arrow-downarrow-leftarrow-rightarrow-upchevron-upchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-upclosecomment-newemail-newgallerygridheadphones-newheart-filledheart-openmap-geolocatormap-pushpinArtboard 1Artboard 1Artboard 1minusng-borderpauseplayplusreplayscreenArtboard 1sharefacebookgithubArtboard 1Artboard 1linkedinlinkedin_inpinterestpinterest_psnapchatsnapchat_2tumblrtwittervimeovinewhatsappspeakerstar-filledstar-openzoom-in-newzoom-out-new

The Realm of the Vikings

From their mastery of the seas to their influence over lands as far from home as Russia and North America, the Scandinavian raiders known as the Vikings shaped the world for centuries. Swift and deadly, the Vikings dominated the seas of northern Europe from the late eighth century to the 11th.

Drag to explore

The mast could be raised within minutes

to take advantage of prevailing winds or lowered to improve rowing maneuverability.

Sailors perched on movable storage chests while rowing.

Lookout

Cask for fresh water

Spears

Mast

(pine)

Captain

Mast lock

Stored weapons

The ship was primarily constructed from oak, with the keel made from a timber almost 58 feet long.

Rudder

RETURNING RAIDERS

 

Sails were adopted in Scandinavia by approximately the seventh century. Only fragments survive, but evidence suggests Viking sails were roughly square shaped and made of wool dyed in bold colors or stripes to signify ownership, group identity, and status.

The mast could be raised within minutes

to take advantage of prevailing winds or lowered to improve rowing maneuverability.

The top of the Gokstad ship’s stems didn’t survive, but evidence suggests that dragon heads and metal ship vanes (similar to weather vanes) adorned other Viking ships.

A Viking fleet nears home with slaves and other plunder in this imagined scene aboard an actual vessel—the ninth-century Gokstad ship.

Sailors perched on movable storage chests while rowing.

Vikings raided for status, loot, slaves, and provisions.

The tack spar helped control the sail’s front corner.

Oar-holes could be closed when under sail, sealing out water in heavy seas.

Shields could be

tied to the sides of the ship with ropes.

Lookout

Cask for fresh water

Spears

Mast

(pine)

Captain

Deck

(pine)

Oars

Mast lock

Mast fish

Keelson

Rudder

The keelson and mast fish formed a base structure for the mast and helped absorb stress while under sail. A mast lock could be removed to lower the mast.

Large stones were placed in the hull as ballast to help stabilize the ship.

Stored weapons

Removable planks helped Vikings easily store items belowdecks.

The ship was primarily constructed from oak, with the keel made from a timber almost 58 feet long.

  1. Keelson
  2. The keelson and mast fish formed a base structure for the mast and helped absorb stress while under sail. A mast lock could be removed to lower the mast.
  3. Mast fish
  4. Large stones were placed in the hull as ballast to help stabilize the ship.
  5. Vikings raided for status, loot, slaves, and provisions.
  6. The tack spar helped control the sail’s front corner.
  7. Deck (pine)
  8. Removable planks helped Vikings easily store items belowdecks.
  9. Oar-holes could be closed when under sail, sealing out water in heavy seas.
  10. Shields could be tied to the sides of the ship with ropes.
  11. The top of the Gokstad ship’s stems didn’t survive, but evidence suggests that dragon heads and metal ship vanes (similar to weather vanes) adorned other Viking ships.
  12. Sails were adopted in Scandinavia by approximately the seventh century. Only fragments survive, but evidence suggests Viking sails were roughly square shaped and made of wool dyed in bold colors or stripes to signify ownership, group identity, and status.

Sturdy, Light, and Flexible

The Vikings built their ships starting with the keel and outer planking, only later adding internal framework and supports. This made the boats flexible and light enough for smaller ones to be transported overland.

Tall, straight oak trees were favored for keels and planking. Naturally curved trees and limbs were used for frame components.

Logs were split radially with an ax to create thin but sturdy wedge-shaped planks.

