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Twelfth-Century Norman and Irish Literary Evidence for Ship-Building and Sea-Faring Techniques of Norse Origin

Twelfth-Century Norman and Irish Literary Evidence for Ship-Building and Sea-Faring Techniques of Norse Origin

Sayers, William

The Heroic Age, Issue 8 (June 2005)

Abstract

Sailing scenes in twelfth-century Irish and Norman literature deploy a nautical vocabulary derived from Old Norse, supporting iconographical and archaeological evidence of the extensive transfer of Scandinavian nautical technology. This lexicon advances our understanding of the square sail and standing and running rigging, otherwise sparsely represented in the archaeological record.

The construction site of Skuldelev Wreck No. 2, a nearly one hundred foot long Viking Age warship, has been relocated from southern Scandinavia to the Dublin area of Ireland and dated it to the year 1042. This reintroduces in strikingly concrete fashion a question raised earlier by the apparent general similarity of Norman ships depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry to Scandinavian archaeological finds and to the descriptions of ship-building and sea-faring that are found in Old Norse/Icelandic literature: just how thorough-going was the transfer of nautical technology in the ninth and tenth centuries to areas where the Norse established settlements (Normandy, the Danelaw, and northern and western Scotland) or trading ports (the Irish coast)? The linguistic evidence for such a transfer is quite extensive in the case of both Middle Irish and the Norman and Anglo-Norman dialects of Old French. Although lexicographers and maritime historians reviewed this evidence thoroughly at the turn of the century, several important refinements in our understanding of the corpus of lexical loans are now possible due to recent advances in maritime archaeology.

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