelve hectare moor area near Øster Sottrup , about eight kilometers from the town of Sønderborg on the Sundeved peninsula in Sydjylland . The moor was used in the Roman Iron Age as a sacrificial moor for numerous items of equipment and ships and is one of the richest explored sacrificial sites of the Iron Age.


Nydam Ship - History

11,700 BC). Fertile marshlands - albeit prone to flooding - in the west are followed by the sandy geest formation in the middle, and the uplands to the east. Those are a landscape of low hills and lakes, bays and firths, and bogs. The land had been settled since the Neolithic Age, but it would be the people from the Iron Age who left behind the most interesting remains in form of bog sacrifices. Among those is the famous Nydam Ship.

The Nydam Ship
The Nydam Ship - a rowing boat without additional sail - dates to AD 320. She is made of oak timber, 23.7 metres long and 3.5 metres wide midships with space for 32 men to row her (2).

It is by ships like this the Angles and Jutes came to England. Imagine a fleet of those, some even larger, arriving at the shore close to your village, the crews brandishing the spears and swords also found in the bog. In AD 320 you could at least hope the local Roman garrison was on alert, but a hundred years later you might wonder if the Picts were really that bad. *wink*

AD 200-450. Another oak ship found at the site had been cut to pieces, but this one remained complete. A third find consisted of a complete ship made of pine, but it was lost during the Schleswig War in 1864. Parts of another, even larger oak ship have been discovered in 2011, but there are currently no plans to salvage it (4). The ships have been buried with lots of weapons and arms in what had then been a shallow lake. The lake silted over and the developing peat bog offered ideal conditions for the preservation of both wood and metal.

Seen from the 'bow'
When the ship was salvaged, some parts were missing or in such a bad shape that they had to be replaced with new ones when the ship was salvaged and restored. But the hull of the Nydam ship survived pretty much intact. It was constructed in clinker technique with overlapping planks, or strakes, above the keel. They were fixed by iron rivets (5). The planks had clefts left standing when they were cut, to which the frames that were lashed. The keel (14.30 metres long and 57 cm wide midships to 20 cm at the ends) was made from one piece of oak, but the strakes were scarved and consisted of more than one plank. The equally shaped bow and stern posts were interlocked with the keel. Caulking was done by wool soaked in sheep's tallow and birchwood pitch.

45 cm) since the boat came in contact with dry air. Its shape is not entirely correct as measurements undertaken in 1995 show: the prow should be higher, the draught deeper and the inside more V-shaped, but due to the altered condition of the wood, the ship cannot be taken apart and reassembled in its correct shape.

View to the inside
Only some bits of the frames - originally single pieces of oak each - survived, though we know by the clefts that they were set p about one metre apart. In the middle of the ship, each plank had two clefts, as does the keel towards bow and stern the amount of clefts decreases.

It is assumed that the ship was weighted by ballast stones. Recently, parts of a deck, a layer of planks and wickerwork, resting on transverse sticks, have been excavated. A deck between the ribs and the rowing benches would have been necessary for the rowers to put their full power to the oars. The rowing benches are reconstructed as well they were held by vertical wooden supports and about 30 cm wide (smaller in the middle). The ship would have required 15 oarsmen on each side.

Rowlocks fixed to the gunwale
The gunwale on the 'port' side and the rowlocks also survive mostly in fragments. The rowlocks are interesting because they were crafted separately and latched to the gunwale. The rowlocks were made of forked branches from alder and birch, woods that are soft enough to counter the pressure from the hard ashen oars, and they could be easily replaced in case of wear. The second, chopped up oak boat found in the Nydam bog had its rowlocks cut into the oaken gunwale.

Engelhardt only discovered fragments of oars, but a dig in the 1990ies recovered about 20 oars in a pretty good condition. Some of them are assumed to have belonged to the Nydam Ship. They were made from radially split stem wood of the ash, about 3 metres long and with slim blades. Their shape and the short horizontal distance between rowlocks and thwart points at a rowing technique with short, quick strokes different from later Viking ships.

Two restored original rowlocks on display in the museum
The side oar attached to the ship is a copy, but the original blade survived albeit in bad condition. It is 55 cm wide with a sharp aft edge and a thicker, rounded fore edge.