  1. Construction of the hull started with fore and aft stems fastened to the keel.
  2. Lower planking was attached with iron rivets and roves.
  3. Floor timbers were added to support the hull, and upper planking was added.
  4. The keelson (mast support) was placed on the keel. Crossbeams, knees (curved joints), and other frame components provided further reinforcement, and the mast fish was added.

Clinker Versus Carvel Design

Vikings used clinker design—overlapping planks fastened with rivets and roves (right). The planks were then attached to the frame with lashing. After the Viking age, large vessels were built carvel style (far right), with planks laid edge to edge.

Varieties of Viking Ships

Early vessels were multipurpose, and some—like the Oseberg and Gokstad ships—were also used for burials. By the 10th century ship designs were specialized: short, wide hulls to transport cargo and long, narrow hulls to carry armed crews.

MULTIPURPOSE
CARGO
WAR

Far-Flung Realm

The seafaring Vikings made their dramatic entrance into the annals of European history by plundering the British Isles in the late eighth century. By the 11th, Viking raids, trade, exploration, and influence spanned much of the Northern Hemisphere, from North America to eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Drag to explore

North Cape

Greenland

Settled Territory

CANADA

Ranges in the east are approximate. Rus settlement in those areas was sparse, mixing with local tribes.

by A.D. 800

LABRADOR

(MARKLAND)

Iceland

900

To Vinland

1000

FINland

Faroe

Islands

Circular fort

Newfoundland

SWEDES

Ship burial

KAZAKHSTAN

Point Rosee

excavation site

UZBEKISTAN

RUSSIA

Native Viking

ethnic group

GEATS

North

Sea

DANES

British

Isles

Gnezdovo

Khwarezm

(Khiwa)

United

Kingdom

DANES

Raiders, Traders,

and Explorers

Ireland

germany

UKRAINE

Poland

AZERBAIJAN

Celtic Sea

Crimea

Recorded Viking attack

 

ROMANIA

IRAN

Major trade center

 

Bay of

Biscay

France

BULGARIA

TURKEY

Route of exploration, plunder, or trade

 

Portage area

 

Italy

Corsica

GREECE

Portugal

Areas raided repeatedly

during the Viking age

Sardinia

SPain

Sicily

Crete

400 mi

Modern-day drainage and

political boundaries are shown.

AFRICA

400 km

MOROCCO

Out of the North

Godthåb

North Cape

Greenland

Viking culture was shaped by the unique geography of Scandinavia. While not all Scandinavians chose the life of a raider, scarce arable land and a desire to seek riches abroad drove many to the seas.

 

CANADA

Brattahlid

Julianehåb

Borg

LABRADOR

(MARKLAND)

Hofstadir

Iceland

Reykjavík

To Vinland

FINland

Thingvellir

L’Anse aux

Meadows

Sarskoye

Gorodische

Kirkjubæjarklaustur

Bolgar

Staraya Ladoga

(Aldeigjuborg)

Newfoundland

Trondheim

VOLGA

BULGARS

Point Rosee

excavation site

Luistari

Faroe Islands

MERYA

Timerevo

Conquering Enlgand

SWEDES

CHUDES

Novgorod

Kyrksundet

Vikings would portage their vessels to access eastern rivers.

Moscow

In 865 Vikings landed a large army in England. They found the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms weak and divided, defeated many of them, and settled in a region

that would later be called the Danelaw.

ESTS

KAZAKHSTAN

Bergen

Oslo

Pskov

UZBEKISTAN

Lerwick

Birka

Kaupang

KRIVICHS

LIVONIANS

Settled Territory

Skien

RUSSIA

Paviken

North

Sea

CURONIANS

Khwarezm

(Khiwa)

Gnezdovo

GEATS

Polotsk

Great

Britain

Ranges in the east are approximate. Rus settlement in those areas was sparse, mixing with local tribes.

