Ships of the Vikings

viking ship
   When the Europeans of the 9th century prayed to the Lord "From the wrath of the Norsemen . . . deliver us," they had good reason to pray. The Norsemen, or Vikings, as they are often called, sailed out of the harbors of Scandinavia in their swift longboats for some two centuries. Their purpose was to raid and rob the richer lands to the south and southeast.
   The Vikings were as good sailors as they were shipbuilders. Their drakkar was a longboat with a dragon on its prow and a large decorated single sail. Some 16 oarsmen sat on either side of the ship helping it to move through the waters from the coast of England as far south as Spain and Italy. The drakkar's "sister" ship was the snekkar, a somewhat larger boat with a snake as a figurehead on the prow.
   The Vikings' raids took them to the British Isles where they succeeded in settling forces at the mouth of the Thames River. From this and other bases they sent forces to raid London, Paris, and Dublin. They left a permanent memorial in France where the region of Normandy takes its name from the Normans, or Norsemen, raiders and settlers of old. More distant voyages took these hardy sailors to Iceland, Greenland, and, in about the year 1000, to North America. Halfway round the globe Viking traders could be found sailing south along the rivers of Russia to trade their fur and amber for the silver, spices, and brocades of the region.