Since both the steering oar and the rowlocks are only attached by ropes, they could be shifted to change the direction of the ship with its symmetrical bow/stern, though we don't know if that was actually done (fe. on a river too small to turn the ship).

Remains of oars and frames discovered in 1863
You may have noted the carved heads on the photos their light coloured wood sticks out in contrast to the dark boat. The bearded, cap wearing heads also have been discovered during the 1990ies dig. They rested on posts and were likely attached to the gunwale the way they are displayed today. Their function is not entirely clear.

The finds also included several hand bailers. The best preseved original is currently shown in Copenhagen. Remains of rope have been found as well. Parts of an iron anchor discovered by Engelhardt are lost today, but some drawings of the finds exist.

Reconstructed hand bailer
Whoever built the Nydam Ship had taken a close look to Roman ships from the time. Contact was likely established at the Dutch coast which was then part of the Roman province of Germania inferior, or in Britain. The clinker technique and the caulking with textiles were used by the Romans, as well as the frames to strengthen the hull, and the scarfing of bow and stern to the keel. The anchor fragments show Roman influence as well. I wonder why the people who built the Nydam Ship did not also copy the concept of having a sail in addition to the oars (6).

AD 320 according to dendrochronological dating, and deposited in the bog in

AD 350. But after her discovery in 1863, her journey was not at an end, due to the political situation. Engelhardt prepared the ship and other finds for an exhibition in Flensburg, but the Schleswig War between Denmark and Prussia in 1864 forced him to store the ship in an attic. After the war, the town of Flensburg and Engelhardt's collection were given to Prussia. The ship was moved to Kiel where it again languished in an attic. It took until 1925 to present the ship and the other finds in the Museum vaterländischer Alterthümer in Kiel. During WW2 the Nydam Ship was removed to a lake near Mölln (south of Lübeck) where it was hidden on a barge. After the war, Denmark claimed the ship and the other Nydam finds since the bog lies on Danish territory, but the Allies allowed it to remain in Germany. The ship was moved to Schleswig where it is exhibited since 1947. It got a new hall in 2013 (7)

Another view from the side
A new excavation campaign was launched by the Danish National Museum (Institute of Maritime Archaeology) from 1989 to 1997 in order to look for remains missed by Engelhardt and new finds. The campaign was pretty successful and Copenhagen got its share of interesting things from the bog. But the main exhibition is still the one in the State Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Palace in Schleswig. Including lots of weapons I'm going to present in a future post.

View from the bow with the steering oar
Footnotes
1) You can find Hamburg easily. North from there right into the peninusla, you will come across Schleswig and Flensburg (and, slightly east of Flensburg, Sønderburg with the Nydam Bog). North-east of Hamburg you'll touch Lübeck and if you go east from there along the coast, you'll come across Wismar all the way to Stralsund, the great towns of the Hansa League. South of Lübeck is Lüneburg which I've mentioned several times as possession of the Welfen dukes of Braunschweig.
2) I've found a crew of 45 mentioned on the internet, but I rather rely on the book by Abegg-Wigg.
3) Today's borders. The Schleswig peninsula was contested between Germany and Denmark for centuries, the frontiers moving to and fro with several wars.
4) The ship is larger and older than the Nydam Ship. Modern Archaeology doesn't always need to dig big holes and drag everything out to gain information, and therefore the ship will remain as long as the bog is the best way to preserve it.
5) The rivets have been replaced with new ones, but in case of the bog conserved Nydam Ship iron doesn not pose the same danger to the timber as in the salt water conserved Vasa.
6) It would be interesting to compare the Nydam Ship with the remains of the older one still in the bog and check that one for Roman influences, or lack thereof.
7) The Nydam Ship was lent to Copenhagen in 2003/04.

Literature
Angelika Abegg-Wigg: Das Nydamboot - versenkt, entdeckt, erforscht. Schleswig, 2014
Michael Gebühr: Nydam und Thorsberg, Opferplätze der Eisenzeit. Schleswig, 2000


On the mighty oak

An oak in its prime is a marvel of nature. Throughout history, oak trees have contributed to human history in the form of material for artefacts such as the Bronze Age oak-coffins in Denmark, the Iron Age Nydam Boat, the Tudor warship the Mary Rose, countless beams in medieval cathedrals and Elizabethan housing, and picture frames.

