chapter  6
40 Pages

Seafaring and power

Traders, raiders and rulers (c.200-1200) For the early inhabitants of northern Europe, scattered thinly over a wide area, often isolated from each other by rugged, waterlogged or impenetrable terrain, waterways were vital channels of communication, and the boat or ship the key to access to the wider world. Significantly, ships constitute slightly more than half of all figurative Bronze Age carvings found so far in Scandinavia, and they feature prominently in the Iron Age culture of the peoples of Scandinavia and along the North Sea coast. Whatever the symbolism of the carved ship or the ship grave, the construction and manning of the actual sailing vessel must have demanded considerable material resources, organisation and technical skills. The building and sailing of a ship implies the existence of some form of power – to persuade or coerce, to act as a cooperating group or as a commanding force. The ship with the curved prow was on water what the caparisoned horse was on land – a vital element in the forging of human civilisation, and at the same time, a potent symbol of prestige and authority.1