Posts Tagged Vikings

Vikings at the British Museum!

 

Impressive longship at heart of the exhibition

Impressive longship at heart of the exhibition

There is an impressive longship at the heart of the British Museum’s new Viking exhibition. Roskilde 6 is the biggest Viking vessel ever found. It was excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord in Denmark during the course of work undertaken to develop the Roskilde Viking Ship Museum in 1997. Since the excavation, the timbers have been painstakingly conserved and analysed by the National Museum of Denmark.

The construction of the ship has been dated to around AD 1025, the high point of the Viking Age when England, Denmark, Norway and possibly parts of Sweden were united under the rule of Cnut the Great. The size of the ship and the amount of resources required to build it suggest that it was almost certainly a royal warship, possibly connected with the wars fought by Cnut to assert his authority over this short-lived North Sea Empire.

The fragile oak lies within a metal skeleton which gives you a good idea of the shape and size of the original ship. Only about a fifth of the hull is from the surviving original timber. It has never been seen in the UK before and it can only be seen now because of the new temperature controlled large-scale facilities of the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.

The influence and cultural complexity of the Vikings has sometimes been underestimated. The Vale of York Hoard (displayed in full for the first time illustrates both). It contains coins and silver from places as far removed as Ireland and Uzbekistan! The Vale of York hoard includes objects from Afghanistan in the East and Ireland in the West, as well as Russia, Scandinavia and continental Europe. Represented in the hoard are three belief systems (Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor) and peoples who spoke at least seven languages. The Vikings had an extensive cultural and trade network with contacts from the Caspian Sea to the North Atlantic, and from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean. The exhibition shows the myriad of influences on the Vikings and their influence on others.

There are many examples of fine Viking craftmanship in the exhibition: large brooches used to fasten women’s aprons, ivory figures and an exquisite gold horse’s bridle for example. The work is intricate and the designs merge abstract and animal forms with great skill and precision. If the Vikings were barbarians they were very cultured barbarians!

The exhibition does not try to whitewash the Vikings accepting their dual nature as traders and raiders, brutal yet cultured and complex, slavers and explorers.

Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum said “The reach and cultural connections of the Viking Age make it a remarkable story shared by many countries, not least here in the British Isles. New discoveries and research have led to a wealth of new information about the Vikings so it is a perfect moment to look again at this critical era.”

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington


Vikings: Life and Legend
British Museum,
London
WC1
Until 22 June then at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, 10 September 2014 – 4 January 2015.
Details: 020-7323 8181

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Ships & Quaysides of Ulster – Historic Maritime Photographs

Ships & Quaysides of Ulster – Historic Maritime Photographs
By Robert Anderson and Ian Wilson.

Friar’s Bush Press, Belfast 1990. ISBN 0 946872 32 5

 

Click on image to buy book

DEDICATED to the seafarers of Ulster, past and present, this is a real gem of a book. Although it’s not much larger than an average postcard in size, it contains around a hundred fantastic black and white photographs taken roughly between 1890 – 1940. Each photograph has a title and a brief explanation of the subject matter. There’s also lots of information about Ulster’s maritime heritage and tradition.

 

The excellent introduction explains the importance of the sea to Ulster and gives an overview of the book itself. I liked the way the authors placed our nation’s dependence on the sea in a historical context:

“Ireland is an island on the extreme edge of Europe and sea routes have always connected it with the wider world, whether to bring successive waves of conquerors, to offer a new horizon to emigrants, or simply to handle the permanent needs for import and export.

In whatever century, the great Atlantic tides surge in round the rocky northern coast of Ulster, round the bleak islands of Tory, Innistrahull and Rathlin. Fair Head too, looms dominant today over the seafarer as it has stood over Neolithic man carrying Antrim porcellanite for good axeheads, over Irish monks journeying to sacred Iona, over Viking longships intent on plunder and on down through the generations to the sleek warships and submarines playing cat-and-mouse in twentieth century wars. The coast of Ulster from Carlingford Lough to Donegal Bay is today largely unspoiled and unaltered and a landfall made by a Norse invader bound for ‘Strang fjord’ would have been judged similarly by a Skillen or McClurg of Killyleagh, bringing their schooners into Strangford Lough early in the present century, 1200 years on”.

Each chapter of this book has a small introductory feature, which is then followed by dozens of evocative photographs. For instance, the first chapter is entitled The Major Ports and it looks at Belfast, Larne and Londonderry. There’s a brief overview of these three ports, followed by 15 pages of pictures. All of the pictures are interesting – some are absolutely fascinating. I particularly liked the ones that showed original sailing vessels alongside huge and powerful new steamers. Interestingly, Belfast’s history as a port began in 1637 when a sum of £3000 was paid to Carrickfergus for its maritime rights and customs.

Other chapters include The Minor Ports, The Small Piers, Quays, Wrecks and Events and Ships of Ulster. In The Minor Ports, it’s noted that Carrickfergus has its maritime origins in Norman times. Readers should look out for the brilliant picture of Carrick on page 29. Taken around 1900, Carrickfergus Castle and St Nicholas’ Church (Church of Ireland) dominate the skyline. It’s also interesting to note that the mast of ship appears beyond the harbour wall closest to the shore. Was there an inner harbour at one time?

There are plenty of outstanding photographs throughout the book. Other favourites have to be Naval Visit to Bangor Bay (c 1910) on page 59 – which also shows the Pickie Pool! – that of the Star of Italy on page 74 and one of the Titanic on page 88. For me, there’s something ‘atmospheric’ about these old black and white photographs – a timeless quality that sometimes isn’t evident in colour photos.

I don’t really have any connection to the sea whatsoever, but Ships & Quaysides of Ulster was really captivating. It made me realise that Ulster’s tradition of seafaring is out of all proportion to its size.

Reviewed by John Jenkins

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