Today, dendrochronology can provide some answers to how oak was used throughout the ages. Thus, Aoife Daly who wrote her PhD thesis on oak ship timber in northern Europe is now beginning to combine dendochronological analyses with archive material in order to determine the geographical area from which the timber originated, as well as to pinpoint the age of the tree, and when it was felled.

Oaks feature in history, myths, legends and fairy tales. Tales abound of the sacred oak of Zeus in Dodona Thor’s oak in Gaesmaer of how Robin Hood and his Merry men cavorted among the oaks of Sherwood Forest or of Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree that starts off as an oak tree with acorns.

The future King Charles II is said to have hidden himself in an oak tree after the Battle of Worcester in 1651 in Boscobel Wood and after the Restoration, the 29th May was celebrated as Royal Oak or Oak Apple Day for about two hundred years. Obtaining enough supplies of oak for the sailing ships of the British navy meant that oak figured in the foreign policy of the British Empire. And the walls of the House of Commons are panelled in oak.

Here in Denmark, too, the oak tree was once revered until a few centuries ago when the beech tree became the focus of poetical imagination. For instance, Hans Christian Andersen once wrote a tale about the last dream of an old oak tree.

Oaks were felled in their hundreds of thousands to build ships for the powerful Danish navy over the centuries. Apparently it took about 2000 oak trees to build a single ship of the line leading to the decimation of huge amounts of oak trees in the 18th century.

Today, a highly symbolic oak is found in the Folketinget, the Danish Parliament, in the form of its rostrum. A huge tree trunk, which once had been the fundament of Lendemarke windmill, was presented in 1916 by its new owner, the Liberal politician Frede Bojsen to the Folketinget, and craftswoman Anny Berntsen Bure, one of Denmark’s first female cabinetmakers was given the honour of making the rostrum, which she did beautifully without the use of a single screw or seam.*

An act of enormous symbolism, as just a year earlier, in 1915, women had finally gained the right to vote in Denmark.


Construction

After several centuries of evolution, the fully developed longship emerged some time in the middle of the ninth century. Its long, graceful, menacing head figure carved in the stern echoed the designs of its predecessors. The mast was now squared and located toward the middle of the ship, and could be lowered and raised. The hull&rsquos sides were fastened together to allow it to flex with the waves, ensuring stability and integrity. The ships were large enough to carry cargo and passengers on long ocean voyages but still maintained speed and agility, making the longship a versatile warship and cargo carrier.

Selection of wood

Wood was the fundamental material of the longship: it was used in every part of the ship, from the planks for the hull to the mast and oars. The Vikings had developed the selection and cutting of wood to a fine science. They made planks by splitting huge oak trees. The trunks were cut radially from tall trees, which contained few knots. The planks had exceptional strength, due to the fact that they were cut following the grain of the wood. The planks also were cut in such a way that they did not shrink or warp as they dried. Shipbuilders used fresh-cut trees rather than seasoned timber because it was easier to work. Curved pieces were made from trees that had grown naturally in that shape. This allowed the part to be made from a single piece of wood, cutting down the weight of the ship. About 100 oak trees were used to build a longship.

Keel, stems and hull

The Viking shipbuilders had no written diagrams or standard written design plan. The shipbuilder pictured the longship before its construction, and the ship was then built from the ground up. The keel and stems were made first. The shape of the stem was based on segments of circles of varying sizes. The next step was building the strakes &ndash the lines of planks joined endwise from stern to stern. Nearly all longships were clinker built, meaning that each hull plank overlapped the next.

As the strakes reached the desired height, the interior frame and cross beams were added. The parts were held together with iron rivets, as well as spruce strips that were fastened to the ribs inside of the keel. Longships had about five rivets for each yard of plank.

The longships&rsquo wider hulls provided strength beneath the waterline which gave more stability, making the longship less likely to tip or bring in water. The hull was waterproofed with moss drenched in tar. In the autumn the ships would be tarred and then left in a boathouse over the winter to allow time for the tar to dry. To keep the sea out, wooden disks were put into the oar holes. These could be shut from the inside when the oars were not in use.

Sail and mast

Even though no longship sail has been found, accounts verify that longships had square sails. Sails measured perhaps 35 to 40 feet across, and were made of wadmill (rough wool) which was woven by looms. Unlike the knarrs, the longship sail was not stitched.

