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Viking Ships and Shipbuilding

Vikings strong dependence on the sea for travel and transportation meant that they were experts in shipbuilding and that they were excellent seamen.

Archaeologists believe that the sheer amount of coastlines and islands in Norway, Sweden and Denmark naturally produced great sea-going peoples. Archaeological records show skilled boat building long before the Age of the Viking.

Vikings had a vast variety of ship types, including a variety of long, slender, shallow-draft warships. Robust ships which were strong enough to withstand strong winds and powerful waves. These ships would have carried settlers and their equipment west to the islands in the North Atlantic, as well as an even sturdier merchant ship for transporting cargo. The Vikings also produced a wide variety of fishing boats, ferries and boats for sailing in inland rivers and lakes.

Viking ships whether they were large or small had certain common features. They were clinker built, meaning their hulls were made of overlapping planks, which were rivets together with iron spikes and made water tight using caulking which usually consisted of animal hair.

The hull was built around a large and deep keel, which was the ship's backbone. The stems and sterns on the grandest ships ended in terrifying carved dragons heads which were decorated with shiny metal fittings. The rudders were essentially huge oars attached to the starboard side of the ship.

Both sails and oars were used to propel the ships through water, sometimes even together. The Vikings genius was to join these two methods with a truly seaworthy hull. The hull of a sailing ship needs to be wider and higher along the sides than a ship which will sail with oars alone. This problem was resolved with the introduction of the keel, which gave the ship strength, stability and flexibility. This allowed the Vikings to become less dependent on the wind. A warship could take down the mast while the ship was in motion and use the oars to take them where they needed to go.

Vikings were truly master ship builders. The Roskilde Viking Ship Museum west of Copenhagen houses some of the best preserved ships from the Vikings Age.