I was in Scandinavia in early August on one of EF’s summer conventions heading from Oslo to Stockholm via Copenhagen. I was reminded of an article in the London Times which listed The World’s 50 Best Museums, I mention it as two of the museums appeared on the trip. I have always been a big fan of the Vasa Museum in Stockholm, Sweden (number 32 on the list), but I am really keen to get back to number 44 on the list – the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway.
The Vasa museum is a wonderful site and the old ship sits rather sadly but with a great sense of majesty and pride. However, the Viking Ship Museum is an altogether different experience that exemplifies a bolder sense, as if saying “Do you realize who we were, really, do you?”
The Viking Ship Museum houses three ships – the Gokstad, Tune, and Oseberg – and all three are made almost entirely from oak. Despite the Gokstad being slightly larger, it does not compare to the presence of the Oseberg. The Oseberg was placed in a burial mound and remained there for over 1,000 years until being excavated in the early 20th century. Copies of the ship were built but their unsuitability for ocean travel suggests that the Oseberg was used for coastal action. Regardless, the ship provides key insight into the craftsmanship and technical capability of the Vikings. By having such a shallow draft the Viking ship was able to navigate waters just one metre deep, making them very effective along the coast.
It is sometimes easy to see the Vikings as mere plunderers, invaders with a limited desire for much beyond aggressive colonization. The Viking Age is considered to have begun with the attack on England’s Lindisfarne monastery in 793 and continued until the 1066 defeat of the Norwegian King Harald Sigurdsson at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in England. Notably though, the Vikings were travellers, acquiring language, wealth and customs from other European cultures while leaving a permanent cultural mark on the lands they colonized.
If you make it to the top of Europe then I strongly recommend a trip to this amazing museum. The Oseberg ship was also used as the model for a Viking Ship in the truly disappointing movie Outlander. Who would have thought a movie based on Beowulf would fail to fully capture the public’s imagination?