The sail was held in place by the mast. The mast was supported by a large block of wood called "kerling" ("Old Woman" in Old Norse). (Trent) The kerling was made of oak, and was as tall as a Viking man. The kerling lay across the two ribs and ran width-wise along the keel. The kerling also had a companion: the "mast fish", a wooden piece above the kerling that provided extra help in keeping the mast erect. (information need for how long boat construction and sail creation needed.)


What were Saxon ships like? – Guest post by historical fiction author Mary Anne Yarde

Upon the headland the Geats erected a broad high tumulus plainly visible to distant seaman… withinthe barrows they placed collars, broaches and all the trappings which they had plundered from the treasure hoard. They buried the gold and left that princely treasure to the keeping of the earth, where it remains … – Beowulf.

Mary Anne Yarde is the multi award-winning author of the International Bestselling series — The Du Lac Chronicles. Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury — the fabled Isle of Avalon — was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were a part of her childhood.

… So who better to ask to come onto my blog and tell us more about what it means to research an important detail for writing? We all gotta do it, I’ve also blogged about the problem with authenticity against creative freedom (e.g. here) and we always have to weigh up between what is known and what we need for our stories … So I’m very interested to see what my famous writer friend has to say about this topic (and she mentions my beloved Vikings too -)), so: Welcome, Mary Anne, as she asks herself:

What were Saxon ships like?

As a historical fiction author, a great deal of my time is taken up with research. Unfortunately, my books are set in the Early Medieval period — or the Dark Ages, as it is commonly referred to. This is the age of lost manuscripts. Fires, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Civil War, Revolution on the continent, and not forgetting those Viking raiders, have all had their hand in destroying these valuable resources. What is left was usually written way after an event had taken place, and alas, it was also usually written down for a political purpose. This means there are blanks, in the history. Voids, that I needed to fill in somehow. I have had to look at what happened before the time my books are set in, as well as what happened after. On many occasions, I have had to take an educated guess as to what life was like in this period.

However, sometimes a guess isn’t good enough, especially when it comes to something like ships. In particular, Saxon ships. I wanted to know what they were like. But this turned out to be somewhat more challenging than I had expected. This, is what I discovered…

The Sutton-Hoo Ship

A ghost image of the buried ship was revealed during excavations in 1939. Still from a film made by H. J. Phillips, brother of Charles Phillips — Wikipedia

In the summer of 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, Mrs Edith Pretty, asked archaeologist, Basil Brown, to investigate the largest of seven Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. What he discovered turned out to be, not only the most spectacular, but also the most significant find in British archaeology. Basil Brown found an Anglo-Saxon ship-burial.

The Germanic people — most notably the Norsemen — used this style of ship-burial. Which led me to initially believe that the Saxon ships must have been similar to the later Viking ships. The ship impression at Sutton-Hoo has been dated to c. 7th Century. However, my books are set in the late 5th early 6th Century. But hey, what is a hundred years? It would have been very easy, and not so stressful for me, to use the Sutton-Hoo ship and the model of a Viking ship to make a guess at what the Saxon ships of an earlier period looked like and, more importantly, sailed like. But would it be right? I wanted to be sure that the boats I depicted were right for the period I was writing about.

Where to begin?

The problem with boats is that they are made of wood. The impression of the Sutton-Hoo boat had been preserved because it had been buried in sandy soil. This is not the case for most ship burials. The wood, unfortunately for historians, has simply rotted away. Also, only a few ships were buried.

The most famous and oldest Germanic boat was discovered in a place called Nydam Mose in Denmark. The Nydam boat has been dendro dated (tree-ring dated) to c.310–320. It is 23 metres long and 4 metres wide. It had 15 pairs of oars.

The Nydam oak boat on display at Gottorf Castle, Schleswig, Germany (commons.wikimedia.org)

Was this the kind of boat that the famed Germanic mercenaries, Hengist and Horsa, sailed to England on, when they got that call for help from Vortigern, the High King of Southern England in the 5th century? Perhaps.

