How the Vikings ruled the waves

Gareth Williams unlocks the secrets of the Norsemen's superlative seamanship

The Oseberg ship at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway. (Photo by: Carl Simon/United Archives/UIG via Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine

One of the most enduring images of the Viking Age in the popular imagination is the longship, with its dragonhead, row of shields, and large square sail. Unlike the equally popular horned helmet (a Romantic fabrication of the 19th century), the longship is a fitting symbol for the Norsemen. The 250 years between AD 800 and 1050 saw a remarkable expansion from the Scandinavian homelands of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, involving a combination of raiding, conquest, peaceful settlement and long-distance trade.

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