Norway – Old Viking ship

It seems a pity that this precious vestige of old times should be stored in this easily inflammable wooden building, but its huge dimensions (103 feet long) make it impracticable to put it in the Museum proper. It was in 1880 that the battered and worn old hulk was dug out of a mound of clay, ninety miles away down the coast near Sandefjord. Evidently some Norse chieftain had been buried with his vessel centuries ago (that tent-shaped erection amidships was his mortuary chamber) ; at some inter-mediate period the unique tomb was opened and rifled of its chief valuables. Enough, however, remained to show that it must have been devoted to the memory of some prominent personage—perhaps one of the grim old Vikings who had led the famous expeditions to the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland, or northern France—who knows ? possibly even across the Atlantic to the “Vinland” of the Western continent ! These planks composing the clinker-built hull are of oak, not sawed, but carefully split and then trimmed with an axe. They were fastened with iron nails ; there are sixteen rowlocks, but there seems to be no trace of benches for the rowers. The rudder was affixed to one side—what sailors to-day call the “starboard” (steer-board) side. It originally had one mast, and when in action the gunwales were “armored” with overlapping shields of wood with metal decorations. When it was dug out of the clay, its discoverers found with it pieces of yellow and red cloth, some metal and wooden utensils, an axe, and a plank that may have been used as a gang-plank.

Old Norse Sagas (stories) of a thousand years ago describe boats of the same sort as this. Egil’s Saga, for instance, which depicts life in the tenth century, tells how

“Thorolf had a large, seagoing ship ; in every way it was most carefully built, and painted nearly all over’ above the water-line. It had a sail with blue and red stripes, and all the rigging was very elaborate. This he made ready, and ordered his men-servants to go with it; he had put on board dried fish, skins, tallow, grey fur and other furs which he had from the mountains,” etc., etc.

Beats like this were calked with the hair of cows and goats. Tradition says that when they were launched human sacrifices were a part of the ceremony. However that may be, there is no doubt but this very boat before us now saw many an exciting adventure in its day, striking terror to the hearts of coast-dwellers in faraway lands, when it came in sight with its marauding crew. It was in a vessel at least of this same type that Rolf sailed to northern France and up the Seine, on that momentous voyage of his which led to the Norman settlement and influence in western Europe, and so to the Norman conquest of England. Carlyle says :

“No Homer sang these Norse sea-kings, but Agamemnon’s was a small audacity, and of small fruit in the world, to some of them—to Hrolf’s of Normandy, for instance ! Hrolf, or Rollo, Duke of Normandy, the wild sea-king, has a share in governing England at this hour !”

A great deal of information about Norse life in the old times when this boat was new, was collected a generation ago and published in Du Chaillu’s work called The Viking Age. It is well worth study by any one having access to the volumes.

Now what we are to do next is to visit the palace of Norway’s present king, first seeing it from the park approach. The map sets down a figure 8 where we are to stand near the upper end of Karl Johan Street.