Saturday, December 29, 2007


The Vikings were the most powerful people in northwestern Europe for nearly five centuries from about AD 750 to 1100. They were the first Europeans to reach North America, arriving at New Foundland or Vinland around the year 1001. Today, a thousand years after they terrorized coastlines from the eastern Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean, the Vikings of Scandinavia are remembered as fearless sailors, merciless raiders, wise traders, and hardy settlers. When thinking of Viking warriors, the picture of a crazy and ruthless barbarians with horned helmets and huge battle-axes in longships, usually comes to mind. That picture doesn't match reality. Horned helmets were rare and not used in battles, only in religious ceremonies. Unfortunately, horned helmets came to represent a savage image of brutal Viking land and sea invaders.

Their longships were fast and sleek, powered by sail or oars, they were ideally suited for raiding because their shallow draught meant that they could travel up estuaries and rivers. The long, narrow ships packed with warriors helped to make the Vikings the dominant power in Europe for nearly five centuries. Two of the most common Viking ships were the knarr and the longboat. The longboat was the biggest ship and was used for raiding. It could be up to 100 feet long and 20 feet wide. The smaller, wider and heavier knarr was used by farmers and merchants to carry a heavy cargo. The knarr had a front and rear deck. Shipbuilders took pride in building beautiful ships and usually decorated the front with a fierce looking carving.
The longboat was built to survive the stormy seas and to sail on shallow rivers. They were also built light enough to be carried over land. When the wind was behind a longboat, the Vikings used large sails. If there wasn't any wind, or it was blowing in the wrong direction, up to 80 warriors could use oars to power the boat.