British Museum sails Cnut the Great warship into fearsome Vikings: Life and Legend

By Culture24 Reporter | 26 September 2013

A warship sailed during the reign of Cnut the Great over England, Denmark, Norway and parts of Sweden nearly 1,000 years ago will stand in a full-size stainless steel frame reconstruction at the centre of the British Museum’s mighty Viking exhibition next year.

A photo of a series of small sculptures of men on a blue surface
The Lewis Chessmen, berserkers (late 12th century, Uig, Lewis, Scotland). Walrus ivory© The Trustees of the British Museum
Known as Roskilde 6, the 37-metre long vessel was excavated from the banks of the Danish fjord it is named after during work on the Viking Ship Museum in 1997. A fifth of its timbers have been used in a reassembly by the National Museum of Denmark – a partner in Vikings: Life and Legend alongside the National Museums in Berlin.

Curators at the British Museum say the “scale and fragility” of the ship would have made displaying it impossible without the new facilities provided by the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, where this will be the curtain-raiser in a space purpose-built for temporary shows as part of a World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre due to open next year.

As an opener, the first Viking adventure at the museum for more than 30 years is a fearsome one. Warrior identity and violent warfare are the central themes, showing how Norsemen were raiders and traders in looted goods and slavery.

Skeletons from a mass grave in Dorset will accompany the Vale of York Hoard, a bounty of hundreds of coins, rings and silver shown in its entirety for the first time since being unearthed near Harrogate in 2007.

The hoard illustrates the international clout of the Vikings. Objects originate from Afghanistan, Ireland, Russia, Scandinavia and Europe, recalling the lives of people who variously held Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor as faiths, as well as, in some cases, being able to speak “at least” seven languages.
One silver hoard, from Gnezdovo in Russia, will be appearing in Britain for the first time in a representation of the influence Scandinavian, Slavic and Middle Eastern regions had on the Viking Age Soviet states.
Neil MacGregor, the Director of the museum, said new research had created “a perfect moment” to re-examine the era.

  • Vikings: Life and Legend opens March 6 2014.

More pictures:

A photo of a series of archaeological treasures surrounding a large Viking pot
The Vale of York hoard (AD 900s, North Yorkshire, England). Silver-gilt, gold, silver© The Trustees of the British Museum
A photo of a large circular viking coin with an emblem of a bird and lettering around it
Penny of Anlaf Guthfrithsson of Northumbria (939–41, England). Silver© The Trustees of the British Museum
A photo of a large angular Viking treasure with etchings inside it against a black backdrop
Silver-inlaid axehead in the Mammen style (AD 900s, Bjerringhøj, Mammen, Jutland, Denmark). Iron, silver, brass© The National Museum of Denmark
A photo of a circular gold necklace from a Viking hoard
Neck-ring (10th century, Kalmergården, Tissø, Zealand, Denmark). Gold© The National Museum of Denmark
A photo of an elaborate white and grey viking carving of a man sitting on a throne
Odin or völva figure (800-1050, Lejre, Zealand, Denmark). Silver with niello© Roskilde Museum. Photo: Ole Malling
A photo of a green carving of a piece of Viking jewellery showing a ship and horses
Brooch shaped like a ship (800-1050, Tjørnehøj II, Fyn, Denmark). Copper alloy© The National Museum of Denmark
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