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Viking Roads and Bridges

The Vikings did build roads to facilitate transport by land. The Army Road (Hærvejen) which runs the length of Jutland in modern day Denmark is the best-preserved example. It follows the highest ground, and it comes closest to the concept of a “main road” or a highway today, even though most of the road was merely a trail without a surface.

A surface would have been put down on the Army Road only on the most difficult parts of the trail, such as wet boggy land. The surface would have been made of wood and consisted only of brushwood and branches spread out to form a stable surface. In some other cases the surface would have been built of closely laid logs and sometimes even with well-worked timbers.

Viking Age travellers in Scandinavia had to cope with the numerous rivers and streams which flow through the landscape. Until the end of the Vikings Age it appears as though the main method of crossing these waterways was by fording your way across. Some places would have causeways. Free-standing bridges do not seem to have been built before the late Viking Age.

The one major exception to this rule is the 1950’s discovery of the Ravning Enge Bridge. The bridge was discovered near the town of Ravning, Denmark approximately 10 kilometers south of Jelling which was a very important royal center in the Viking World. The bridge was built around 980, and it truly is an impressive architectural achievement for the Vikings. It was about 750 meters long, 5.5 meters wide and had the ability to bear a weight of 5-6 tons. The Ravning Enge Bridge crossed the Vejle River Valley.

More than 1000 supporting oak posts were used, and undreamed amounts of timber went to the bridges structure. This was certainly not a typical Viking Age bridge, and the sheer quantities of timber and personnel which would have been used in making it suggests that it was built with a specific purpose in mind. The king Harald Bluetooth (Harald Blåtand) is believed to be the responsible for the bridge. The bridge would have facilitated his access to the royal center of Jelling, but it would also have made a statement about his power and wealth. Today there is a small part of the bridge that has been reconstructed about 1 km from Ravning.

Other bridges are known from the 11th century in Sweden. They are usually marked with runic stone which tell us why the bridge was built. Most often it was a landowner who wished to increase his local reputation. These “bridges” would be called causeways today. Causeways are raised pathways made of stone, sand and gravel. Causeways allow people a dry passage over streams and pools of water.

An odd occurrence is that the number of these bridges increased enormously after Christianity was introduced towards the end of the Viking Age. The reason for this is unknown. It is possible that the organized Christian institutions were in some way involved in building bridges to facilitate their need for rapid communication between priests and other congregations. It is also possible that archaeologists simply haven’t found very many of the very old bridges which were built prior to the introduction of Christianity to Scandinavia.

LastUpdate: 2015-04-10 11:12:10