Skuldelev Ship Cemetery

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The Skuldelev Ship Cemetery , located in a fjord on the Danish island of Zealand , is an archaeological site near the town of Roskilde where a number of 11th century Viking ships have been excavated.


The fishermen from Roskildefjord had long suspected that an ancient shipwreck was hidden under a pile of stones that blocked the narrowest part of the fjord at Skuldelev. The fjord is about two kilometers wide here, but has only a very shallow water depth. Therefore, shipping is dependent on gutters. Probably the most important channel around the turn of the millennium from the 10th to the 11th century, it was intentionally blocked. In 1957 the first investigations were carried out by divers.

In 1962 a sheet pile wall was built around the site and the site was slowly drained. The seabed in the fjord was covered with thick mud that had saved ships from decay for centuries. After the stones had been removed, it turned out that not just one Viking ship but five were resting on the bottom of the fjord. While probes had assumed that there would be six ships, it turned out that Numbers II and IV were part of the same wreck.

The ships had been freed from the masts and deck planks, loaded with stones and sunk as a barrier , apparently with the intention of protecting the port of Roskilde from attack from the sea . The C14 investigation showed that the ships must have been built around the year 1000 ± 100 years. According to Olsen and Crumlin-Pedersen - head of the excavation - the ships were probably built between 950 and 1050 and according to Reinhard Barth between around 1030 and 1050; at the time of the sinking they had probably already served their purpose. However, the five ships were not all sunk at the same time, but in a first step only ships I, III and V. Ships II and VI were sunk later (one or two years later).

What makes the find so interesting for research is its diversity. The ship cemetery at Skuldelev preserved, so to speak, a sample collection of Viking shipbuilding for posterity; starting with a fishing boat to merchant ships and warships . The ships, which have been carefully restored in the Viking Ship Hall , the museum in Roskilde , today provide the standards for a typology of Viking ships (in 1996, 9 more ships were discovered during the expansion of the museum, one of them 36 m long).

Skuldelev I

Skuldelev I at the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde

With Skuldelev I, a Viking Age ocean merchant ship has been lifted for the first time. In total, it could carry a payload of 20 to 24 tons. This type of ship made it possible to cross to the Faroe Islands , Iceland , Greenland and Newfoundland , as it had the necessary loading capacity for goods and animals.

The heavy, solid and high-sided character of the ship made it possible to withstand the sea during a storm on the high seas when the hold was crammed with merchandise or colonists. But this Knorr only has four pairs of oars, which means that the ship was almost exclusively sailed. The reconstruction of the hull proves that it was designed with both cargo capacity and seaworthiness in mind; It is dated to around 1030. The cargo capacity was made possible by the round hull , which was pointed at the bow and stern. Its shallow draft and rounded bilge made it easy to handle when no port was available.

Smooth planks made of pine wood , which are connected to one another in clinker construction with steel nails, form the outer skin. They are up to 50 cm wide and 12 to 13 m long. Stepped ribs are placed on the almost straight keel , which extend to the crossbeams. Side ribs are installed above the crossbeams, which stiffen the outer skin. The fore and aft have further transoms above the transom, which support the raised fore and aft deck . Amidships is the 5.5 m long cargo hold with a volume of 30 to 35 m³, which could hold a maximum load of approx. 16 tons. At the bottom it is likely to be limited by strong planks that rest on a longitudinal stringer at the level of the crossbeams . Although the ship has a hold that was more than three times the size of that in the small merchant ship, and higher decks fore and aft, all travelers were completely exposed to the elements and without protection against wind and weather.

A sturdy keel and two crossbeams hold the fixed mast , which carries a wide square sail . The supports in the foredeck for the Beitass , a spar for fixing the clews of the sail when sailing close to the wind , point to a square sail . The wide sail makes the Knorr a relatively good sailor. The rowing has a task on the knot, as it is performed today by harbor tugs on merchant ships. The small number of rowing places shows that, compared to the long ship , only a small crew 'drives' on Knorren.

A replica of this ship, the ' Saga Siglar ', circumnavigated the world from 1984 to 1986. Unfortunately, this most seaworthy of all replicas of Viking ships sank in the Mediterranean in 1992 , and a discussion broke out about the seaworthiness of the ships. But it should not be overlooked that the Viking ships, despite everything, represent the pinnacle of historical shipbuilding technology.

