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This lecture is about the seafaring traditions that followed the Vikings of Northern Europe. These ships were affected by the Viking traditions, but also by the Roman traditions due to a convergence of cultural and naval ship traditions follwing the Crusades, which sent a lot of Northern Europeans into the Mediterranean Sea.

The best representatinos we have of North European ships in the 12th and 13th centuries, right after the Viking period, are found on wax seals that were affixed to official documents of port towns in Northern Europe.

Here we see a seal of the French port of La Rochelle, dating to the 12th century. The main thing of interest about the ship shown on this sea is the sail. It possesses three rows of what are called reef points. Reef points are short lengths of rope attached in opposign pairs to eitherside of the sail in a horizontal row, or rows.

The crusades brought Northern Europeans into direct contact with Mediterranean ships. During the 3rd Crusade, which began in 1188, ships from ports on both sides of the English channel entered the Mediterranean in large numberes for hte first time since the Roman era. One result of this was that North European ships began to quickly change in appearance. For example, we see a seal of the English port of Sandwich dating to AD 1238.


We now see through beams and crenellated towers. Towers were not seen in Northern Europe before this time, but were present in the Mediterranean since the Hellenistic and Roman era. This ship has a stern, fore and top castle. Notice that when the castles first make their appearsnce on Norht European ships, they are quite small structures set on the deck on stilts within the confines of the hull, both in the bow and stern.

It is on the Sandwich seal that we see for the first time the bowsprit. It is generally held that the bowsprit was a Northern invention, but this is far from certain, and was possibly known earlier in the Mediterranean as an extention of the artemon mast. In any case, it initially had the sole function of carrying tackle for bowlines which ran back and were attached to the sides of the square sail in order to keep the side of the sail facing into the wind.

Notice also the ship's boat stowed on the deck, and the long pole with a sickle-like blade. This was used in battle for cutting down an enemy's rigging.

This is a cast of a seal for the English port of Dover, dating to AD 1284. Note that the castles are now larger and now proect otu over the bow and stern. The bowsprit, which has become a well-develped spar, can easily be reached by the crew from the forecastle.


Advent of the Stern Rudder

This is one of the two earliest known images of a vessel with a stern rudder. This relief is carved on a Baptismal font in Winchester Cathedral, England, and dates to AD 1180. Althrough some have argued that the rudder really appears to be a side rudder that has been mounted as far astern as possible, there is better reason to believe that this is a stern rudder that is mounted slightly off the longitudinal centerline of the ship for an unusual structural reason.

The Ship at Kalmar, Sweden

This is the earliest excavated vessel with a stern rudder, and dates to the 13th century AD. This, and other Medieval vessels was uncovered when a small harbour that had served a castle at Kalmar was drained. It was a small coastal vessel, only 36.5 feet long and 15 feet wide. She has several interesting featuers.

She has a bowsprit with its tackle for bowlines and a windlass for rasing the yarde. In the Scandinavian tradition, the framing is very light and the hull depends greatly for strength on three sets of triple crossbeams.

It is lapstrake construction. Mediterranean influence is shown in the fact that the two upper beams in each set of three are throughbeams.


Here is a representation of a ship that was scratched on a plaster wall in a church at Gotland, a Swedish island out in the middle of the Baltic Sea. As you can see, the ship has a stern rudder. This picture is though to date to the early 13th century. If this is true, then this is the earliest certain representation of the stern rudder, but the possible/probable stern rudder on the Baptismal font predates it. Whichever the case, around 1200 the stern rudder makes its first appearance and apparently first came into being in Northern Europe.


Here is a ship representation over a doorway in Holland. This is yet another locally-adapted vessel type. Notice that this vessel has a type of side rudder - these are very common even today, and are called lee boards.