Viking Ships near Roskilde © Stefan G. Rasmussen

Vikings are Coming

“The Viking World – Cultures in Contact” is the title of a major exhibition on the Vikings mounted at three different locations in Northern Europe.

Roskilde Six during excavation © Viking Ship Museum
Roskilde Six during excavation © Viking Ship Museum

June 2013 the exhibition in Copenhagen will open, moving on to British Museum in 2014 to end up in Berlin later that year.

Central to the exhibition will be what in the 21st century is the politically correct theme of “Cultural Meetings”, stressing the cultural diffusion and syncretism said to characterize the world of the Vikings.

While the Vikings were originally looked upon as heathen pirates by the contemporary clerical chroniclers, a view, which was peddled by historians up until the 20th century, the 1970s witnessed a new understanding of the Scandinavian people as primarily successful (and peaceful) merchants. This view was supported by the large excavations of the emporiums of Birka in Sweden, Haithabu in Schleswig, Kaupang in Norway, York in England and Dublin in Ireland. At the same time the understanding of the war-faring technologies was placed somewhat on hold. Today scholars seem to acknowledge that war, trade and migration are but different aspects of a major cultural amalgamation going on in the crucible of Northern Europe 800 – 1100 but having repercussions in a global context (at least reaching from Byzantium to Newfoundland.

Central to this process was a mixture of cultural meetings taking place in the form of sustained migratory movements, business ventures, the establishment of political and diplomatic relations though marriages and the exchange of hostages plus warlike expeditions and conquests. The goal of the exhibition is to disseminate new findings and new research on the Vikings, their cultural networks and connections to both close and distant neighbors in the period from the mid-eighth century to 11 century.

Central to all this was the distinctive maritime technologies and competences witnessed by “The Viking Ship”. This ship represented mobility and military strength, as well as power and wealth. Not only are the ships witnesses to the Viking’s extensive knowledge of shipbuilding and navigation; it was also a powerful symbol of the maritime connection beyond death.

Accordingly the focal point of the exhibition will be the world’s largest known Viking ship, the so-called wreck 6. Originally a 37 meters long warship its wreck was unearthed in Roskilde harbor in 1997. The exhibition is built up around the 20% of the ship that is still preserved, and placed on a full-scale replica in aluminum.

The exhibition is organized around four main themes – expansion and warfare, power and aristocracy, cultural contacts and exchanges and faith and rituals; but each of these aspects identify the many facets associated with the ship in its role as a transport warship, symbol of power, trading vessels and finally the wreck, as metaphor of death and afterlife.

About the Exhibition:

Vikings in the World – Cultures in Contact