The image of the Vikings is known across the world, and a central part of it is the Viking ship. Several Viking Age ships are well preserved, such as the Oseberg ship and the Gokstad ship in Norway, and the finds from Roskilde in Denmark. In this article series, we take a closer look at different types of boat and ship remains from the Viking Age in Sweden and from the rest of the Baltic Sea. The first part of the series discusses the best-preserved finds here in Sweden.
At the end of the 1800s, the remains of a boat were found in Vik, outside Norrtälje in Uppland. Parts of the boat were excavated, though it would take 100 years before the boat was examined and restored. Viksbåten was 9.6 metres long and 2.2 metres wide, with room for six rowers. The material used to make the boat is dated to the end of the Viking Age or early Middle Ages. A find of the same size exists from Bulverket on Gotland, which was the basis for the reconstruction of Krampmacken.
In 1933, the Äskekärr ship was discovered in the Göta River. Only the bottom of the hull was preserved, so although we cannot know the exact size, it was probably around 16 metres long. The ship is dated to the year 960, during the middle of the Viking Age. The Äskekärr ship was probably part of the West Nordic shipbuilding tradition and may have differed slightly from the ships sailing the Baltic Sea.
The best-preserved Viking Age boat was found at the Årby farm, northeast of Uppsala. The Årby boat was discovered during a well excavation in 1933, when a grave was found. Although several boat graves exist, in Sweden the wood usually no longer remains. The find was covered in blue clay, which provided good conservation conditions for organic matter, so amazingly a large section of the hull and some objects still remain. The grave was plundered in ancient times, so metal objects and much of the skeleton have disappeared. The boat shows signs of having been used, so it was not built for the burial. The hull shows signs of being both worn and repaired. The boat was about 3.9 metres long and was used in smaller bodies of water. The oars that were in the grave are narrow and spear-shaped, suggesting that the boat was easy to row.
An old defence facility in Skåne is a discovery that resonates to this day. There, ships were scuttled to block the waterways from attackers – the same purpose for which Vasa’s sister ship Äpplet was intentionally sunk in another location. This find is in Foteviken, which is located between Malmö and Trelleborg. The structure, which is over 354 metres long, protected a natural harbour and was built with stones, piles and ships. Today, only one of the ships has been completely examined. That wreck is called Fotevik 1. It was 10.4 metres long, but the barrier there also contains remains of ships that were over 20 metres long.
In the next part of the seris about Viking Age shipwrecks in the Baltic Sea, we will talk about parts of ships and boats found in different locations.