Ships on Display

Photo of the Ladby ship burial

(c)  Mandias. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Inside a Grave Mound

The only Viking Ship Burial in Denmark was discovered in 1935 and excavated shortly afterwards. A local king or ruler was buried in a 21.5m ship accompanied by grave goods, and a mound was raised over the burial. Although the grave was plundered and the human remains removed, the ship survives and is now on display in its original position. The museum is unique in being built around the ship on the site of the original mound. You can see a Danish documentary focused on the Ladby Ship below.

The Gokstad Ship

(c) RDale. CC BY NC


Two of the most iconic, and well preserved, Viking ships are on display in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, in purpose-built halls constructed in the 1920s. The Museum houses the ninth-century Oseberg and Gokstad ships and the more fragmentary early-tenth-century Tune ship as well as an impressive array of grave goods including an elaborately decorated waggon. The Gokstad Ship, pictured here, was built from timber felled in 890 AD, which places it during the reign of Harald Fairhair and his efforts to consolidate control over Norway. It is a beautiful example of a multi-purpose ocean-going Viking ship, with features such as closable oar holes, lower mast and rudder preserved in remarkable condition. There has been a debate in recent years about how best to preserve the ships in light of the significant numbers of visitors to the Vikingskipshuset and the limitations of this iconic 1920s building, and whether the ships could be safely moved to a new location.

More details about the Gokstad and Oseberg Ships can be found on the website of the Viking Ship Mueum, Oslo

The remains of Skuldelev 2 in the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde

(c) TBirkett. CC BY NC

Skuldelev 3 on display in the Viking Ship Museum, Roskilde

(c) TBirkett. CC BY NC

Increasing Specialisation

By the late Viking Age there were a great variety of ship types, with increasingly specialised roles. The best place to get a sense of this is in the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, Denmark, which houses the remains of the five Skuldelev ships excavated from the Roskilde fjord. Each of the ships scuttled to create a barrier in the fjord in the late Viking Age are of a different character, ranging from the 30m warship Skuldelev 2 (built in or near Dublin), to the modest Danish cargo vessel pictured below it. The smallest of the Skuldelev ships (Skuldelev 6) was built in the West Fjords of Norway, and was probably a fishing vessel before being repurposed as a small cargo ship and finding its way to Roskilde.

The increasing specialisation in the ships testifies to the variety of maritime activities in the late Viking Age, ranging from large-scale military campaigns, to costal defence, fishing, and both local and international trade. 

To read more about the ships on display at the Viking Ship Museum and their various dimensions, places of construction and roles, visit the Viking Ship Museum's online exhibition.

Remains of the Roskilde 6 ship on display at the British Museum

(c) TBirkett. CC BY NC

Roskilde 6

The largest ship yet to be discovered was the centrepiece of three exhibitions at the Nationalmuseet in Copenhagen, the British Museum in London and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in 2013-15. For the purpose of illustrating the full scale of this 37m ship from the limited remains, a frame was constructed within which the surviving timbers were displayed. Roskilde 6 had 39 pairs of oars, and would have required a crew of 100. The surviving timbers were of a high quality, further suggesting that this was a ship comissioned by an individual with considerable resources with the aim of projecting military power: most likely one of the kings with competing claims to Norway in the mid-eleventh century. 

This image on the left was taken at the British Museum 'Vikings: Life and Legend' exhibition in 2014. The same ship was displayed in quite a different way in the Nationalmuseet in 2013 (below).

World Tree

World Tree