A modern replica of a Viking ship. This ship is of the snekkja longship type (commons.wikimedia.org)

However, there is not a trace of any mast foot on the Nydam boat. Which meant that it did not have any sails. A stark contrast to the Viking ships in the later centuries. Does that mean that Hengist, Horsa, and their men rowed to England? Not necessarily. The Nydam boat has a keel-plank rather than the developed keel that we see in later Viking ships. The keel offsets the height of the mast, which would mean the Nydam boat was not a sea-worthy vessel. It was a riverboat. But sea travel happened. The Romans had their great navy, and they had sails. So perhaps it stands to reason that the early Saxon boats did as well. Unfortunately, there is no archaeological evidence to back this theory up.

Historical accuracy vs. story purpose

So what is a historical fiction author to do? After careful consideration, I have given my Saxon ships sails, just because it makes sense for them to have them. I cannot imagine these great Saxon warriors, such as Cerdic of Wessex, rowing to Britain if they knew that a fight was going to greet them when they landed. They would have been too exhausted to lift an axe, let alone defend themselves. I could, of course, be wrong. However, for now, the jury is out.

(Author Unknown) — The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (J. M. Dent, New edition, 1972)

Berresford Elllis, Peter — Celt and Saxon (The struggle for Britain AD 410-937) (Constable and Company Ltd , 1994)

Geoffrey of Monmouth — The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Books Ltd, 1966)

Gildas — On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain (Serenity Publishers, LLC, 2009)

Oliver, Neil — Vikings (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012)

Wood, Michael — In Search of the Dark Ages (BBC Books, 2005)

THANKS a million for these insights into the troubles we histfic writers face when it comes to interpreting scarce sources and make them fit our story needs … If you’d like to see what shores Mary Anne’s heroes’ boats sailed to, be assured you will just love her latest release:

The Du Lac Prophecy

(Book 4 of The Du Lac Chronicles)

Two Prophesies. Two Noble Households. One Throne.

Distrust and greed threaten to destroy the House of du Lac. Mordred Pendragon strengthens his hold on Brittany and the surrounding kingdoms while Alan, Mordred’s cousin, embarks on a desperate quest to find Arthur’s lost knights. Without the knights and the relics they hold in trust, they cannot defeat Arthur’s only son – but finding the knights is only half of the battle. Convincing them to fight on the side of the Du Lac’s, their sworn enemy, will not be easy.

If Alden, King of Cerniw, cannot bring unity there will be no need for Arthur’s knights. With Budic threatening to invade Alden’s Kingdom, Merton putting love before duty, and Garren disappearing to goodness knows where, what hope does Alden have? If Alden cannot get his House in order, Mordred will destroy them all.

“I feared you were a dream,” Amandine whispered, her voice filled with wonder as she raised her hand to touch the soft bristles and the raised scars on his face. “I was afraid to open my eyes. But you really are real,” she laughed softly in disbelief. She touched a lock of his flaming red hair and pushed it back behind his ear. “Last night…” she studied his face intently for several seconds as if looking for something. “I am sorry if I hurt you. I didn’t know who you were, and I didn’t know where I was. I was scared.”

“You certainly gave me a walloping,” he grinned gently down at her, his grey eyes alight with humour. “I think you have the makings of a great mercenary. I might have to recruit you to my cause.”

She smiled at his teasing, but then she began to trace the scars on his face with the tips of her fingers, and her smile disappeared. “Do they still hurt?”

“Yes,” Merton replied. “But the pain I felt when I thought you were dead was a hundred times worse. Philippe had broken my body, but that was nothing compared to the pain in my heart. Without you, I was lost.”

“That day… When they beat you. You were so brave,” Amandine replied.

Her fingers felt like butterflies on his skin, so soft and gentle. He closed his eyes to savour the sensation.

“I never knew anyone could be that brave,” Amandine continued. “You could have won your freedom and yet, you surrendered to their torture to save me. Why? I am but one person. Just one amongst so many.”

“Why do you think?” Merton asked shakily, opening his eyes to look at her again, hoping she could see the depth of his love in his scarred and deformed face.

“I gave you these scars,” Amandine stated with a painful realisation, her hand dropping away from his face. “You are like this because of me,” her voice was thick with unshed tears.

