Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series


When the Norse went raiding they did so in some of the most phenomenal ships to ever sail the seas. The ships were clinker-built, meaning they were made from overlapping boards. This was a tough, resilient design that could take the pounding of ocean waves. They were all built with shallow draft hulls. This means they rode relatively high in the water. This design allowed them a number of advantages: great speed; the ability to navigate in as little as three feet of water; the ability to be beached and easily re-floated back into the ocean. There are different categories of longship, though. If you want to read a detailed account of them all I would suggest the site Shipfans which has a thorough article here.

The class of longship I want to mention today is the Drekar, or dragon boat. These are the ones people picture when you say Viking ship because of the carvings of menacing beasts that they carried either at the front of the boat or at front and back.  This is the ship Hollywood and artists love so much because it makes such a striking visual. Ironically, the best descriptions we have of them come from the sagas like the 13th century Göngu-Hrólfs Saga, and not archaeological finds. The sagas claim the carvings were there to protect the crew by frightening off the monsters of the deep. It is also likely the Vikings understood the power of a such an image to strike fear into the hearts of their enemies. The most famous and best-preserved Viking ship of today is the Oseberg ship. It does feature some truly incredible carving, but sadly the prows of the ship are formed into a spiraling serpent and not a dragon.

My Norse-themed art for this week is what the prow of a drekar might have looked like. I created the base design with the knotwork in Adobe Illustrator and used Photoshop to add effects.

Posted by Mark Neumayer

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  1. So, I’m not sure if you’d know this or not, but when the Norse would fashion the fronts of their boats with creatures like this, do you think they made them after specific creatures (Like making the dragon on the boat Nidhogg) or were they just using generic image of a “dragon”?

    I really like Norse mythology, and I actually borrow from it pretty heavily for my first novel… including dragons in my work, aside from Nidhogg, has been something I’ve thought about, but I just don’t know how prevalent dragons were in Norse mythology and whether or not I really need to include them.

    • To the best of my knowledge they were generic images of a dragon. There aren’t that many named dragons in Norse mythology. You have Nidhogg, like you mentioned. Then there is Fafnir from the Volsunga Saga. He started out as a dwarf but was transformed by his greed into a dragon or serpent. Jormungand, also called the Midgard Serpent, is a sea serpent.
      Our English word “dragon” derives from the Greek “drákōn” which could mean a dragon, a giant serpent or a giant water snake. Since there seems to be some overlap between dragons and plain old monstrously large snakes, you could make a case for calling Nidhogg, Fafnir and Jormungand dragons.

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