- This topic has 8 voices and 52 replies.
February 25, 2009 at 10:04 am #13357skiguyModerator
Were the Vikings land warriors? Were their ships built for sea battle or just for transport?February 25, 2009 at 1:38 pm #13358
The Vikings fought on land. They used their ships for strategic mobility at sea and generally stole horses once they made landfall for strategic mobility on the land. They would leave a guard force with the boats that would fortify their anchorage. As soon as they got back from their raid with plunder they would break camp and sail for home. Viking long-ships were not built for sea battle although they would have made good close in ships as they were well suited for boarding operations.February 25, 2009 at 4:54 pm #13359
Along with this, what I have learned from a lecture I'm watching is how the Viking ships were suited for travel on the sea but were evidently shallow enough in the hull that they could travel upriver as well. They may have begun to attack monasteries and other settlements on the coast, but eventually they attacked further inland by using river networks. Carolingian military superiority seems to have been confined to land warfare, especially in their use of the mounted knight using a lance, as well as the stirrup and high-backed saddle. All of these gave them an advantage over their foes, but obviously it doesn't help much when your attackers are highly mobile and not entirely predictable.February 25, 2009 at 7:56 pm #13360
For an excellent discussion of the different weapon systems throughout history and the way they interact I would recommend reading The Art of War in the Western World by Archer Jones. He presents an outstanding survey of the development of warfare from the ancient Greeks to modern times.February 26, 2009 at 8:09 am #13361
Were the Vikings land warriors? Were their ships built for sea battle or just for transport?
The Vikings were medieval versions of what we would today call Dragoons. They rode to battle but dismounted and fought as heavy infantry. Despite all the propaganda and romantic tales, it was very rare for mounted knights to defeat dismounted heavy infantry. A good example of this is the Battle of Hastings. William could not break Harold?s formation with cavalry he had to wait for two things, 1. Attrition from Norman archery and 2. The English Housecarls broke formation in pursuit of a feigned flight of the Norman horseman. The English withstood almost a dozen charges during the day and would not have been defeated if they had kept formation.February 26, 2009 at 9:24 pm #13362
Despite all the propaganda and romantic tales, it was very rare for mounted knights to defeat dismounted heavy infantry.
I would question whether this was the case for the Carolingian knights. It is my understanding that the use of mounted knights (presumably against dismounted infantry) was key in Carolingian military might. The concept of the mounted knight, which came about along with the technological innovations I mentioned in an earlier post (stirrups & high-backed saddle), provided a competitive advantage not matched by their enemies. Eventually such technology would spread outside the Carolingian armies and could have been used by their enemies (and effective dismounted infantry counter-tactics could be employed by the 11th century or sooner), but in the most successful and unified years of the Franks (latter half of the 8th century & early 9th century) their use of the knight would be unanswered.February 27, 2009 at 9:52 am #13363
But what was the knight really used for? Knights were excellent for terrifying the peasantry, they were also absolutely devastating against unprepared infantry. However, the knight was not the preeminent system many people believe they were. They were vulnerabe to both light infantry and cavalry and formed heavy infantry was invulnerable to a cavalry charge. Charles Martel fought dismounted at the battle of Tours and so did knights throughout the medieval period. In fact, knights were most successful when fighting dismounted despite the romantic images of charging aristocracy.The Knight was decisive in the medieval period because they mostly fought untrained levies or put down rebellions. When Knight fought Knight they generally dismounted. I can not think of a single battle during the medieval period that saw groups of mounted knights charging each other. That is a mythical image. I can think of Numerous examples where knights dismounted to fight though. When dismounted Knights performed the same role as Roman legionairres and usually with the same success because of their skill and training. It was the knights skill at arms that set him apart, not his horse.May 26, 2009 at 2:15 am #13364
One factor which I'd argue played a major part in the cessation of Viking raids was the Christianization of the Scandinavian population. As Scandinavia was placed under the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, conducting raids against other parts of Christian Europe (and particularly against targets of religious significance such as monasteries) would have carried the risk of excommunication as well as secular ostracism for the perpetrators, which in turn would have been exploited by their political rivals. And rivals were never in shortage.In the case of Norway, the Christianization of the general population only began in earnest under king Olav I Tryggvasson, who reigned from 995 to 1000 AD. He didn't live long enough to finish the job, though, and worship of the old gods became legal again under Eirik H?konsson Ladejarl, who succeeded him as regent of Norway (Eirik was formally a vassal of king Svein Tjugeskjegg of Denmark, and never took the title of king himself, but he was the sovereign ruler of Norway in all but name).The practice of the old religion remained legal until the reign of king Olav II "The Holy" Haraldsson from 1015 AD onwards, during which it was illegalized again, this time for good. People who refused to comply were typically run out of the country or killed.The end of the "Viking Era" is usually approximated to around this time.May 26, 2009 at 3:07 am #13365
Were the Vikings land warriors? Were their ships built for sea battle or just for transport?