“No, not because of you,” Merton immediately contradicted. “My reputation, Philippe’s greed, Mordred’s hate, and Bastian’s fear, gave me these scars—”

“I should not have gone back to your chamber. If they had not found me there, then they would never have known about us. If they had not known, then you would have had no cause to surrender. Bastian would not have taken your sword arm.” Amandine touched what was left of his arm. “Philippe would not have lashed you.” She touched his face again and shook her head. “I am to blame.” She sat up and her eyes filled with tears, her hand fell away from his face. “I am to blame,” she said again as a tear slipped down her cheek. “How can you stand to be near me?”

Ooooh, of course I LOVED this sensual but gritty glimpse at Mary Anne’s heroes and their troubles! As I read the previous books, I can only recommend them as being authentic, moving, and exciting reads.


Navigation and propulsion [ edit | edit source ]

Navigation [ edit | edit source ]

A replica of the Gokstad ship, named Viking was sailed across the Atlantic to the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893

The Vikings were experts in judging speed and wind direction, and in knowing the current and when to expect high and low tides. Viking navigational techniques are not well understood, but historians postulate that the Vikings probably had some sort of primitive astrolabe and used the stars to plot their course.

The Danish archaeologist Thorkild Ramskou suggested in 1967 that the "sun-stones" referred to in some sagas might have been natural crystals capable of polarizing skylight. The mineral cordierite occurring in Norway has the local name "Viking's Compass." Its changes in colour would allow determining the sun's position (azimuth) even through an overcast or foggy horizon. ⎙]

An ingenious navigation method is detailed in Viking Navigation Using the Sunstone, Polarized Light and the Horizon Board by Leif K. Karlsen. ⎚] To derive a course to steer relative to the sun direction, he uses a sun-stone (Solarsteinn) made of Iceland spar (optical calcite or Silfurberg), and a "horizon-board." The author constructed the latter from an Icelandic saga source, and describes an experiment performed to determine its accuracy. Karlsen also discusses why on North Atlantic trips the Vikings might have preferred to navigate by the sun rather than by stars. (Think high latitudes in summer: long days, short to no nights.)

A Viking named Stjerner Oddi compiled a chart showing the direction of sunrise and sunset, which enabled navigators to sail longships from place to place with ease. Almgren, an earlier Viking, told of another method: "All the measurements of angles were made with what was called a 'half wheel' (a kind of half sun-diameter which corresponds to about sixteen minutes of arc). This was something that was known to every skipper at that time, or to the long-voyage pilot or kendtmand ('man who knows the way') who sometimes went along on voyages. When the sun was in the sky, it was not, therefore, difficult to find the four points of the compass, and determining latitude did not cause any problems either." (Algrem)

Birds provided a helpful guide to finding land. A Viking legend states that Vikings used to take caged crows aboard ships and let them loose if they got lost. The crows would instinctively head for land, giving the sailors a course to steer.

Archaeologists have found two devices which they interpret as navigation instruments. Both appear to be sundials with gnomon curves etched on a flat surface. The devices are small enough to be held in the hand at 70 mm diameter. A wooden version dated to about 1000 AD was found in Greenland. A stone version was also found at Vatnahverfi, Greenland. By looking at the place where the shadow from the rod falls on a carved curve, a navigator is able to sail along a line of latitude. Both gnomon curve devices show the curve for 60° north very prominently. This was the approximate latitude that the Vikings would have sailed along to get to Greenland from Scandinavia. The wooden device also has north marked and had 32 arrow heads around the edge that may be the points of a compass. Other lines are interpreted as the solstice and equinox curves. The device was tested successfully, as a sun compass, during a 1984 reenactment when a longship sailed across the North Atlantic. It was accurate to within ± 5°. ⎛]

Propulsion [ edit | edit source ]

The longships had two methods of propulsion: oars and sail. At sea, the sail enabled longships to travel faster than by oar and to cover long distances overseas with far less manual effort. Sails could be raised or lowered quickly. Oars were used when near the coast or in a river, to gain speed quickly, and when there was an adverse (or insufficient) wind. In combat, the variability of wind power made rowing the chief means of propulsion. The ship was steered by a long flat oar with a short round handle, mounted over the starboard side of the aft gunwale.

Longships were not fitted with benches. When rowing, the crew sat on sea chests (chests containing their personal possessions) that would otherwise take up space. The chests were made the same size and were the perfect height for a Viking to sit on and row. Longships had hooks for oars to fit into, but smaller oars were also used, with crooks or bends to be used as oarlocks. If there were no holes then a loop of rope kept the oars in place.

