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Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age

Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age: The Vocabulary of Runic Inscriptions and Skaldic Verse

Judith Jesch
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Ships and Men in the Late Viking Age
    Book Description:

    The Vikings were the master mariners and ship-builders of the middle ages: their success depended on these skills. Spectacular archaeological finds of whole or partial ships, from burial mounds or dredged from harbours, continue to give new and exciting evidence of their practical craftsmanship and urge to seek new shores. The nautical vocabulary of the Viking Age, however, has been surprisingly neglected - the last comprehensive study was published in 1912 and was heavily dependent on post-Viking Age sources. Far better contemporary sources from the later Viking Age are available to document the activities of men and their uses of ships from c.950-1100, and Judith Jesch undertakes in this book the first systematic and comparative study of such evidence. The core is a critical survey of the vocabulary of ships and their crews, of fleets and sailing and battles at sea, based on runic inscriptions and skaldic evidence from c.950-1100. This nautical vocabulary is studied within the larger context of "viking" activity in this period: what that activity was and where it took place, its social and military aspects, and its impact on developments in the nature of kingship in Scandinavia. JUDITH JESCH is Reader in Viking Studies at the University of Nottingham, and author of Women in the Viking Age.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-153-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. 1 Introduction: Rocks and Rhymes
    (pp. 1-43)

    One of Scandinavia’s most remarkable monuments from the Viking Age still stands today, in a field west of Karlevi, among the campsites and holiday cottages of the Swedish island of Öland. It was erected around the turn of the last millennium to honour an otherwise obscure Danish warrior and sea-captain called Sibbi. The memorial is in stone, its text is written in runes and formulated partly in verse. This rhyme on a rock is an important piece of contemporary evidence for the Viking Age ethos of masculine achievement and how it was commemorated.

    The Karlevi monument is a nearly rectangular...

  7. 2 Viking Activities
    (pp. 44-68)

    The modern term ‘Viking Age’ implies either an era associated with people called ‘vikings’, or one in which people engaged in an activity called ‘viking’, just as they practised chivalry in the Age of Chivalry, or enjoyed jazz in the Jazz Age. But it is not as easy to define ‘viking’ as either jazz or chivalry. This chapter is an attempt to discover what was involved in ‘viking’ activity, or rather activities, as indicated in the significant vocabulary of both the runic and the skaldic corpus.

    The English word ‘Viking’ or ‘viking’ should not be confused with the ON word(s)...

  8. 3 Viking Destinations
    (pp. 69-118)

    There is a large number of place-names, from Scandinavia and elsewhere, in the runic and the skaldic corpus, which collectively give a useful indication of the geographical range of activity in the late Viking Age, although by no means every place vikings went to is mentioned. Here I aim to survey the material in order to provide at least a partial geographical context for the ‘viking’ activities discussed in this book.¹

    The range of viking activities is summed up in U 504, in which a son commemorates his father who uas uistr uk ustr ‘was west and east’. Similarly, in...

  9. 4 Ships and Sailing
    (pp. 119-179)

    Our image of the Viking Age is dominated by the viking ship. Some of the most spectacular archaeological finds of the period are of whole or partial ships, whether from burial mounds (Oseberg, Gokstad) or dredged out of harbours (Skuldelev, Hedeby). The archaeological finds symbolise the importance of ships to the viking project – Scandinavian success in raiding, trading and settlement depended on their skill in building and sailing ships. Research into the viking ship has gone beyond the recovery, preservation and reconstruction of the found ships into the recreation of viking ships using new materials but often the old...

  10. 5 The Crew, the Fleet and Battles at Sea
    (pp. 180-215)

    The skaldic praise poems, with their focus on the leader and his often grandiose ambitions, frequently refer to the organisation of large fleets of warships, and this will be discussed below. For information about the crew and command of individual ships, we need to turn primarily to the evidence of runic inscriptions, which usefully commemorate a different class of person from the eleventh-century kings celebrated in skaldic poetry, with their great fleets and major battles, providing evidence of a range of vocabulary to do with the different roles and functions on board ship.

    Whether the types of people commemorated in...

  11. 6 Group and Ethos in War and Trade
    (pp. 216-265)

    The effectiveness of these shipborne groups of men, in raiding and in trading, on land and at sea, derived from a clear definition of the group, a strong ethos of loyalty that bound them together, and an ideology of appropriate behaviour for which they could be praised in the verbal memorials of skaldic poetry and runic inscriptions. The idea of the group was defined by a restricted and pointed vocabulary of fellowship and group membership, and their ethos and ideology was expressed in the praise, both direct and figurative, of individual members of the group.

    In chapter 2 it was...

  12. 7 Epilogue: Kings and Ships
    (pp. 266-276)

    Sibbi, son of Foldarr, commemorated indróttkvætton the Karlevi stone (see ch. 1), is said, by implication, to have ruled land in Denmark (ráða landi í Danmǫrku). Whatever the extent of his rule, it was not sufficient for him to make his mark in any other source, and we know nothing about who he was, or where in or how much of Denmark he ‘ruled’. Nor is it possible to date the inscription closely enough to judge which king of Denmark he may have served, or indeed attempted to challenge. When we compare the inscription with that on the...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 277-294)
  14. Appendix I: The Runic Corpus
    (pp. 295-300)
  15. Appendix II: The Skaldic Corpus
    (pp. 301-316)
  16. Index of words and names
    (pp. 317-322)
  17. General Index
    (pp. 323-330)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-331)