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6.5: Viking (Late 8th C – late 11th C)

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    The Viking civilization started in the Scandinavian countries and spread across northern and central Europe from the late 8th century to the late 11th century. They possessed advanced seafaring skills and developed a robust trade with other countries. The Norse military was skilled at invasions and spread their influence across wide-ranging areas in Europe, trading goods, furs, tusks, and slaves, and establishing settlements as they moved through the territories.

    The Vikings used a non-standardized alphabet they incised on rune stones. The inscriptions on the stones were runic alphabets (6.17) and based on older Germanic languages before the Latin alphabet. The angular letters (6.18) do not have any horizontal or vertical strokes. The Vikings discovered that if they carved angular letters into wood or stone, the material would not split. Little remains of the runic language written on paper, but thousands of stones can be found with the incised letters wherever the Vikings lived. Some of the stones described battles, people who participated in the battles or contained bragging rights. The majority of information known about the Vikings comes from writings by other cultures they encountered during their travels.

    A rune stone was inscribed in red paint.

    Rune stone
    6.17 Rune stone
    Writing on rune stone
    6.18 Detailed writing on rune stone

    The movement and territorial expansion of the Vikings was undoubtedly enabled by their skill in constructing highly crafted ships. The ships were built in many sizes for different uses and included the best-known longship. Longships (6.19) were designed for speed and agility, exploring, and warfare. Propulsion was achieved through a combination of oars and sails to take advantage of the wind and manpower. The longship had a narrow hull and shallow draft (6.20), allowing the Vikings to sail into shallow waters. For trade, they used bigger, wider merchant ships with a deeper draught and fewer oars, creating a larger space to store merchandise.

    Recreated model of ship
    6.19 Recreated model of ship

    Ships were so crucial to the Vikings; they used the ships as tombs for men of high status. The ships constructed from wood was a readily available resource in the north. Building with overlapping planks (6.21) riveted together gave strength to the keel. The planks are from large, old-growth oak trees capable of producing long pieces of wood. The planks cut from the tree wood were split, sometimes as thin as two inches.

    Excavated ship
    6.20 Excavated ship

    On the oak keel (6.22), they riveted the planks with wrought-iron rivets, adding a tier of planks overlapping the one below, then caulking seams. Elaborately carved heads (6.23) of mythical animals, especially dragons, adorned the ends of the bow and stern, large continuous carvings of symbols decorated the keel.

    Ship keel
    6.21 Ship keel

    Small sculptural Viking art made from leftover shipbuilding debris into small sculptural art resulting in a well-developed woodworking artisan craft. Wood was the primary choice of material, easy to carve and abundant; however, art also was created or carved with metal, stone, bone, and ivory.

    6.22 Riveting

    The Vikings society divides into three classes of people; slaves, peasants, and aristocracy. The position in life dictated their clothes and jewelry, making it easy to identify the status of the person as the quality of wearable goods became one of the significant indicators of wealth. Women of status wore heavy necklaces and brooches with fancy openwork while men displayed rings on their arms and necks and added brooches with very long pins (6.24) to their clothing. Weapons highly decorated with gilding and jewels on the hilts and a corpse would be well dressed in proper jewelry before being buried.

    Carved head
    6.23 Carved head
    6.24 Brooches

    This page titled 6.5: Viking (Late 8th C – late 11th C) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .