Previous post accumulated many detail data points of what time would be involved in constructing a medium-size Viking longship.
This post continues the discussion and accumulates the time estimates.
Wild guesses to fill in the blanks
The Price text does not make any guesses on the time to cook the tar to seal the ship, the tar or animal oil needed to protect the sails so they can catch the wind, weave the rope and sundry cordage needed, manufacture the sea-chests, weave the rugs taken along or weave and weather-proof a tent to cover the center area of the ship, or manufacture 32 oars plus several spare.
Off the top of my head I don’t recall having seen any estimates for those elsewhere.
So, to get some sort of a workable estimate to put one medium-sized longship to sea, I will pull some estimates out of thin air. These are also called WAGs, or, um, wildly aimed guesses.
For a dive into how much time it would take to construct a Viking ship, weave the mainsail along with a spare, and manufacturer the seagoing outfits for a full crew, we can take a look at information provided by Neil Price in his delightful book Children of Ash and Elm / A history of the Vikings. Will have more to say about the book.
I will list the detail components he describes, accumulating the various time estimates. Then I’ll tabulate the amounts. Final step will be to combine the amounts to get some estimates expressed in terms of full-time people-years of labor as well as converting the estimates to people-hours. That will allow us to look at the time involved if a rich yarl or sea-king wanted to hire all the people to build a boat or if a large community wanted to do it using the spare time available in a larger area.
Surplus production is a phrase I’ll bring into the discussion later. This is the amount of extra time a person has available after taking care of the needs for subsistence living. In other words how much time is left over after tending the farm and other chores to keep her family fed and clothed.
“Experimental archaeologists have estimated that 40,000 working hours may have been needed to produce all the components of a 30-meter longship, consuming the surplus production of 100 persons for a year.”
The value in this comment is the estimate one person had 400 surplus hours per year. That averages about 10 hours per week and probably is far higher in the winter months and lower during planting and harvest time. Since building a boat would be a long-term project I will go with the average of 400 hours per year surplus labor.
Time estimates from Price
First, time for the ship itself.
Text points out the Skuldelev 2 worship has been painstakingly reconstructed using traditional techniques. From that work text reports it was estimated to take 2,650 person-days to build a boat and another 13,500 hours ironwork to manufacture the rivets and all the other necessary fittings going into the ship.
For a summary of the damage the Viking raids inflicted in Frankia (roughly consider that as France or western Europe) from around 830 A.D. through around 890 A.D., consider the analysis by Neil Price in Children of Ash and Elm / A history of the Vikings.
He points out in about a century the Vikings went from perhaps a dozen men on the beach at Lindisfarne to thousands of Vikings on hundreds of ships besieging Paris for a year.
The starting caveat in his analysis is that we have to assume the comments in the various official chronicles are correct. A large assumption, but we can make no other.
With surprise that is not news to anyone who’s ever read more than one actual book on the Vikings, news reports from most media outlets are breathlessly reporting somewhere around 90 researchers in evolutionary genetics announced their research showing that there’s a lot of Western European, English, Slavic, and Mediterranean DNA in Vikings buried during the Viking Age. News reports present this as breakthrough research.
The supposed shocker is people buried in Scandinavia during the Viking age are not pure blood Scandinavians. Instead there are “significant gene flows” into the Scandinavian population from southern Europe and Asia.
How do we roll forward those financial amounts we read of during the pirate era to provide some sort of context for what those amounts represent today?
One of the best way to do so is to compare wages or earnings today to a wages at a previous point in time. Other ways are to look at purchasing power. Another way is to look at values of specific items such as a cow or a basket of food.
I will try to construct some comparisons of salaries today to the pirate era. Follow along and you can watch me as I develop those comparisons.
Since this website focuses on ancient finances, I am going to dive deeper into the financial amounts I can find from the Pirate Age. I will try to develop some ways to interpret values from back then in terms of what we can understand today.
Reason I do this is we have no frame of reference when we read a comment that each member of a pirate crew received a share of £1,000 from the spoils of seizing a ship.
Likewise we can’t interpret or comprehend what it means for domestic servants being paid between £2 and £5 annually or a merchant ship captain who would draw an annual salary of £24.
This post will pull together the data points mentioned in previous posts of this series.
Author Eric Jay Dolin provides some indications of how lucrative it was to be a successful pirate in his book Black Flags, Blue Waters
The story of Dixie Bull provides one sliver of a view of the rewards from piracy. I won’t repeat the long tail of his adventures. Suffice it to say that he raided a fort after he and his crew decided to try their hand at piracy. His haul was estimated at £500.
The book provides the following prices for context: