Old Norse Sheep

The Introduction of Sails to Viking Scandinavia

The textiles necessary to outfit a Viking boat carrying a 100 man required nearly 30 times more “girl-power” than “man-power”. Further it created a whole new Scandinavian landscape characterized by heath grazed by sheep.

The Introduction of Sails to Scandinavia: Raw materials, labour and land.
By Lise Bender Jørgensen, Norwegian University of Science & Technology
In: N-TAG-TEN. Proceedings of the 10th Nordic TAG conference at Stiklestad, Norway 2009, Ed. by Ragnhild Berge, Marek E. Jasinski and Kalle Sognnes pp.173 – 184
Archaeopress 2012


The paper explores the logistical consequences of the introduction of sails to Scandinavia on the threshold to the Viking Age.Calculations stating that the sails of the Viking fleet comprised 1 million square meters of sailcloth form the starting point.

Data from experimental archaeology, ethnology, history, and textile science are used to calculate the demand for raw materials and labour caused by the need for sailcloth, and for additional textiles needed for seafaring such as sailor’s clothing and blankets. For a cargo ship of theknar type, this amounts to well over 200 kg wool and some 10 years of labour; for a warship with a crew of 65-70 men, more than 1,5tonnes of wool and 50-60 years of labour. Further data from botany and life sciences are employed to estimate the relationship between land and the increased demand for fiber – wool, flax or hemp.

It is argued that the introduction of sails to Scandinavia must have caused changes in agrarian production and how farmers disposed of their lands.


Viking Sails



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