Skuldelev II

Skuldelev II in the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde

Skuldelev II is the classic, seaworthy warship with which the Vikings made their moves against the British Isles or the Frankish Empire . Manned by around 70–80 warriors, the approximately 30-meter-long ship was one of those princely longships that are extolled in legends and bard songs .

Analyzes of the tree rings in the wood showed that the ship was built around the year 1042 in the Dublin area. The long, narrow shape of the fuselage resulted in a high speed potential and a high acceleration ability . With 64 men on the oars, this ship was able to maintain an average speed of 5-6 knots over long distances  . Even higher speeds were possible under sail when the wind was favorable (approx. 15-20 knots!).

The ship has 37 to 40 frames with a spacing of 74 cm. Smooth oak planks adjoin the massive keel. The plank thickness is only 2–2.5 cm. The second plank passage is set from the inside against the keel passage . The ribs are made like a staircase and lie directly against the planks. A longitudinal stringer is placed on the inside against the eighth plank walk, where the ribs and the lower crossbeams end. The transoms support the floorboards, which form a continuous deck ; a requirement for rowing over the entire length of the ship. A total of 64 places are possible. A maximum ship width of 3.8 m can be derived from the width of the crossbeams amidships of 3.2 m. A 13 m long keel pig is placed on the frames , which contains the foot for the erectable mast. The fattened fish required for this, such as the ship area above the crossbeam, is no longer available. The stern remnant found is made from a large piece of wood together with the plank approaches.

In terms of construction, this longship is similar to the longships built by Oseberg and Gokstad almost 200 years earlier . There are differences in the smaller frame spacing, in the smooth planks, the stepped frames, the longitudinal stringers and the massive stem parts. Above all, however, this ship was built with the intention of achieving maximum strength with a minimum of dead weight.

When it was sunk, the ship was old and leaky, which can be seen in the repairs to the bottom and the subsequent sealing around several dowels .

There is also a replica of Skuldelev II, the Havhingsten from Glendalough .

Skuldelev III

Skuldelev III in the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde
Skuldelev III in the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde

The Skuldelev III is a small, elegant cargo and travel ship, but with its length of 13 to 14 m and its width of 3.30 m at a height of 1.40 m (amidships) it is less for rougher waters, but rather for was suitable for transport in the North and Baltic Seas. It could be sailed up the rivers and pulled over short distances overland.

It is believed that the small Knorr, built around 1060, is typical of ships built in the Roskilde area. It differs from the larger Knorr (Skuldelev I) not only in terms of its dimensions but also because of its massive, one-piece stems with carved plank approaches and the lack of side ribs. The steps that are typical for a clinker outer skin continue in the side surfaces of the stems. The individual planks overlap by 3–4 cm. It has a total of eight oak planks, the top three of which are reinforced with stringers. A total of eleven frames are placed on the not straight keel. A massive bulkhead bulkhead reinforces the stern areas, similar to older ships. The fixed mast is held in place by the keel and crossbeams, which are firmly attached to the hull. Knees that are placed against the keel pig on both sides and connect it to the frames additionally stiffen this area of ​​the ship. The steel parts have completely disintegrated; but from the traces in the wood, the diameter of the steel rivets is estimated to be 7 to 9 mm and the dimensions of the rectangular notch washers to around 20-25 mm. The lower planks are 25 to 30 cm wide; The upper ones are 42 cm. The smooth planks have an outwardly curved cross-section that is 2.5 to 3.4 cm thick in the middle of the plank and 1 to 1.5 cm thick at the edges. Amidships, she had an approx. 4 m long, open hold of approximately 10 m³ (up to the upper edge of the railing) and a payload of 4.6 tons. She had a half-deck fore and aft; in front she has 3 oar gates on port and 2 on starboard and one each on starboard and port aft. But only four showed visible signs of use. Therefore it probably had a crew of only 5-6 men.

One of the replicas, the 'Roar Ege', has proven to be a seaworthy and agile merchant ship that reached the unusual speed of 8.5 knots under sail; but only two knots under the four pairs of straps. The ship was not as fast as the large longships, but it carried a surprising amount of cargo and was easy to sail.

