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Viking/Norman ship facts

Viking Longboats
An extract from the Bayeux Tapestry

Normandy was first raided by the Vikings in 790AD and then settled by Vikings in about 840AD, so the Normans would use Viking technology for their ships.

Viking longships, also known as longboats, were versatile Scandinavian warships used for commerce, exploration, and warfare during the Viking Age. While their primary purpose was not to transport horses, they could potentially carry a limited number of them.

There were two types of ships, the first a warship called a Snekkja (meaning snake) with a larger variant called Drekka (meaning dragon) which was usually a commanders vessel and had a dragon shaped prow.

The second was a transport ship called a Knarr (meaning merchant ship) which was wider and carried heavier loads and its smaller relative the Karve (meaning a caraway).

Model Longboat
This is a detailed model longboat from Admiralty Ship Models

Viking ship speeds

Viking Ship Speeds

The speed of Viking ships varied based on their type and conditions. Let's explore the speeds of two notable Viking ship types: the snekka and the knarr.

1. Snekka:

The snekka was a type of Viking warship, often used for coastal raids and warfare. Its speed depended on factors like wind conditions, crew strength, and the specific design. On average, a snekka could achieve speeds ranging from 5 to 13 knots (approximately 9.3 to 18.5 km/h) when propelled by both oars and sail.
Under favorable conditions, the maximum speed of a longship could reach around 15 knots (approximately 28 km/h)

2. Knarr:

The knarr was a Norse merchant ship used for long sea voyages during the Viking Age. Unlike warships, the knarr was designed for cargo transport. Its hull was wider, deeper, and shorter than a longship, allowing it to carry more cargo. The knarr's average speed was similar to other Viking ships, ranging from 5 to 10 knots (approximately 9.3 to 18.5 km/h). .

In summary, both the snekka and the knarr were capable of respectable speeds, allowing Vikings to navigate coastal waters and undertake their expeditions.

Crew of a Snekka

Viking Snekka Crew

The snekka, a sleek and dynamic Viking longship, was commonly used for combat and coastal expeditions.

Key details about the snekka crew:

  • Minimum of 20 rowing benches
  • Approximately 40 oarsmen
  • Additional crew included a cox
  • Possibly another 20 passengers

The snekka excelled in deeper waters, making it ideal for fjords and Atlantic expeditions. Its streamlined shape allowed for easy beach landings on sandy or pebbled shores.

These vessels played a significant role in Viking warfare and exploration.

This would mean that a standard Snekka could carry 60 fighting men on short journeys.

Viking Longboat Capacity and Horse Transport AD1066

Here are some details:

  • Size and Characteristics:
    • A typical snekkja (a type of longship) might have a length of around 17 meters (56 feet), a width of 2.5 meters (8.2 feet), and a draught of only 0.5 meters (1.6 feet).
    • These longships were characterized as graceful, long, narrow, and light, with a shallow-draft hull designed for speed.
    • Their shallow draft allowed navigation in waters as shallow as one meter, and their light weight enabled them to be carried over portages or used for shelter in camps.
  • Capacity for Horses:
    • Due to limited space and shallow draft, carrying horses on a longship was not common.
    • If horses were transported, the number would likely be minimal—perhaps a few horses at most.
    • The primary function of longships was troop transport rather than serving as dedicated warships.
  • Function and Speed:
    • Longships were fitted with oars along almost the entire length of the boat.
    • Some versions had a rectangular sail on a single mast, which could replace or augment rowing efforts during long journeys.
    • The average speed of Viking ships varied, but it generally lay in the range of 5–10 knots (9.3–18.5 km/h), with a maximum speed of around 15 knots (28 km/h) under favorable conditions.

In summary, while Viking longships were powerful naval weapons, carrying horses was not their primary function. They were more commonly used for transporting warriors and supplies during Viking expeditions.

How much could a standard viking knarr carry ?

The Viking knarr, a sturdy Norse merchant ship, played a crucial role during the Viking expansion. Unlike the sleek longships, the knarr was designed for cargo transport. Let’s delve into its features:

  • The knarr was constructed using the same clinker-built method as longships, karves, and faerings.
  • Oak, widely available in southern Scandinavia or Southern England, was the primary material used for its frame.
  • The oak frame was constructed deeper, paired with a wider body, creating an incredibly stable merchant ship.
  • Overlapping planks were riveted to the hull, forming the clinker-hull, which suited it for rough waters.
  • The knarr was approximately 16 meters long (53 feet), and had a beam of 4.6 metres (15 feet)and could carry up to 30 tons (60,000 lbs) of cargo.
  • The addition of sails made it an incredibly low-maintenance ship, requiring only a crew of six.

Role in Viking Exploration:
  • The knarr was instrumental during the Viking settlement at Vinland (modern-day Newfoundland).
  • It transported essential cargo like food, tools, and livestock to establish new settlements.
  • Besides Vinland, the knarr carried goods to Norse settlements in Greenland, Iceland, and other regions.

Historical Significance:
  • The sagas, passed down verbally for centuries, tell of Viking journeys and the discovery of Vinland.
  • In 1960, explorers Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad discovered a Viking settlement in L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, confirming the sagas’ truth.
  • The knarr’s ability to transfer cargo was vital for establishing and sustaining these early settlements.

How heavy was the average horse in 1066 ?

Horse Breeding and Size:
Horses in the Middle Ages were selectively bred for increased size. By the 11th century, the average warhorse was likely around 14.2 to 15 hands (approximately 58 to 60 inches or 147 to 152 cm) tall.

This size has been verified through studies of Norman horseshoes and depictions on the Bayeux Tapestry.

General Horse Weight:
The average-sized horse today can weigh anywhere between 900 to 2,000 pounds.
However, it’s essential to consider that horse weight can vary significantly based on factors like breed and height.

Horse Weight Based on Height:
Here’s a rough estimate of horse weight based on height (in hands):
9h: 420 to 530 pounds (190.5 – 240.5 kg)
10h: 530 to 620 pounds (240.5 – 281 kg)
11h: 530 to 700 pounds (240.5 – 317.5 kg)
12h: 530 to 815 pounds (240.5 – 370 kg)
13h: 620 to 880 pounds (281 – 399 kg)
14h: 795 to 990 pounds (360 – 449 kg)
15h: 990 to 1146 pounds (450 – 520 kg)
16h: 1234 to 1388 pounds (560 – 630 kg)

In summary, the average horse in 1066 would likely fall within these weight ranges, depending on its specific characteristics

The average ground area taken up by a horse is about 8ft x 3ft.

How many horses could a standard Norman Longboat carry ?
Horses in a ship from the Bayeux Tapestry The image to the left comes from the Bayeux Tapestry and shows 10 horses and squires being transported in a Norman Longboat, this looks like a Longboat and not a Knarr as there are oar ports along the side of the vessel.

Let us assume that the carrying space in a longboat is about 40ft x 6ft. So we can probably fit two horses(3ft wide and 8ft long) side by side and have 5 rows of horses.

This would mean that on each Longboat we could transport a maximum of 10 horses plus the 10 squires and relevant equipment and food to look after them.

How many horses could a standard Norman Knarr carry ?
Horses in a Knarr from the Bayeux Tapestry The image to the riight comes from the Bayeux Tapestry and shows 10 horses and squires being transported in a Norman Longboat, this looks like a Knarr as there are NO oar ports along the side of the vessel.

If we assume the standard knights horse in Norman times weighed about 500kg then theoretically a Knarr could carry 30 tons which means 60 horses. Now that would be very silly as the horses take up more room and require significant space.

So to make this more realistic let us assume that the carrying space is about 40ft x 10ft. So we can probably fit 12 horses(3ft wide and 8ft long) side by side.

This would mean that on each Knarr we could transport 12 horses plus the 12 squires and relevant equipment and food to look after them.

How many ships did William have available in 1066AD

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Author Simon M - Last updated - 2024-05-06 15:52:30
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