An innovation that improved the sail's performance was the beitass, or stretching pole – a wooden spar stiffening the sail. The windward performance of the ship was poor by modern standards as there was no centreboard, deep keel or leeboard. To assist in tacking the beitasss kept the luff taunt. Bracing lines were attached to the luff and lead through holes on the forward gunwale. Such holes were often reinforced with short sections of timber about 500 mm to 700 mm long on the outside of the hull.


Fyndet [ redigera | redigera wikitext ]

Nydamskeppet hittades 1863, varvid en arkeologisk utgrävning av Nydam mosse följde. Nydam mosse är ett mosslandskap med en storlek av cirka 12 hektar belägen på Sydjylland, 8 km väster om Sönderborg i Danmark. Nydamskeppet var ett skepp utan segel som roddes av 36 roddare, den totala besättningen beräknas ha varit 45 personer. Skeppets tillkomst har daterats med hjälp av dendrokronologi till tiden 310–320 efter Kristus. Omkring år 345 efter Kristus blev skeppet nedlagd i mossen, som ett av fyra fynd på platsen från år 200 till år 450 efter Kristus. Man förmodar att skeppet har tillhört en främmande väpnad här som blev besegrad av den bofasta befolkningen vid Nydam mosse.

De första arkeologiska utgrävningarna gjordes av den danske arkeologen Conrad Engelhardt under åren 1859-1863. Vid de första utgrävningarna fann Engelhart mängder av vapen och bruksföremål samt ytterligare tre båtar från yngre järnåldern. Utgrävningarna stoppades av Dansk-tyska kriget 1864. En del av fynden blev förstörda i kriget och endast en av båtarna blev kvar, en blev huggen till ved. Nydamskeppet är det enda kända bevarade skeppet från folkvandringstiden. Vid den här tiden levde på Sydjylland många mindre folkstammar. Att dessa båtar har blivit begravda i mossen kan ha varit en offerritual över dem som man har besegrat.

Vid freden 1864 föll Nydamskeppet i Preussens ägo och forslades till staden Kiel. Den 25 september 1941 under de allierades bombningar av staden flyttades Nydamskeppet till närheten av Schleswig. Vid fredsslutet begärde Danmark att återfå Nydamskeppet men den brittiska militärregeringen beslutade att placera skeppet vid Gottorps slott i en riddarsal. Sedan år 2013 finns Nydamskeppet i Nydamhallen, som är en tidigare exercishall strax intill slottet. På en yta av 700 m² visas båten och ett stort antal fynd.

Vid en arkeologisk utgrävning 1997 på platsen för Nydamskeppet fann man två träpålar 1,30 meter långa med skulpturer, cirka 40 cm höga föreställande män med skägg i ena ändan. De var utförda för att hänga på bordläggningens övre kant. Vilken funktion de har haft vet man inte bestämt.


The Gredstedbro ship

Three pieces of timber
When the river Kongeå was straightened out by Gredstedbro in 1945, the digger came across three pieces of hard oak. At the time it was believed that it was the remains of an old bridge, and the wood was delivered to the Antiquarian Collection in Ribe. Almost twenty years later, the head of the Antiquarian Collection, Mogens Bencard, examined the wood from Gredstedbro once again. He discovered that it was the remains of a ship, namely a frame, a fragment of the bow and a piece of the keel. Since then, attempts have been made to look for the rest of Gredstedbro ship in vain.


The frame was cut into from one piece of wood. Photo: The Antiquarean Collection, South-west Jutland Museums.

The Kongeå in the early Iron Age
The ship’s growth rings and carbon-14 analyses have ascertained that the ship comes from the 600-700s. Only 64 growth rings had been kept in the wood, which makes the results uncertain. The ship could be from 622, but the tree was probably felled by 630, i.e. in the early Iron Age. A comparison with other ships from the time shows that the ship was probably from later in the 600s.

At that time, the landscape looked different from today. There were no dikes that prevented the sea from penetrating far into the land. The Kongeå had not been straightened out and it still had many bends, while the marshes spread gradually towards the west from Gredstedbro. However, the river Kongeå was roughly the same size as it is today. The valley of Kongeådal is about 1.5 km wide and surrounded by hill islands. The river Kongeå is 10 m wide and 1.5 m deep.

