Oseberg Drakkar

Oseberg's ship was very well preserved and is a masterpiece of shipbuilding, now an icon of Scandinavia.

The famous Drakkar "Dragon-ship", is a romantic invention of nineteenth-century archaeologists. In fact it's a type of Langskip ("long ship", the true raid type viking ship) which appeared in the 8th century AD. Its ancestor, the Byrding, was assimilated to a boat without sails, which nevertheless possessed many of the langskip peculiarities. However, there was a common ancestor which was close to it, dating back to the 3rd century BC. Possibly the first clinker-built boat, with overlapping planking such as the tiles of a roof. This technique allowed a better strenght in heavy seas and storms, frequent in these northern latitudes, but also ensured a greater impermeability. They had a lacing of couples in roots of spruce, giving them great flexibility. In this they inherited Neolithic skin boat.

Drakkars are basically large symmetrical boats, able to reverse quickly if needed, with low draft and flat bottom, but also often without decks. The mast, short and always single, was placed in the center of the ship, stuck in a bulge of the master-couple planted on the keel. This mast could be dismantled for maneuvers, but at sea it was almost always sufficient for the propulsion as there was no shortage of wind. But this is especially the finesse of the ships's lines that made her legendary: Bow and the stern are high and very narrow, even though the center of the ship is wide and with a low rounded section and flat bottom, giving this ship excellent stability but also excellent penetration and low drag. The oars were manned by a single man in general, used mainly for river, bays and cabotage, where the shallow draft allowed them to go everywhere. It is often forgotten that these ships also traded a lot, therefore river cities (which abunded throughout Europe and Russia) were always capable to reach almost every of them, how deep inland they were, like Kiev (now in Ukraine).

Oserbeg bow

The strikingly handsome lines of the Oseberg are worthy of an art museum

Contrary to a widespread idea, Drakkars did not systematically showed a Dragon head at their prow and/or stern, but more often a spiral, sacred symbol widely used graphically by Celtic and Scandinavian peoples. Their hulls were also often ornamented with patterns of the same order proper to the Drekis, the type of Langskips related to the Snekkar but generally much more decorated. The Oseberg boat was discovered in 1904 by a farmer from Oseberg, in the Vestfjold region. The latter had in his field a tumulus containing a vessel well buried, probably belonging to Queen Åsa and her maidservant. She was exhumed and preserved byarchaeologists Gustavson and Shetelig. This was not the first exhumation of a medieval scandinavian ship, because others had been cleared as early as the seventeenth century. But the gorgeous ornamentation and perfect state of conservation were a first. So the Oseberg is technically a "Dreki" not a Drakkar/Drekkar.

Details of the decoration

As a Langskip, the Oseberg was rather short and wide (22 meters by 5) but was particularly unusual form was emblematic of the Dreki and Snekkars in general. Dated from 820 AD. JC. she built of oak, with fifteen benches, probably for 30 rowers, which was not large. The mast was about 9 meters high and the sail was about 90 m2. She had to be able to sail at 10 knots just by sailing. The well-worked decorations of the stem piece (perhaps because the owner was a woman?) which became a classic in Norwegian pagan art. In truth, the Oseberg's ship could also have been classed as a Karfi, a short variant of the classical Langskips like the Snekkars.

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oseberg_Ship
  • http://www.khm.uio.no/english/visit-us/viking-ship-museum/exhibitions/oseberg/
  • http://www.vikingeskibsmuseet.dk/