The Oseberg Ship is a Viking ship made with oakwood belonging to the first period of the Viking art, comprising a period of time from half of the VIII century until the late of the IX century: Broa-Oseberg style, named so because it takes the name of the grave of a man in the town of Broa, Gotland, Sweden, and the tomb of a woman in Oseberg, Norway. It was discovered in a large burial mound near the Oseberg Farm in the region of Tønsberg, Vestfold, Norway. In Oseberg, place of the richest Viking grave of the History, the bodies of two women were located within an ornamented ship, the Oseberg Ship, where inside was a large funenary offering, such as textiles, wooden objects, or ornaments animal heads. This period is the era of animal ornamentation. The style consists of sinuous beasts with small heads, leaves forming feet and multiple curls. The animals are so stylized to the point that they will become zoologically undefined. Begin to appear the beasts with claws, and griffins.
To speak about this piece of art is necessary to speak about the Viking art in general and not just this particular period. Popular in European history, the Vikings have a fearsome reputation of marine predators. During the IX and X centuries attacked and plundered the coasts of Western Europe and threatened the stability of England, Ireland and the Frankish Empire. This violence, however, was only one of several aspects of a complex process during which the Scandinavian peoples explored and colonized remote and uninhabited islands in the North Atlantic, while trading with exotic products in northern markets in Western and Eastern Europe.
In the world of the Germans, his art was almost exclusively decorative. It is in brooches, buckles, swords, shields, spears, ships... anywhere where the possibility of filling a limited empty surface was offered. There were the called horror vacui. For this, the works, generally, were small.
The Viking art is developed in the Nordic countries and their areas of influence during the Viking Age, between the VIII and XII centuries. Part of Germanic zoomorphic style was developed due to influences of late Roman art, Celtic art, and motives of the peoples of the steppes of Asia. Most of the best surviving examples of art from the beginning of the Viking Age have been found in tombs, especially jewelry and weapons, while later, the Viking art is best represented in silver objects, the development of cities, and in Scandinavian rune stones.
As can be seen, the ship is decorated with typical Viking and Nordic peoples zoomorphic details, which, as already mentioned, was developed from influences of the late Roman art, Celtic art, and motives of the people from the steppes of Asia. Due to the use that had the ship, it is classified within the funerary art, being this a funeral ship. It has a post as head of dragon decorated with plant and animal motifs.
The content of the ship, althought was mentioned above, not only contained two skeletons and various objects. The two skeletons were belonging to a woman of about 70 years old and another a woman of about 30 years old, according to sources, both of unknown identity, although there are certain theories unconfirmed. Among the precious objects that were found, of which are said that there aren’t all and that the ship was desecrated in the Antiquity, have been found sleds with rich decoration, a horse wooden cart with four wheels richly sculptured, “feet” state bed, and wooden crates. The bed has headboards shaped posts with stylized animal heads.
About the unknown identity of the skeletons, although it is unknown which is the one with higher social status, it is believed that the one with higher social status could be Queen Åsa Haraldsdottir of Agder. It was a Norwegian Queen famous for her beauty who ruled the small kingdom of Agder, according to the sagas of the Yngling clan. She was the mother of Halfdan the Black and grandmother of Harald Fairhair.
Åsa was the daughter of King Harald Granraude of Agder. The King Gudrød the Hunter of Borre in Vestfold asked for her hand in the death of his first wife, but the King Harald rejected the marriage proposal. Then, Gudrød Veidekonge murdered the father and the brother of Åsa, kidnapped her and forced her to marry him. A year later, Åsa gave birth to Halfdan the Black, and the following year, Åsa avenged the death of her family and of her abduction and rape by a servant who killed her husband. So she left the Borre kingdom in the hands of his stepson Olaf Geirstad-Alf and took her son Halfdan with her back to the kingdom of Agder, his home, where she took power. Åsa ruled Agder for twenty years, and then gave the throne to his son. She too demanded Olaf to cede half the kingdom of Borre to his stepbrother.
Despite the theory that Queen Åsa is one of the skeletons of the ship, there are other theories, that say that could be a priestess, and is thought that the other person was sacrificed to accompany the high social status woman.
In conclusion, the Oseberg Ship was one of the most important discoveries, not only in Norway, but about all the Viking art, because its almost perfect condition and rich funenary offering and decoration make it an essential part of the study about the art of the peoples of the north, while it influences in countless fantastic stories.
The Ship and its content can be visited in the Viking Ship Museum of Oslo.