Trade connections in the Iron Age
The early Iron Age (approx. 550-750) was an unstable era greatly affected by migrations in Europe and political upheaval. The western part of the Roman Empire had fallen, and Christianity was emerging.

Denmark and the countries surrounding the North Sea were divided into small kingdoms, and Denmark was Scandinavia's strong power centre. Among the Danish power centres were Gudme-Lundeborg on Funen, Dejbjerg at Skjern and Dankirke south west of Ribe. Ribe was founded in the years 704-710.

Despite the great upheaval, trade blossomed. By comparing Danish discoveries of ceramics, glass, metals and coins with foreign discoveries, we know that the major West Jutland trading connections were the North Sea and along the Wadden Sea coast. Both land and sea were used for transporting goods.


The keel in the middle shows that the Gredstedbro as a type was between the Nydam boat at the top and the Viking ship at the bottom. Photo: The Antiquarean Collection, South-west Jutland Museums.

The ship's appearance
The remains of Gredstedbro ship were in such good condition that archaeologists could determine both the type and size. The Gredstedbro ship was a roughly built oak ship with a solid frame. The ship was 20-25 m long and a mix between the Nydam boat from 310-320, the English Sutton Hoo ship from the 600s and the Viking ships from 700s. The Gredstedbro ship, Nydam Boat and Sutton Hoo ship were all rowing ships. It was not until the Vikings age that the sailing ship came to Scandinavia.

The frame was cut into from one piece of wood. The preserved part was 180 cm long, corresponding to 220-230 cm when the ship was whole. The frame was pierced with wooden nails that had held the planks in place.

The remains of the bow were 113 cm long and were of the same type as the Nydam boat.

The keel fragment on the Gredstedbro ship was 203 cm long. The underside was heavily worn, which indicates that the ship was often pulled ashore. The ship was large enough for sea transport but the keel was flat and could therefore sail up the Kongeåen, where it was found 1,300 years later.

The fragment of the bow. Photo: The Antiquarean Collection, South-west Jutland Museums.

Author: Charlotte Lindhardt


The underside of the keel was worn and indicates that the ship was often pulled ashore. Photo: The Antiquarean Collection, South-west Jutland Museums.


The Viking ships

ABSTRACT. Relying on archeological finds, the author examines the typology of Viking ships in the Oslo and Roskilde museums. These ships were used for trade as well as war operations. He studies the composition of the wood used in naval construction as well as the trips carried out by the Vikings in different directions.

RÉSUMÉ. S'appuyant sur l'apport de l'archéologie, l'auteur examine la typologie des navires vikings conservés aux musées d'Oslo et de Roskilde, dont l'usage s'appliquait aussi bien au commerce qu'aux opérations guerrières. Il étudie la composition des bois utilisés dans la construction navale, puis les voyages effectués par les Vikings dans différentes directions.

The Viking Age, generally dated c. 800–1050 AD, is the period when what was later to become the countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden first became an active part of Europe on a larger scale. Earlier, some Scandinavians probably took part in the great migrations, and Anglo-Saxons and other tribes, partly from southern Scandinavia, settled in England. These ventures are, however, less known from historical and archaeological sources. The Anglo-Saxon migration must have been dependent on ships of good quality, probably like those found at Nydam in Denmark. The huge ship buried at Sutton Hoo in the early 7 th century is Norse in character, to judge from the remains, so shipbuilding in Anglo-Saxon England seems to develop along the same lines as in Scandinavia, or there may have been direct contact.

Most of our knowledge of the Viking Age is based on archaeology. Settlements have been excavated, giving information on housing, agriculture and daily life, and the pagan burial custom which included grave-goods as part of the funeral has given archaeologists a rich material.

The grave goods are our prime source for knowledge of Viking Age material culture. There seems to have been a firm belief that objects from daily life would be needed also in the afterlife. Male graves may contain weapons and tools for tilling the soil and working wood and metal, female ones jewellery, household equipment and tools for textile work. As will be described later, ships and boats may also be part of the grave-goods.


Watch the video: Ein Schiff für die Götter. A ship for the Gods (January 2022).