The British Museum is hosting a riveting exhibition – Vikings: Life and Legend, starting in March 2014, which should be of great interest to the maritime communities of much of Scotland.
It is already attracting international attention, with the San Francisco Herald drawing attention to the show’s focus on reinstating the violence of the Viking culture alongside the skills that created the aesthetic objects of coinage and jewellery that recently been more emphasised.
This exhibition will therefore display – along with the spell-binding artefacts, like neckrings, brooches and plates – the biggest viking ship ever found – a 37 metre [121 ft] warship capable of carrying 100 warriors at speed.
Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has described this ship as ‘an 11th century weapon of mass destruction’.
Until its discovery, no one had any idea that the Vikings built such large warships – or had contemplataed the awesome attack force they made possible.
This ship is on display at the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum, below, at the Roskilde Fjord in Denmark and was found as recently as the late 1990s, when foundations for an extension to the museum were being excavated.
Roskilde is on the island of Zealand and is a city of Viking origins. The museum was built in 1969 to house five Viking ships, excavated in 1962; and the late 1990s discovery was of nine more, one of which was the giant warship.
The first five ships it held are known as the Skuldelev ships. They were sunk deliberately in 1070 in Skuldelev, in the Roskilde Fjord, to block the most important fairway, protecting Roskilde from enemy attack from the sea.
The longboat warship is earlier, dating from 1025 but was discovered around 30 years later than the Skuldelev ships. Known as Roskilde 6, its remains are held in a slender steel framed replica of its full size, which both protects the fragile timbers and ghosts the full reality this ship had been.
It has been disassembled for transport to London – an operation described as ‘surprisingly straightforward’.
Curator Gareth Williams says that the show — the British Museum’s first major Viking exhibition since 1980 — will look at the Nordic voyagers’ skills as warriors and seafarers as well as explorers, traders and creators of sophisticated culture.
He says pithily that it’s hardly surprising the Vikings’ violent side has been emphasized in accounts from countries they raided: ‘If your monastery is being burned down, you don’t take time to admire the beautiful jewelry won by the people burning down your monastery’.
The exhibition runs from 6th March to 22nd June 2014. Tickets can be bought online at the British Museum website here.
The inage above of the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum is by Masz and is reproduced here under the terms of the Creative Commons licence.