The Viking Longboat: The Most Iconic of Ships

Viking longboats are some of the most iconic ships in history. These sleek and sturdy vessels played a crucial role in the Viking Age, allowing Norse warriors and traders to travel vast distances across the open sea.

In this article, we will explore the history and construction of Viking longboats, as well as their use in trade, exploration, and warfare.

Construction of Viking Longboats

Viking longboats were built using a combination of traditional woodworking techniques and advanced metalworking skills.

The hulls of these ships were typically made from overlapping planks of oak, which were held together by iron rivets.

The ships were also reinforced with a series of wooden frames, or ribs, which helped to give them their distinctive shape and strength.

LongshipA reconstruction of a 35 m longship, the Draken Harald Hårfagre.

One of the most impressive features of Viking longboats was their sail system.

These ships were equipped with a single square sail, which could be adjusted to take advantage of changing wind conditions.

The sails were made from wool or linen, and were often decorated with intricate patterns and symbols.

In addition to their sails, Viking longboats were also propelled by oars.

Each ship typically had between 16 and 40 oars, depending on its size and intended use.

The oars were manned by a team of rowers, who worked together to move the ship through the water.

Use of Viking Longboats

Viking longboats were used for a wide variety of purposes, from trade and exploration to raiding and warfare.

These ships were capable of traveling long distances across the open sea, making them ideal for exploration and trade.

Vikings used their longboats to explore and settle in new territories across Europe and beyond.

These voyages often took the Vikings to distant and exotic lands, such as Iceland, Greenland, and North America.


A replica of the Viking Gokstad longship seen here in 1893.

Viking longboats were also used for raiding and warfare. The Vikings were feared throughout Europe for their ruthless attacks on coastal towns and villages.

These were carried out using their swift and agile longboats. The raids allowed the Vikings to amass great wealth and influence and helped to establish them as one of the dominant forces of the Viking Age.

Viking navigation was a crucial skill that allowed the Vikings to become one of the most successful seafaring cultures in history.

Without modern tools such as GPS or compasses, Viking sailors had to rely on a variety of techniques to navigate the open sea and reach their destinations.

One of the most important tools for Viking navigation was the sun compass, or “sunstone”.

This was a special type of crystal that could be used to locate the position of the sun even on cloudy days. This allowed sailors to determine their direction of travel.

In addition to these tools, Viking sailors relied on a range of other navigational techniques.

One of the most important was “piloting”, which involved following the coastline and using landmarks such as mountains, rocks, and islands to guide the ship’s course.

They also used the stars to determine their location at night.

This included the famous North Star, which was a key reference point for navigation in the northern hemisphere.

Another important technique was “dead reckoning”, which involved estimating the ship’s position based on its speed and direction of travel.

This could be done using tools such as a “nautical almanac”, which contained information about the position of the stars and other navigational aids.

Despite these techniques, Viking navigation was still a risky and dangerous business.

The seas were often treacherous, with storms, strong currents, and shifting ice floes posing constant threats to the safety of the ship and its crew.

Additionally, the Vikings were often traveling to unfamiliar and hostile territories.

This was done with little knowledge of the local geography or weather patterns.

Number of Viking Longboats Found

Despite their significance in Viking culture and history, relatively few Viking longboats have been discovered by archaeologists.

The harsh conditions of the northern seas, combined with the fact that many of these ships were intentionally burned or scuttled after use, have made them difficult to find.

Viking shipThe Viking Ship Museum at Roskilde. Here are a number of reconstructed Viking ships.

However, a number of significant Viking longboat discoveries have been made over the years.

Perhaps the most famous of these is the Oseberg ship, which was discovered in Norway in 1904.

This 21-meter-long ship was found buried in a Viking burial mound, along with a wealth of other artifacts.

Other notable Viking longboat discoveries include the Gokstad ship, which was found in Norway in 1880.

Another was the Roskilde ships, which were discovered in Denmark in the 1960s and 1970s.

These discoveries have provided valuable insights into the construction and use of Viking longboats.

They help us understand the culture and society of the Vikings.

Crew Members of Viking Longboats

The number of crew members on a Viking longboat varied depending on the size and intended use of the ship.

The smallest longboats could accommodate just a handful of crew members, while the largest could carry up to 100 men.

In general, Viking longboats were crewed by a mix of warriors, traders, and seamen.

The warriors were responsible for raiding and warfare, while the traders and seamen were responsible for navigating and maintaining the ship.

The VikingsThe Vikings used a number of different navigational skills in their voyages.

One of the most important roles on a Viking longboat was that of the steersman. It was his job to navigate the ship through the often treacherous waters of the northern seas.

The steersman used a combination of landmarks, stars, and other navigational tools to chart the ship’s course and avoid hazards such as rocks and shoals.

Other important crew members included the ship’s captain, who was responsible for leading the crew and making important decisions, and the ship’s cook, who prepared meals for the crew.

The cook’s job was particularly challenging, as he had to work in a cramped and often unstable kitchen, and had to make do with limited ingredients and equipment.


Viking longboats were some of the most impressive ships of their time, and played a crucial role in the culture and history of the Vikings.

These sleek and sturdy vessels were used for everything from trade and exploration to raiding and warfare, and helped the Vikings to establish themselves as one of the dominant forces of the Viking Age.

Despite the challenges of building and operating these ships, the Vikings were able to achieve remarkable feats of navigation.

They were able to travel vast distances across the open sea and exploring new territories far beyond their Scandinavian homeland.

Today, Viking longboats continue to capture the imagination of people around the world. They serve as a powerful symbol of the bravery, skill, and ingenuity of the Viking people.

With ongoing discoveries and research into these iconic ships, we are sure to learn even more about their construction, use, and significance in the years to come.

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