SEVERIANS

LETTS

PICTS

DREGOVICHES

Fyrkat

British

Isles

Lindisfarne

Atil

DANES

LITHUANIANS

United

Kingdom

Kaup

Ribe

Sarkel

Elblag

by A.D. 800

York (Jórvik)

Shestovytsya

Hedeby

DREVLIANS

Wolin

PECHENEGS

Ireland

IRISH

WENDS

Kiev

Dublin

900

KHAZARS

Limerick

UKRAINE

Hamburg

Poland

FRISIANS

Rus center

of power, 882

WELSH

GERMANS

POLES

Normandy Peace Deal

 

1000

Baku

Utrecht

germany

Kerch

MAGYARS

Celtic Sea

After years of raids down the Seine, a deal in 911 between the Viking warlord Rollo and the Frankish king Charles the Simple let the Vikings settle the coast if they would act as a barrier against other attackers.

AZERBAIJAN

Abaskun

Circular fort

Cologne

Antwerp

Barda

Portland

Crimea

Vikings first encount-

ered in England, 789

Ship burial

Chersonesos

Ardabil

ROMANIA

Paris

IRAN

DANES

Native Viking ethnic group

Trebizond

(Trabzon)

BULGARS

Nantes

Sinope

(Sinop)

Noirmoutier

FRANKS

Varna

Preslav

First raiding base in France, 843

Raiders, Traders, and Explorers

Bay of

Biscay

Poitiers

BULGARIA

Lyon

TURKEY

France

Areas raided repeatedly during the Viking age

Valence

Constantinople

Luni

BALKAN

PENINSULA

Bordeaux

Fiesole

Several treaties were ratified

between the Rus and Byzantines.

Gijón

Toulouse

Santiago de

Compostela

Arles

Recorded Viking attack

 

Pisa

GALICIANS

Narbonne

Italy

Rome

Corsica

Major trade center

 

SPain

GREECE

Varangian Guard

Route of exploration, plunder, or trade

 

Portugal

Sardinia

Impressed by the Vikings’ fighting prowess, Byzantine emperors recruited the Norsemen into an elite unit that provided personal protection for nearly two centuries.

EMIRATE

OF

CÓrdoba

Portage area

 

Ionian

Sea

Lisbon

First Viking raids in Spain, 844

Sicily

Ethnic group in contact with Vikings

IRISH

Vikings may have raided other areas in the Mediterranean.

Crete

Seville

Cádiz

Algeciras

AFRICA

Str. of Gibraltar

200 mi

Modern-day drainage and political boundaries are shown.

200 km

MOROCCO

Vikings in Scandinavia

The peoples of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden—the Viking homelands—shared a rich seafaring tradition and class-based social hierarchy, with slaves, freemen, and nobles ruled by a succession of competing regional kings and chiefs.

Vikings in the East

Swedish traders dominated Scandinavian eastward expansion from the eighth century and became leaders of the Rus, a multiethnic people who traded with the Arab and Byzantine worlds and founded merchant towns like Novgorod.

Scandinavian

high-status

woman

Scandinavian

high-status

warrior

Scandinavian

high-status

woman

Scandinavian

high-status

warrior

Bronze oval

brooches, often

with beads strung between them, fastened apron straps. Fashions varied by region.

Metal helmets

denoted high

status. Only

one complete

Viking metal

helmet has

ever been

discovered.

 

Scandinavian

Finnish

Gotlandic

Chain mail

armor was worn by Viking elites.

 

Women hung tools like knives, needle cases, and shears from their brooches or belts.

 

 

Swords, often

double-edged

with richly decorated hilts, could be more than three feet long.

Women’s clothing could include

several layers, with an apron and a shawl.

 

The underdress

was made of linen.

 

Scandinavian

high-status

warrior

Scandinavian

high-status

woman

Rus man

High-status

Rus woman

Bronze oval

brooches, often

with beads strung between them, fastened apron straps. Fashions varied by region.

Married Viking women may have covered their hair.

Hats could

be made of exotic fabrics, with fur trim and a silver tassel.

 

Metal helmets

denoted high

status. Only

one complete Viking metal helmet has

ever been

discovered.

 

Caftans

were often made of

wool, with silk

decorations

and trim.

 

Scandinavian

Trade with

the Arab

world included

vast amounts

of silver, often

used for

jewelry.