Viking ships were quite useful in battle. Several of the largest and most important battles in Scandinavian medieval history happened entirely at sea, sometimes involving as many as a hundred ships and thousands of men on each side.Some examples are:The Battle of Svolder (1000 AD)The Battle of Helge? (sometime during the reign of Olav II of Norway)The Battle of Soknasund (1033 AD)The Battle of Sejer? (1132 AD)The Battle of Sekken (1162 AD)The Battle of Djurs? (1165 or 1167 AD)The Battle of Fimreite (1184 AD)The Battle of Florv?g (1194 AD)The Battle of Ekornholmen (1222 AD)Even though most of these examples happened after the practice of Viking raids had ended, the ship technology, weaponry, etc. were largely the same.So yes, Viking ships were definitely suited for use in battle.May 26, 2009 at 1:23 pm #13366skiguyModerator
What was the weaponry on the ships? They didn't have ramming abilities as far as I know. From the very little I know of Viking battle, most sea battles happened close to land and involved a flotilla of ships. I interpret this as meaning they used land battle tactics even while at sea. The only advantage I can see with Viking ships was their speed, ability to beach, and ability to sail in shallow waters. Not trying to lessen their effectiveness, when you saw them coming they were certainly effective at instilling fear, but even the feared drakkar was nothing more than a transport ship.May 26, 2009 at 3:26 pm #13367
From the very little I know of Viking battle, most sea battles happened close to land and involved a flotilla of ships. I interpret this as meaning they used land battle tactics even while at sea. The only advantage I can see with Viking ships was their speed, ability to beach, and ability to sail in shallow waters.
That's a good question - one that I have as well. Sailing in shallow waters was a great advantage for transport because it allowed them to travel from open sea and up rivers, thereby penetrating deep into kingdoms. I am guessing they used a different type of ship for battle at sea.May 26, 2009 at 6:10 pm #13368
The Viking long-ship was equally at home in Blue water and in the Littoral zone. It was kind of a jack of all trades of early sailing ship.May 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm #13369
They definitely weren't warships in the sense of possessing on-board ship weaponry of any kind. By that criterion, they were transport vessels. However, their shallow draft, speed, maneuverability (as light, heavily oar-powered ships) and relative stability made them excellent battle platforms, both for archers and for use in boarding actions.When fighting defensively, the ships could be tied together and effectively turned into a floating fortress, which is what Olav Tryggvasson did in the Battle of Svolder.I imagine fighting at sea also frequently gave the armies a lot more room to maneuver than land battles would have - considering the terrain of Norway in particular, which is almost universally mountainous, especially along the coast.June 25, 2009 at 11:27 pm #13370cadremumParticipant
That's a good question – one that I have as well. Sailing in shallow waters was a great advantage for transport because it allowed them to travel from open sea and up rivers, thereby penetrating deep into kingdoms. I am guessing they used a different type of ship for battle at sea.
The Vikings used cargo ships to travel by river through Europe,they were different from the longboats. They traveled river to river starting at the coast of Germany. When they got into marshland, they employed the slavs to hoist the boats onto wheeled carts (the word "slave" is derived here) and travel overland. Eventually they reached the Black Sea, where they could trade with Arabs, fur and slaves for gold. In the 9th century they become assimilated into the slavic culture and strong arm their way into Constantinople. http://early-middle-ages.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_viking_knarr_merchant_shipThis is a non edu page but it has a good description of Viking merchant/cargo ships.June 26, 2009 at 6:43 am #13371
That sounds completely different from what I know of the Vikings. I'll have to look into that site.
- You must be logged in to reply to this topic.