How did the longships compare to other ships built by the Vikings?

The Viking longships were a distinctive class of naval craft in the Viking fleet, optimized for speed, agility, and versatility, and they contrasted with other types of ships built by the Vikings for different purposes. Here’s a comparison of longships with other Viking ships:

Longships (Langskip)

  • Purpose: Primarily used for raiding and warfare due to their speed and ability to navigate both open sea and shallow rivers.
  • Design: Sleek, with a shallow draft, symmetrical ends, and a large square sail, making them fast and capable of reversing direction without turning around. They also had oars along the sides for additional propulsion.
  • Size: Varied in size, but generally built to carry 20 to 50 warriors. The largest longships could carry up to 100 or more.

Knarrs (Kaupskip)

  • Purpose: Designed for trade and transport, carrying goods and animals across the sea.
  • Design: Broader, deeper, and more robust than longships, with a larger cargo capacity but less speed. They relied more on sail power and less on oars.
  • Size: Generally smaller crew than longships, as the emphasis was on cargo space.

Image: A replica of the Knarrs located in Germany’s Hedeby Viking Museum.


  • Purpose: A versatile ship type used for various activities, including trade, transport, and sometimes warfare.
  • Design: Smaller than longships, with a design that strikes a balance between cargo capacity and speed. They could be considered a middle ground between longships and knarrs.
  • Size: Varied, but typically designed to be manned by a smaller crew and to carry both goods and a limited number of warriors.

Image: An illustration of two Karvi boats prepared for battle.


  • Purpose: Often used for raiding and similar to longships but on a smaller scale.
  • Design: Characterized by their slim build and relatively smaller size, making them quick and maneuverable. Ideal for hit-and-run raids along coasts and rivers.
  • Size: Carried fewer warriors compared to larger longships, usually around 20-30.


  • Purpose: A term often used to describe the larger and more ornate longships, sometimes featuring decorative elements like carved heads.
  • Design: Similar to longships but with more elaborate designs and possibly larger sails. bols of power and prestige.
  • Size: Among the largest of the Viking ships, designed to carry a significant number of warriors.

In summary, while Viking longships were engineered for speed, agig ships like the knarrs were built with trade and transport in mind, emphasizing cargo space over speed. The karvi and snekkja represented more versvarious uses. Each type of ship played a crucial role in Viking society, enabling their extensive trade networks, exploration, and conquests during the Viking Age.

Myths About the Viking Age

Facts about Vikings Longships and their shipbuilding prowess

The Vikings excelled in shipbuilding, creating an array of vessels including the famed longships, built with overlapping oak planks for sturdiness. To make them seaworthy, gaps between planks were sealed with wool, moss, or animal hair mixed with tar or tallow, ensuring water tightness.

Their ships, recognized for their long, slender form and shallow draught, were versatile masterpieces of naval engineering, enabling them to traverse both deep oceans and navigate shallow rivers effortlessly. This innovative design contributed significantly to their success as explorers, traders, and warriors, extending their influence across vast distances.

The Vikings were master shipbuilders, crafting a wide array of vessels from small fishing boats to the iconic longships, all constructed from overlapping timber planks, commonly oak, nailed together for durability. Image: An illustration of one of the ships.

Viking longships featured several key components: Oars, varying from 24 to 50 for propulsion and maneuverability in different waters; a large, wool-woven square sail, vibrantly dyed often in red with stripes or diamonds for sailing efficiency; a mast crafted from a single tree trunk to support the sail; and a decorative prow, usually carved into dragon or snake heads to intimidate others.

Longships ingeniously combined wind propulsion through a sail and mast with manual rowing power via oars, ensuring movement even in still air. Steering was accomplished with a single large oar at the ship’s stern, showcasing their practical design for varied maritime conditions.

In adverse weather, Vikings would lower their sail to form a tent-like shelter, safeguarding against harsh elements. Shields were strategically placed along the boat’s sides, not only to protect its structure from rocks and waves but also to ensure quick accessibility for defense. This dual-purpose approach underscored their practical ingenuity and readiness for both environmental challenges and potential conflicts.

Viking Sailing Chants

Singing and music played a pivotal role in Viking culture, manifesting as what we recognize today as Viking sailing chants. These were integral to their way of life, expressing joy, sorrow, and celebration. Significantly, these chants were crucial during their extensive sea voyages on longships, aiding in morale maintenance under challenging weather conditions.

Viking sagas, rich with tales of warriors’ expeditions, often depict the use of these chants to bolster spirits amidst adversity. These chants served multiple purposes: narrating epic tales of battles, adventures, and the pantheon of Norse gods, as well as the genesis of their cosmos.

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The rhythmic nature of these chants was not only for entertainment or spiritual expression but also had practical applications. They likely facilitated coordination among oarsmen, especially in situations where sails were ineffective, such as rowing upriver or navigating narrower waterways.

This synchronization was vital for the efficiency and speed of Viking longships. Furthermore, there’s speculation among historians that these chants could also have been strategically used to intimidate enemies, projecting power and ferocity from afar.

Thus, Viking sailing chants were more than mere musical expressions; they were tools of navigation, storytelling, unity, and psychological warfare, deeply embedded in the fabric of Viking society and their maritime endeavors.

Did you know…?

  • Viking longships were normally about 30 metres long and could carry 60 men.
  • In good weather conditions, it’s thought that longships could reach speeds of up to 15 knots (though this varied from ship to ship).
  • The shallow draft (distance between the water and the lowest point of the vessel) meant that longships could navigate through shallow waters with a depth of just 1 metre. This allowed the Vikings to land on beaches before jumping out to fight.
  • Ships were made from overlapping planks of oak. Any spaces between the planks were filled with tarred wool and animal hair. This ensured that the ships were watertight.
  • ‘Long Serpent’ and ‘Snake of the Sea’ are some examples of the types of names that Vikings gave to their ships.
  • In Viking times, ships were so important that the chiefs and the richest nobles were either burned or buried with their ship.

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