 

Finnish

Gotlandic

Chain mail armor was worn by Viking elites.

 

Baggy,

Eastern-style pants worn

by Rus men became

fashionable across

Scandinavia.

 

Women hung tools like knives, needle cases, and shears

from their brooches

or belts.

 

 

The Rus

adopted

Christianity

from the

Byzantine

Empire.

Swords, often

double-edged

with richly

decorated hilts, could be more than three

feet long.

The underdress

was made of linen.

 

Women’s clothing could include

several layers, with an apron and a shawl.

 

  1. Metal helmets denoted high status. Only one complete Viking metal helmet has ever been discovered.
  2. Chain mail armor was worn by Viking elites.
  3. Swords, often double-edged with richly decorated hilts, could be more than three feet long.
  4. Bronze oval brooches, often with beads strung between them, fastened apron straps. Fashions varied by region.
  1. Women hung tools like knives, needle cases, and shears from their brooches or belts.
  2. The underdress was made of linen.
  3. Women’s clothing could include several layers, with an apron and a shawl.

Vikings in the East

Swedish traders dominated Scandinavian eastward expansion from the eighth century and became leaders of the Rus, a multiethnic people who traded with the Arab and Byzantine worlds and founded merchant towns like Novgorod.

Rus man

High-status

Rus woman

Rus man

High-status

Rus woman

Hats could

be made of

exotic fabrics,

with fur trim and

a silver tassel.

 

Married Viking women may

have covered their hair.

Trade with

the Arab world

included vast

amounts of

silver, often

used for jewelry.

 

Caftans

were often

made of

wool, with silk

decorations

and trim.

 

Baggy,

Eastern-style

pants worn by

Rus men became

fashionable

across

Scandinavia.

 

The Rus

adopted

Christianity

from the

Byzantine

Empire.

  1. Hats could be made of exotic fabrics, with fur trim and a silver tassel.
  2. Caftans were often made of wool, with silk decorations and trim.
  3. Baggy, Eastern-style pants worn by Rus men became fashionable across Scandinavia.
  4. Married Viking women may have covered their hair.
  5. Trade with the Arab world included vast amounts of silver, often used for jewelry.
  6. The Rus adopted Christianity from theByzantine Empire.

VIKING FORTS

Circular, or Trelleborg-style, forts like this one in Denmark were used for defensive and administrative purposes. They display a similar design, implying coordination by a central authority.

LONGHOUSES

Built of various materials including wood, stone, and turf, the Scandinavian longhouse was a large hall where inhabitants ate and slept, with additional rooms for storage.

BURIAL SHIPS

Sometimes afforded to men and women of high status, ship burials could include the entombing of weapons, jewelry, expensive clothing, and sacrificial animals.

Artist’s interpretation of Vikings is based on historical descriptions and archaeological evidence.
FERNANDO G. BAPTISTA, DAISY CHUNG, Matthew W. Chwastyk, AND EVE CONANT, NGM STAFF; AMANDA HOBBS.
DIGITAL PRODUCTION: Daniela Santamarina, Riley Champine, Daisy Chung and Oscar Santamarina.
SOURCES: VIBEKE BISCHOFF AND MORTEN RAVN, VIKING SHIP MUSEUM, ROSKILDE, DENMARK; JAMES GRAHAM-CAMPBELL, UNIVERSITY COLLEGE LONDON; NEIL PRICE, UPPSALA UNIVERSITY; Kenneth F. Nordan, Friends of the Viking Ship; The Age of the Dromon: The Byzantine Navy ca 500-1204, John Pryor and Elizabeth Jeffreys; NIELS LUND, UNIVERSITY OF COPENHAGEN; ANNA WESSMAN, UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI; FEDIR ANDROSHCHUK, SWEDISH HISTORY MUSEUM.

Comment on This Story



Events

Hear live stories from explorers and photographers around the country.

See Locations Near You

Exhibits

Enjoy a variety of exhibitions that reflect the richness and diversity of our world.

Buy Tickets

Follow Us