Dave the Atheist
Date: November 25, 2017 10:54AM
Andy T writes ...
" What made the Vikings stand out in history?
Why do we remember them so vividly when the Franks, the Goths, the Bulgars and on and on recede into an anonymous background of tribal names? Was it their weapons? No, in fact many of their most famous weapons were probably made by the Franks in what is now Northern Germany. Their clothing and ornamentation was not unique, similar ornamentation and dress existed throughout Germanic and Baltic tribes. Their religions and myths were not all that different from other Pagan Germanic and Slavic tribes. So, why do we know about Vikings? Why do they capture our imaginations, 1,000 years after they vanished?
Two reasons, I think:
The writings of the Icelanders which captured the mythology and the individual stories of these people in a way that made them real, human and immediate to us and;
Since the neolithic, Europeans have used boats extensively for trade, travel, migration, fishing, romance (you don’t think young people in the stone age rowed to the middle of a lake to catch a gorgeous sunset or sunrise? Think again). In the Bronze Age boats made from hollowed out logs were common — and amazingly capable of long journeys along the Atlantic coastlines. So were wood frame covered in hide circular boats (those things look terrifyingly frail to me). Soon sails came along and humans were really moving.
But the Viking ship was something new, a further step along in technological development that allowed the formerly backwater Pagan Northern Scandinavian culture to break out and spread. And spread it did.
In the Hagia Sophia in Turkey a Viking inscribed in Younger Futhark runes something along the lines of “Halfdan was here.” Runestones in Sweden recount a disastrous expedition to China. There are accounts of Vikings in North Africa (apparently they greatly admired the warrior prowess of the “Blue Men” — black was a term reserved for hair color, not skin and Vikings called black people blue). In the 900’s Vikings walked the streets of Bagdhad. Russia gets its name from the Swedish Viking tribe the Rus’.
And it wasn’t just the dudes who travelled. Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir became known as Gudrid The Well Travelled and boy did she earn that title. Born in Iceland. Travelled to Greenland, then to Vinland. Gave birth to the first European born in North America. Then back to Greenland, then Norway, then Iceland. She was a Christian and headed off to Rome for a quick pilgrimage. Finally, back to Iceland as a nun. Not bad considering she had 0 frequent flyer miles for her entire lifetime!
So what specifically made these boats so badass? I hope to revisit this in another diary but for today’s purposes, they used wood split along the grain which preserved the strength of the wood (not a Viking innovation), they allowed for use of oars and sails (not a Viking innovation), the design of the boats was a clinker design which overlapped planks for additional strength (not a specifically Viking innovation).
Then they combined all of the above with a wide, shallow boat bottom. That was a huge innovation. This allowed for carrying what at the time was a large number of men, surprising amounts of cargo and safe ocean travel. But these same ships could travel up very shallow rivers as well because of the flat bottom (shallow draft). So that same boat in port on the coast of the Netherlands peacefully trading could two days later be a hundred miles up French rivers raiding towns and back in Norway a another three days later.
Finally the Viking ships had one more characteristic which allowed them to travel in turbulent waters that would destroy the contemporary ships of their rivals:
F L E X I B I L I T Y .
When waves crashed against a Viking longship the ship actually bent — the wood was allowed to flex against the pressure of the wave, preventing the planks from breaking. When the pressure eased the planks would spring back to their original shapes and the ship would still be seaworthy.
Nothing else in that day and age combined those characteristics. And these capabilities brought immense wealth and power to the Northmen.
Scandinavians fully appreciated what they had in their unique ships. Ships permeated their culture, the traders and raiders (often one and the same people) who used these ships were at the top of the social ladder. Ships are depicted in art, on jewelry, in tapestries, carved into stones, on coins and of course… graves.
Interestingly, Viking burials sometimes involved symbolic ships rather than actual physical boats or ships. Examples of this are gravesites with stone markers laid out in the shape of a boat or ship. Often this occurred at inland locations but that was not always true. " ...https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/11/25/1714903/-Viking-Ship-Burials-Truly-An-Awesome-Way-To-Go
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 11/25/2017 11:23AM by Dave the Atheist.