Maritime Culture of the North

Over thousands of years, coastal life and the exploitation of marine resources in Scandinavia and its neighbouring areas around the Baltic and North Sea have produced material culture and cultural patterns, which are worth investigating and recording. With the research series ‘Maritime Culture of the North’ the Viking Ship Museum contributes to the investigation of the past maritime culture of the North.          

In the following, the first four volumes of the series are presented

Volume 1-4

In 1983, the Viking Ship Museum published an annotated edition of two travelogues from the Viking Age: Ottar og Wulfstan – to rejsebeskrivelser fra vikingetiden, edited by Niels Lund. An English version, Two voyagers at the court of King Alfred. The ventures of Ohthere and Wulfstan together with the description of Europe from the Old English Orosius, followed in 1984 (published by William Sessions of York). These travelogues originate from a text that the English King Alfred, around 890, had inserted into his own translation of a Late Roman, Christian history of the world by Orosius. Ohthere’s and Wulfstan’s accounts are, therefore, our oldest sources concerning the geography of Scandinavia and also give the earliest written confirmation of a number of Nordic place names.

Since then, important archaeological finds have emerged, and experience has been gained through trial voyages with sailing reconstructions, shedding new light on these important historical sources. In advance of publication of a new edition of the book, the Viking Ship Museum wanted to gather those researchers who could contribute to a deeper insight into the text and its cultural-historical background for two seminars dealing with Ohthere’s and Wulfstan’s voyages, respectively.

The first of these seminars was held on the 9th and 10th May 2003 at the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. It was an international, interdisciplinary event with the title Ohthere’s Voyages – an interdisciplinary seminar. The seminar focussed on the description of the North Norwegian Chieftain Ohthere’s voyages along the Norwegian coast into the White Sea and down through Danish waters to Hedeby. Combined with the translated and annotated source text, the seminar contributions could be gathered to an interdisciplinary monograph about Ohthere’s travelogue:

Ohthere’s Voyages. A 9th-century account of voyages along the coasts of Norway and Denmark and its cultural context. Edited by Janet Bately & Anton Englert. Maritime Culture of the North 1. Roskilde 2007, 216 pages. ISBN 978-87-85180-47-6. 

The second research seminar took place on the 24th and 25th September 2004 at the former Swedish armoury in Wismar under the title Wulfstan’s Voyage. New Light on Viking-Age Seafaring within the Ethnic Geography of Mare Balticum. As an experimental contribution to the seminar, the Museum’s Boat Guild for the Skuldelev 1 reconstruction, Ottar, completed a voyage from Hedeby to Gdansk.

The Viking Ship Museum has published the contributions of the Wismar seminar under the title:

Wulfstan’s Voyage. The Baltic Sea region in the early Viking Age as seen from shipboard. Edited by Anton Englert & Athena Trakadas. Maritime Culture of the North 2. Roskilde 2009, 374 pages. ISBN 978-87-85180-56-8.

The seminar and book on Wulfstan's voyage and its context was a joint project between the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, the Archaeological State Museum of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern in Schwerin, the Centre for the History and Culture of East Central Europe in Leipzig, the Roman-Germanic Commission in Frankfurt am Main and the Lower Saxony Institute for Historical Coastal Research in Wilhelmshaven.

Half a century ago, archaeology entered a new field of work with the excavation of ancient ships found under water. A new discipline emerged: maritime archaeology. In this book, Ole Crumlin-Pedersen, the Danish pioneer of maritime archaeology, gives a fascinating overview of more than forty years of work. 

Beginning with the natural conditions for seafaring, the author explains the evolution of basic water craft into those plank-built, sail-carrying ships which enabled the seaborne activities of the Viking Age and the following medieval period, concluding with case studies of the maritime cultural landscape of Roskilde Fjord and the ship as symbol. The themes of this volume were first presented in six Rhind Lectures for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in Edinburgh in 2008.

Ole Crumlin-Pedersen Archaeology and the Sea in Scandinavia and Britain A personal account. Published 2010 by the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. 184 pages, illustrated, hard cover, ISBN 978-87-85180-05-6.                                                                    



'Viking-Age War Fleets. Shipbuilding, resource management and maritime warfare in 11th-century Denmark' by Morten Ravn. Maritime Culture of the North 4. Roskilde 2016, 164 sider. ISBN: 9788785180728. Viking-Age War Fleets has been generously sponsored by Dronning Margrethes og Prins Henriks Fond, Frimodt-Heineke Fonden, Konsul George Jorck og Hustru Emma Jorck’s Fond and Landsdommer V. Gieses Legat.

In the Scandinavian societies of the Viking Age the ship was omnipresent. Politically, ideologically and economically the ship played a central role, and in the military operations, which are the subject of this book, the ship and its armed crew were the fundamental means of achieving military goals. This publication deals with the organisational, resource-related and operational aspects of the building and use of ships for warfare in 11th-century Denmark.