Rebirth of the Viking Warship That May Have Helped Canute Conquer the Seas

Maev Kennedy, Guardian (London), December 27, 2012

When the sleek, beautiful silhouette of Roskilde 6 appeared on the horizon, 1,000 years ago, it was very bad news. The ship was part of a fleet carrying an army of hungry, thirsty warriors, muscles toned by rowing and sailing across the North Sea; a war machine like nothing else in 11th-century Europe, its arrival meant disaster was imminent.

Now the ship’s timbers are slowly drying out in giant steel tanks at the Danish national museum’s conservation centre at Brede outside Copenhagen, and will soon again head across the North Sea—to be a star attraction at an exhibition in the British Museum.

Timbers of Roskilde 6 Viking warship being fitted into the steel frame for display in Copenhagen and at the British Museum.

Timbers of Roskilde 6 Viking warship being fitted into the steel frame for display in Copenhagen and at the British Museum.

The largest Viking warship ever found, it was discovered by chance in 1996 at Roskilde. It is estimated that building it would have taken up to 30,000 hours of skilled work, plus the labour of felling trees and hauling materials. At just over 36 metres, it was four metres longer than Henry VIII’s flagship Mary Rose built 500 years later, and six metres longer than the Viking ship spectacularly recreated as Sea Stallion, which sailed from Scandinavia around Scotland to Dublin in 2007.

“This ship was a troop carrier,” said Gareth Williams of the British Museum. It was built some time after 1025 when the oak trees were felled, and held 100 warriors taking turns on 39 pairs of oars if there was not enough wind to fill the square woollen sail. They would have been packed in tightly, sleeping as they could between the seats, with little room for supplies except a minimal amount of fresh water—or ale or mead, which would not have gone stale as fast—and dried salt mutton.

It would have been an uncomfortable journey, but short: they did not need to carry much as their ship could move startlingly fast—Sea Stallion managed an average speed of 5.5 knots, and a top speed of 20 knots. Once they landed, the warriors could forage with ruthless efficiency, as many a coastal community or wealthy monastery discovered.

The ship would probably not have come alone. “There are records in the annals of fleets of hundreds of ships,” Williams said. “So you could be talking about an army of up to 10,000 men suddenly landing on your coast, highly trained, fit, capable of moving very fast on water or land.” Such luxury ships were fabulously expensive to build and a devastating display of power, Williams said.

The dates suggest Roskilde 6 may have been built for King Canute, who according to legend set his throne in the path of the incoming tide, to prove to his courtiers that even a monarch could not control the force of nature. At the time the Vikings were consolidating their power from temporary raiders to permanent invaders.

With all the original timbers fitted into a steel frame that will recreate its full length and form, the ship will be the centrepiece of Viking, an exhibition opening at the Danish national museum in June, before being transported to London to launch the British Museum’s new exhibition space in 2014. It will travel in two containers, by freighter and lorry.

The vessel was found by accident when an extension was being built to the Roskilde ship museum in Denmark, itself built to hold an earlier find of Viking ships that had been deliberately sunk to narrow the fjord and protect the approach to the town, the old royal capital of Denmark.

In 1996 archaeologists watching the construction work discovered huge timbers turned up in the new foundations, some already chopped in half by the piling. It proved to be a treasure trove of nine ships, of which Roskilde 6, almost half of which was recovered, was the most spectacular.

The timbers stayed in storage while the museum worked out what to do with the unexpected addition to its collection, until the exhibition provided the opportunity for full conservation.

The original Roskilde ships are spectacularly displayed in a purpose-built ship hall, but could never travel: the timbers look solid but might shatter like glass. When excavated, the sodden timbers of Roskilde 6 would have disintegrated into a heap of dust if left exposed to air. National museum conservator Kristiane Straetkvern managed the project, which has been drying timbers up to 10 metres long far more slowly than the older techniques, then replacing the lost moisture with synthetic resin, leaving them lighter but stable.

It was a nervous moment for her when some completed timbers were test assembled, each resting in a felt lined individually laser-cut support, in a frame that bolts together like a giant Meccano set, but that dismantles into hundreds of components for travelling.

The exhibition will display finds from across Scandinavia and from deep into the countries they penetrated wherever a river could carry their shallow draft ships—as far inland as Lichfield in England, deep into Russia, to Byzantium in the east, where Vikings fought as mercenaries on both sides, and beyond. Objects from 12 countries, including many recent finds, will demonstrate that Vikings were traders, farmers, fishermen, and superb craft workers in timber, bone and metal.

However the most spectacular single artefact will be the ship, a potent witness that the Vikings were also dreaded raiders.

The Roskilde team are now experts on recreating ancient ships, regularly commissioned to build them. One day they hope to recreate a full-size, ocean-going replica Roskilde 6, and send it across the sea to awe rather than to terrorise the coasts of the British Isles.

