Ship construction, living conditions, and winding down of the Viking Age

Reproduction of drakkar. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

A few short tidbits from the two previous books discussed in this series.

Ships

Anders Winroth, writing in The Age of the Vikings provides a number of fun details about ships.

Author says oak was the best wood for building ships. In the north where there were no oaks, pine was the best choice.

Load capacities are impressive for the times. The Skuldelev 1 ship is estimated to carry a 24 ton load. It was built sometime around 1030.

Constructing a full size model of the Skuldelev 2 ship took 27,000 man-hours.

That time estimate is for the woodworking only. An additional amount of time would be needed to cut down the trees and gather them at the construction site.

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Cost of Egyptian chariot

Egyptian chariot. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the cost of an Egyptian chariot back in around 1500 BC? That was the state of the art offensive weapon at the time.

In Warfare in the Ancient World, Brian Todd Carey gives some hints, which raised my curiosity.

Update, other discussion: A few indicators for King Solomon’s wealth; part 1

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:

  • Horse breeders
  • Horse trainers
  • Wheel makers (wheelwrights)
  • Chariot builders
  • Bow makers (bowyers)
  • Metal workers
  • Armorers

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 Chariot in Egyptian Warfare at Tour Egypt provides more background on the construction of a chariot, along with some tidbits about costs.

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One frame of reference for comparing time to construct large projects

With about 40,000 hours of labor, you could build this in around 900 A.D. ….

Image of Viking longboat courtesy of Adobe Stock.

..or with about 55,000 hours of labor, you could build this in 1942 A.D. …

B-17 at March Air Base Museum; photo by James Ulvog.

 

I’ve noticed a few guesses of the time it took to build things during the Viking Age. Here are a few points of reference:

Construction time of one longhouse and perimeter of winter camp in Viking Era

  • 24,192 hours – Long house 93’ long x 24’ wide x 25’ tall
  • 50,000 hours – 19’ tall wall around winter camp with moat 13’ deep x 13’ wide

How much labor did it take to construct a Viking longship?

  • 40,000 hours, surplus production of 100 persons for a year – Longship 98’ long (30 meters)
  • 28,000 hours, estimate of time for Vikings to build a 30 meter longship based on time for modern workers to recreate a longship using Viking techniques

In The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, Victor Davis Hanson provides extensive data about the economic output of various countries. In terms of hours to build a war machine, one tidbit is relevant here.

Continue reading “One frame of reference for comparing time to construct large projects”

Construction time of one longhouse and perimeter of winter camp in Viking Era

Viking house in the city of Hobro, Denmark. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

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More background on ships

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Comments from a few other books fit well with the previous post Background on Viking Age – ships for warfare, travel, and cargo – 4 of 5

Vikings: Raiders, Traders, and Masters of the Sea by Rodney Castleden, provides more explanations of ship types, starting on page 111.

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.

Model of a knarr in the Hedeby Viking Museum in Germany. “Modell Knorr” by Europabild (no link to author provided) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

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.

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Building a Viking Longship

Viking Gokstad ship. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I’ve found a few websites that provide a few details on how to build a Viking ship. This post won’t go into much detail. Check these sites for more info that could you possibly want:

I have a post asking How much time did it take to construct a Viking Longship?

How much labor did it take to construct a Viking longship?

Replica of Viking longship – “The Sea Stallion – Viking Ship” by infomatique is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

One estimate of time to build a longship

Philip Line, in his book The Vikings and Their Enemies – Warfare in Northern Europe, 750 -1100 written in 2014, provides one framework for the investment in a longship.

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.

Continue reading “How much labor did it take to construct a Viking longship?”