Seafaring: Viking Essay, Research Paper
Seafaring: A Cornerstone of Viking Culture
Technological advances have always played very important roles in the development of cultures. From warfare to agriculture, technology can help shape and mold the way a culture develops. The Viking longships were one such advance. The impact of the technology involved in creating these magnificent ships is very apparent in the remnants of Viking culture. Expansion, warfare and poetry were only some of the many facets of Viking life affected by seafaring.
The Vikings were perhaps the most successful of all early explorers. The design of the longships allowed for navigation in the shallow fjords found within Sweden and Norway out to the ocean. From there, the Vikings were able to reach out across the globe. Unlike prior civilizations such as the Greeks, the Vikings used their technology to reach out to other European countries and even into Asia. While the Greeks concentrated their naval efforts in the area of warfare, although there is evidence of far reaching travel in such works as The Odyssey, the Vikings were able to establish profitable trade routes which in turn lead to the establishment of key trade ports such as Hedeby and Ribe. These first trade centers fueled the Viking economy and were essential in the development of Viking culture. However, the expansion made possible by the longships was not merely a tool for trade but also allowed for the colonization of Iceland and Greenland by Viking settlers. Again, the durable and well-crafted Viking vessels were able to handle such long journeys deep into the unknown Atlantic Ocean. This type of far reaching travel was unheard of before the Vikings and was not matched until almost
500 years later during the peak of European exploration.
Colonization, however, was not one of the major goals of the Vikings. Raiding and pillaging were more common tasks than far reaching global expansion. Both, however, relied on Viking naval prowess. The same design which allowed their ships to be maneuvered and sailed in shallow rivers allowed the Vikings to rapidly land their ships directly onto beaches providing for easy raiding. The Viking became famous for this type of fast and furious attach which made them extremely successful in attacking and difficult to defend against. Settlements and churches near these shallow rivers or near coastal waters were easy targets for Viking raiders as attacks could be made quickly and swiftly without allowing much time for those attacked to prepare their defenses. Ships were integral components of the raiding process which reflects greatly on the impact they made on our conceptions about the Vikings.
Of all the evidence which has been gathered in order to learn about Viking seafaring, poetry is perhaps the most important. While trade and warfare tell a great deal about any civilization, poetry and literature can be used to look deeper into a particular civilization and convey the emotions of those who experienced that which we research. Scandinavian poetry is no different. Runic poetry found from the Viking age places a great importance on the prior accomplishments of a Viking. These exploits were most often tales of great bravery in battle or past conquests. As integral parts of all Viking expansion and warfare, longships can be considered integral to the garnishing of status which in turn makes pivotal in what is written about a certain Viking in poetry. Runic poetry was not the only form of poetry affected by the longships. The famous Viking
Sagas recounted the expansion of the Vikings across the Atlantic. However, evidence of the impact of longships cannot only be found in Scandinavian literature but also in that of later civilizations, including the Romans. Famous poets such as Virgil recounted the splendor and grandeur of the longships in The Aeneid demonstrating the great respect for the Vikings and their mastery of all aspects of seafaring.
The impact of the longships was so far-reaching that it can even be seen today. The evidence found in Viking expansion, warfare and literature fuels the desire of those of the twentieth century to learn more about the Vikings. Countless hours of research, endless piles of books and even a Hollywood motion picture have all stemmed from our fascination for the Viking past. Yet at the core of all that has come about as a result of this fascination is the longship, the most recognizable, accurate, symbol of Viking culture recognized by our own. In a time when information is bombarded across televisions, cinemas, radios and magazines, it is difficult for any one image to outlast another and prevail in one s mind. The longship, however, has prevailed and is recognized world wide as a cornerstone of everything that is Viking.