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  • The__Bobster

    It’s best that they preserve their glorious past, as their future doesn’t look very rosy.

    • fabius

      Dude, the future for you in the US doesn’t look particularly rosy either (after all, who has the most non-whites occupying ministerial positions?). On the other hand, the US has a spectacularly glorious past–the conquest of a continent, no less–and it would be nice if you would remember that, and the virtues that enabled that glory.

      • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

        It was immigrants, mostly from Scandinavia and Germany (and England) that settled the Midwest and suffered the most under Indian raids and captivities. The U.S. Government would “open up a region” via a treaty and then the naive European would move in under very loose military protection. During the CW, in 1962, the Minnesota raids on settlements occurred mostly because the Indian knew that the military and government was focused on its own big war. This led to the last half of the 19th century so-called Indian Wars, which were really a series of police actions aimed at the most violent of the tribes. The army always had Indian scouts from tribes that had suffered since before the white man’s arrival at the hands of tribes like the Navaho, the Sioux, Cheyenne, etc. The situation in Texas was even worse and for longer. For interesting history read, “A Fate Worse than Death,” Michno, and both GA Custer’s, “My Life on the Plains” and L. Custer’s, “Boots and Saddles.” Contrast these direct and recognized historical reports to the P.C. junk that has been circulating along with “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” since 1970s and the rise of the American Indian Movement. But the virtues that enabled this were not so nice or virtuous, reality rarely is.

        • SargintRock

          Right on and well said!!The rewriting of American history to make the Injuns victims instead of capable adversaries is astonishing. The “Noble” savages were massacring each other long before we got here!

    • JohnEngelman

      The Scandinavian countries retain AAA ratings with Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s. They have less public debt per Gross Domestic Product than the United States. They have been less effected by the Great Recession than the United States.

      • Whirlwinder

        Yes, and your glorious financial position will still be eaten alive by Islam due to the wilful blindness of your socialist leaders.

  • Was there a single people on the continent of Africa that mastered sailing the open seas?
    If it hadn’t been for the slave trade, they would have largely remaind where they were at least until our era.

  • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

    A classic for children in your orbit: The beautifully illustrated:

    D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths

    From the New York Times:

    “Out of print for many years, ‘Norse Gods and Giants’ has been very handsomely reissued by The New York Review Children’s Collection and retitled ‘D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths’. Featuring a sturdy sewn binding, the book arguably represents the pinnacle of the d’Aulaires’ achievement as storytellers and artists.” –The New York Times Book Review

    [Minor footnote: The New York Times is wrong. Norse Gods and Giants (originally published in the mid-sixties) is a very inviting overview of Norse mythology, but of “the pinnacle of the D’Aulaire’s achievement as storytellers and artists” is D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths: ]

  • purestocles

    From viking ship to rocket ship. Same engineering talent, same meticulous craftsmanship, same thirst for adventure.

    It is no accident the the precursor of all American and Russian rockets, the V-2, was invented in Peenemunde, Germany, on the Baltic coast just a stone’s throw away from Denmark where these ships were found.

  • bigone4u

    An excellent movie from 1958 is The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, and the proverbial all star cast. Forget that Kirk Douglas is descended from Russian Jews, not Danes or Swedes, and you have excellent entertainment. Filmed on location, the scenery is spectacular. It’ll make you want to relive the glory days for the white race. Wikipedia link:

    The Wikipedia pics show some of the gorgeous locations. More reviews can be found here:

    • Remington

      And also forget that Tony Curtis was the son of Hungarian Jews (born Bernard Schwartz) and Ernest Borgnine the son of Italians (born Ermes Borgnino).

      Sorry but that “movie” was complete baloney about what Vikings looked and behaved like. There is absolutely nothing to learn about White history from Hollywood regardless of the era.

      • bigone4u

        After I posted I took a look at the movie, which is on youtube. Even in 1958 there was an obligatory black. The director is also jewish, like Douglas and Curtis. Nonetheless, there is a spirit of white inspired adventure and innovation portrayed. I believe the author of the novel, Edison Marshall, a true white adventurer, not an armchair slouch, is responsible. He was a real man’s man. But what also makes it worthwhile is the scenery. The fjords, the trees,the mountains, the sea. And the magnificent ships like the one in the Amren story, plus the cooperation among men required to make the ships effective weapons. Also, the film features the Bayeux Tapestry, an important part of European history I was unaware of. Link below:

        • Xerxes22

          The Black guy in the movie was a slave and he was mute. That should be the only type of Black roles in movies.

        • SargintRock

          A great movie and all us baby boomers will never forget Ernie jumping into the wolf pit screaming “Odin” and slashing with his sword! Great stuff!

  • Michigan Patriot

    Are you sure that ” Morgan Freeman ” didn’t design nor build this boat ? In our movies; the brainiest person is always Morgan Freeman.

