Mark Neumayer

author of the Valda & the Valkyries series

Tag: dragon boat

Three Famous Ships From the Norse Myths

Today we have a bit of a continuation from last week when I posted some artwork of the figurehead of a drekar or dragon-boat. There aren’t that many named ships in the Eddas, but these three are pretty memorable.

Skidbladnir
We are going to start with this ship because the Elder Eddas tell us it is… “without doubt the best and most artfully constructed of any (ship.)” The ship belongs to the god Frey and was constructed by the sons of Ivaldi – the Dwarven master craftsmen who also created Odin’s spear Gungnir and the golden hair of Sif. The ship is quite large and has enough room to hold all of the Aesir gods and goddesses and their weapons and war supplies as well. As soon as the sail is raised a favorable breeze springs up and leads the ship wherever you wish to go. To top it all off, the ship is so artfully constructed and so many cunning spells were used in her construction that you can actually fold the ship up like a piece of cloth until it is small enough to fit into your pocket.

Naglfar
When Ragnarok, the doom of the gods comes around, the ship Naglfar will finally be ready to set sail. When we were told that Skidbladnir was the best ship we were also informed that Naglfar was the biggest. The creepiest thing about Naglfar is that it is not made of wood, rather it is being built from the toenails and fingernails of all who have died. In Gylfaginning we are told to take great care not to die with untrimmed nails, for the longer your nails are the sooner the ship will be done. Loki is fated to be the helmsman on that dark day, using the ship to bring the enemies of the gods to the scene of the battle between good and evil.

Hringhorn
This was the ship of Balder. Sadly we only read about it at his funereal. At that time we are told it “passed for the largest in the world.” Now we had been told that Naglfar was biggest. Maybe the discrenpancy has something to do with the fact that Naglfar is still under construction. Hringhorn is so big that the gods can not push it out to sea and have to send for a giantess to push the ship for them.

Drekar

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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