The comparable Galtabäck ship comes from Varberg in Sweden.

Skuldelev IV

The Skuldelev IV was initially interpreted as a separate ship from the wreckage of Skuldelev II.

Skuldelev V

Skuldelev V in the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde

At 17.3 m long and 2.5 m wide, the Skuldelev V is a smaller warship - perhaps a crew ship. It was probably built and maintained by farmers from the Roskilde area as part of their obligation to do military service.

With 13 pairs of oars and a crew of around 30 warriors, it was one of the 13-seater, the smallest longships in the war fleet. The ship was ideal for the Danish waters and the short, choppy waves of the Baltic Sea. The cruising speed over longer distances was about 6 knots with a favorable wind, the maximum speed probably twice as much. Thus this ship could catch up with most of the ships or sail away from them.

The ship has seven planks on each side; the lower four planks are made of oak and the upper three are made of ash. These 10 to 14 m long ash planks used to be on another ship. Above each of the 16 frames is a crossbeam on which a deck made of loose planks has been. 30 cm above the deck beam, very narrow row benches were attached to 13 frames, with holes for the oars in the top shelf. So it had a total of 26 straps. The powerful gunwale has various oar holes. Some are 78 cm apart; superimposed by holes at a distance of 90–95 cm. This suggests that the board has been used twice, initially on a ship where the 78 cm distance to the rest of the shipbuilding was compatible. The unnecessary holes were closed with small wooden plates. Furthermore, smooth planks, stepped frames, longitudinal stringers and sailing equipment characterize this ship.

When it was sunk, the ship was already old. Repairs and traces of wear and tear on the underside of the floor planks and on the keel prove that the ship has been pulled onto the beach countless times over the years.

A replica of the ship, the Helge Ask , reached a speed of 14 knots during test drives.

Skuldelev VI

Skuldelev VI in the Vikingeskibs Museet in Roskilde

Skuldelev VI served like the Skuldelev ships I and III for civil purposes. With its dimensions of 11.2 m and a width of 2.5 m, the smallest in the collection, it is a combined rowing and sailing boat, which was probably built for fishing and hunting.

Judging by the size of the keel pig, it was likely only equipped with a small sail. Since the upper sections of the side walls are badly damaged, no belt gates could be detected. It is believed, however, that some were available for maneuvering close to the shore. Quite deep in the ship there are some broad crossbeams that invite you to sit, but are too deep to be used as row benches. Perhaps the rowers stood on these beams because there is no trace of a deck.

The boat was built in Norway from pine planks and later raised one plank on each side. During this conversion, the original oarlocks for fastening the straps were removed. The number of belts has been reduced. Presumably the boat was rebuilt in order to be able to transport loads better.

A replica of the ship, the Kraka Fyr , achieved an average speed of 4-5 knots and a maximum of 9-12 knots.

Individual evidence

  1. Simek gives a length of 16.5 m and a width of 4.6 m. Rudolf Simek: The ships of the Vikings. Stuttgart 2014, pp. 41 and 43.
  2. According to Simek (2016), p. 41: 4.2 m.
  3. According to Simek (2014), p. 41: 18 m.
  4. Simek 2014, p. 59.

See also


  • Ole Crumlin-Pedersen : Skuldelev §2 – §5, In: Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde. Pp. 33–35, Berlin / New York 2005
  • Olaf Olsen , Ole Crumlin-Pedersen: Five Viking Ships from Roskilde Fjord. Translated by Walter Juergensen. National Museum, Copenhagen 1978, ISBN 87-480-0182-1 (2nd edition: Vikingeskibshallen, Roskilde 1990).
  • Ole Crumlin-Pedersen: The Skuldelev Ships. Topology archeology, history, conservation and display (Roskilde 2002).
  • Rudolf Simek : The Vikings. Beck, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-406-41881-3 ( Beck'sche Reihe 2081 CH Beck Wissen ), (5th edition, ibid. 2009, ISBN 978-3-406-41881-5 ).
  • Dirk Husemann : Reform backlog in the dragon boat. In: Adventure archeology. 1, 2006, ISSN  1612-9954 , pp. 78-83, online .

Web links

Coordinates: 55 ° 48 ′ 3.6 ″  N , 12 ° 3 ′ 30.1 ″  E