    • TheAntidote

      Well, no. It had to be blind Gordie from Star Trek the Next Generation who instructed those dumb crackers on how to build ships, navigate by stars, and invade other nations. He did it all with a time transporter he cooked up one morning.

    • Yes, I can just imagine that upon further research, it was discovered that the credit will be transfered to an African who happened to be in the area at the time of the original construction.

      • Formerly_Known_as_Whiteplight

        And specifically to an ancestor of Morgan Freeman.

  • Michael_C_Scott

    The Vikings didn’t do so well against the Irish at Clontarf in 1014.

    • Kostoglotov

      Well, nobody’s perfect. In general, the Vikings kicked Celtic butt for hundreds of years. They also took thousands of Celtic slaves, which is why there is a substantial portion of Irish DNA in the Icelandic genetic makeup today.

      OT, but I’ve always thought that the archetypal Finnish facial structure is amazingly similar to the Irish. I’ve never seen this discussed anywhere, so it could just be my imagination?

    • Kostoglotov

      Well, nobody’s perfect. In general, the Vikings kicked Celtic butt for hundreds of years. They also took thousands of Celtic slaves, which is why there is a substantial portion of Irish DNA in the Icelandic genetic makeup today.

      OT, but I’ve always thought that the archetypal Finnish facial structure is amazingly similar to the Irish. I’ve never seen this discussed anywhere, so it could just be my imagination?

      • Michael_C_Scott

        The Vikings only took the pretty Irish women.

        • rightrightright

          For themselves, not improbable. The Vikings were also slavers. They took all young women and sold on the plainer ones.

          • Stein

            The vikings did not agree upon everything. Keeping and taking slaves were of course the work of the Kings. The Kings were usually keeping in touch with the Byzantine empire and had thus different and despicable attitudes towards people. The real people were bound together as friends and had freeman ethics. One of the reasons why christianity could seem to be a good idea then, was the chance to get abolished slavery. If they managed that the kings would run into big trouble if trying to capture their youth to slavery.

            To get into the ethics and the thinking of the early north european people , read Oera Linda and then in particular “From goddess to kings” by Radford

      • gemjunior

        You’re right, Clontarf was a fluke. One of the oldest anonymous poems written by an Irish monk celebrated the storm outside as he worked on his manuscript, knowing the monastery would be safe from the Norse plunderers. It was found in the margin of a 9th century manuscript, complete with a drawing of a Viking longship.
        “Fierce is the wind tonight
        It ploughs up the white hair of the sea
        I have no fear that the Viking hosts
        Will come over the water to me”
        The high round towers dotted all over Ireland were built to hide the monastery’s valuables, especially of gold and silver. As soon as the ships were spotted, the monks would climb a ladder with the valuables and pull the ladder up behind them. Still, the Vikings took anything of value including people and food – sacks of wheat and hanging meat. They also gave the Irish their red and blond hair, not a Celtic trait and also the name “Ireland” or “Irland” rather than it’s only other known names at the time – Hibernia or Erin.

        • Michael_C_Scott

          Clontarf was no fluke; the Romans absolutely hated fighting against Celts. Fighting against Celts, they were just going to be killed, and some of them knew it. Rome built two walls across Scotland, and built a fortress every mile on Hadrian’s Wall. One general took a few legions north of Hadrian’s Wall, and every single man and horse was killed and eaten. Picts were cannibals until they converted to Christianity. Not even Romans wanted to eff with them twice.

          • gemjunior

            The Vikings were always defeating uprisings of Irish warriors, they made countless landings and founded several cities. Clontarf was the only battle won against the Vikings and then only because Brian Boru was able to unite the Irish tribal clans under him, giving him the title of Emperor. He also used Danish Vikings and Norse Vikings playing them off against one another and using many as hessians or soldiers for pay. I’m sure that nobody actually liked fighting fearsome Celts who, stark naked with lime-spiked hair and painted from head to toe with woad, ran straight into their opponents screaming in unison, with their long spears. They must have caused their enemies a severe fright.

          • rightrightright

            Our History tutor compared the failure of the Romans against the Celts to America’s difficulty in getting to grips with the North Vietnamese. Both Rome and the US were too advanced and sophisticated to deal with their enemies who could simply disappear into the mists or forests. It took the Anglo Saxons, who were intellectually at a pretty similar stage to the Celts, to give them such a whack that they stayed in the north nursing their headache. We in the West need to remember how to be low and mean sometimes.

  • PesachPatriot

    I always loved the vikings as a kid….I did not know there was a D’Aulaire’s book of norse myths…i read and enjoyed their book of greek myths many times as kid…never knew kirk douglas was in a movie about vikings…

  • Epiminondas

    Britain badly needs invading again. Maybe this is a plot.

  • DelmarJackson

    I wonder what the vikings would think about so many of their ancstors welcoming and even encouraging masses of islam immigration to their homelands?