The Sumerians developed the chariot, which was heavy and pulled by wild donkeys, or onagers. The wheels were solid. With that weight and propulsion, it was slow and cumbersome.
The Egyptians refined the concept, using spoked wheels made with bentwood construction and pulled by domesticated horses. This reduced weight and increased speed. Moving the axle to the rear of the chariot improved stability. Their chariots were fast and maneuverable.
Those chariots were also expensive.
The supporting logistics train required plenty of skilled craftsmen. The book says the following trades were needed to get chariots in the field:
Wheel makers (wheelwrights)
Bow makers (bowyers)
And in the field there would be people to manage the herds of horses and repair chariots.
Ongoing access to lots of light and heavy woods was needed, such as the cedars from Lebanon.
The estimated construction time of one longhouse and the protective moat and wall around a winter camp is provided by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike in their book Vikings at War.
At location 2671, the authors descibe a fort at Fyrkat, near Hobro, in the south of Denmark. The fort was about 390 feet across. It held 16 longhouses, laid out in quadrants.
Size of the longhouses was about 93’ long by 24’ wide by 25’ tall. (I don’t get the reason for a 7.5 meter height, but the photo above gives an idea). The main rooms were about 51’ long, with a smaller room at each end.
Of particular interest to me, the authors say that from 1982 through 1984, one of the longhouses was reconstructed using the types of materials, tools, and techniques that the Vikings would have used.
When thinking of Vikings crossing the sea, we tend to think of them using those famed longships. Those were used on raids because they were so fast and with their shallow draft could beach on the shore or go far upstream.
For long distance travel, Vikings would use a knarr, also called a hafskip. A knarr used a sail for power with the few oars being for maneuvering. A longship had both sail and many oars. A longship had low free board and a knarr or hafskip had high free board. Free board is the distance between the deck of a ship and the waterline.
This is another in my series of posts on ancient finances.
Let’s ponder how much time it would take to construct a Viking longship and consider how much of an investment that would be for a community. Any way you look at this, a longship is a major capital asset.
I’ll quote and then expand his comment on page 51:
“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.”
Surplus production in the Viking context would be the amount of time not needed for subsistence living. In other words the amount of effort a warrior would have after raising enough food to feed his family with enough left over to survive the next winter.
If 40,000 hours is enough time for 100 warriors, that would be 400 hours each. Let’s assume that would be spread over a year except for my assumption that during the worst three months of winter no construction could be done. Since we are talking rough numbers let’s spread that 400 hours over nine months, which would be 44 hours a month, which would be about 11 hours a week.
So 100 warriors working 11 hours a week for 9 months would be needed to construct a longship.