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Lesson Three.

Viking Longships.

Look at the map of the Viking world. How far west had the Vikings travelled? What were the farthest points they had travelled to the north, east and south?

This passage from Egil's Saga shows how news travelled throughout the Viking world long before the time of telephones, radio and television. A Viking called Bjorn wanted to marry a young woman called Thora, but her father would not give them his permission. So Bjorn took Thora away. Because of this, Bjorn was declared an outlaw, and this message was passed from settlement to settlement:

Try to find all the places mentioned in this story in your atlas.

This extract and others from Egil's Saga show us that the Vikings were a sea-going people. For them, their ships were of the greatest importance. They had to be large and strong, able to travel great distances and survive heavy seas and Atlantic storms. Viking longships were some of the best sea-going vessels the world has ever seen

Let us try to find out what these longships were like:

As you read the evidence note important pieces of information about the ships - what they looked like, how big they were, how people lived on board, how they moved through the water, how they were steered.

Here are two lined from Egil's Saga. How was the ship propelled? What decorated the ship?

    Let's beat the oar blades
    Of our shield adorned ship.

Another part of the saga mentions two other Vikings:

    They had a fast ship with twelve or thirteen oars on each side and a crew of about thirteen men.
    The ship was richly painted above the sea line and magnificently decorated . . . and it had a blue and red striped sail . . . It was fully rigged with tents and provisions.

Great Viking poems like King Harold's Saga tell us many things about longships. They are mentioned so often that they must have been of great importance to their owners.

    See the great longship
    Proudly lies at anchor.
    Above the bow,
    THe dragon's golden head
    Stands high, overlaid with gold.

    One Saturday, King Harold
    Had the deck tent hauled down.
    And the women proudly watched
    The ship speed past.

    Battle-keen warriors
    Pulled oars through the water.
    Norwegian arms heaved
    The iron nailed dragon
    Down the river
    Like an eagle on the wing.

    Driving west from Russia
    Harold's gold filled ship
    Sails wet with spray
    Flying before the wind
    The colourful sails strain.

This is a Viking burial ship known as the Oseberg ship. It is in a museum in Oslo. Like many people long ago, the Vikings sometimes buried valuable things with their dead loved ones. When Egil's brother died in battle. according to the saga, his weapons, clothing and gold jewellery were buried along with him.

Some Viking princes were so rich that they could afford to be buried in their magnificent longships. Some of these ship burials have been discovered and examined by archaeologists.

Things to do.

Using the written evidence and the pictures, draw your own picture of a Viking longship.

Look up the meaning of each of these words or phrases: Prow, stern, keel, rudder, oar port.

Label your longship drawing to show these parts.

Here is a list of things found in a ship burial. Write the list in your notebook.
Beside each item tell why you think it was carried on a Viking ship:

  • 3 small boats.
  • 6 collapsible beds.
  • A heap of white cloth, striped with red.
  • A pile of thin, strong rope.
  • 2 wooden walls shaped like the end of a tent.
  • 32 iron shields.

Looking at the evidence.

  1. Name the animal and bird which the sagas used to describe the ships.
  2. Why do you think these creatures were chosen?
  3. How did Vikings shelter themselves and keep warm while sleeping at sea on their long voyages?
  4. What do you think the term iron-shielded ship means?
  5. Why do you think that one of the ships described had a dragon's golden head on its prow.
  6. What other decorations were used?

Lesson One: The Vikings.
Lesson Two: Viking Raids - Looking at the Sagas.
Lesson Four: A Viking Settlement.
Lesson Five: The Vikings Settle in Ireland.
Lesson Plan Page.
Updated January 2001 by the Viking Network
Irish Co-ordinator Michael