Detailed estimate of time to construct and outfit a Viking longship – 4 of 5

Had you been alive in the 800s or 900s and saw this from the shore through the morning mist, you were about to have the worst day of your life.  Image courtesy of Adobe Stock

Previous posts here, here, and here have quantified it might have taken somewhere between 44 and 47 people-years to construct and outfit a medium sized Viking longship.

How big a community would it take to construct a longship?

So the next question that comes to my brain is how many farmsteads would have to work together to build and outfit a ship?

Let’s add in a whole bunch more assumptions.

Let’s assume a farmstead of dad, mom, one son mature enough to take on a full load of man’s work, and one daughter also mature enough to carry a full load for a woman. No, that is not sexist. To keep the family alive, not just comfortable but merely alive, required a woman to spend full time cooking, washing, tending the youngsters, tending the inside animals, and making clothes. It also required a man to spend full time in the field and tending the outside animals.

Let’s also assume this farming area is above the bare subsistence level and many of the farmsteads had a grandfather, father, or son who went aviking one or two times in the past and brought back a couple of slaves.

So this above-subsistence farm, above average in wealth and capability, has four adults who can devote their surplus production to getting to sea and can devote one slave full-time to the effort.

This long string of assumptions would give this hypothetical family the following hours to devote to the longship project:

  • 4 – number of adults
  • x 400 – annual hours of surplus production
  • = 1,600 – hours available from surplus production
  • + 3,120 – hours available from one slave dedicated to the project
  • = 4,720 – hours available for this above subsistence homestead
  • 146,080 – high end of range of hours it would take to produce and outfit a medium-sized longship
  • = 30.9 – number of these assumed homesteads needed to construct and outfit a longship in one year

So about 30 farmsteads of above average capacity could construct and send a ship to sea in a year. That is assuming my lengthening string of assumptions are something in the range of reasonable, or at least plausible.

Extending my thought process, this group of farmsteads would probably have 30 adult men and 30 young men on the farms, from which it could be possible to get 32 men to go to sea for the summer or fall with the other three adult free people on each farmstead tending to the farm.

Juggle those numbers anyway you wish and you can see that if a community wanted to gather together, or a jarl had enough influence to push everyone, a relatively small group in a region could send one ship to sea in about a year.

Pull back on the slave capacity or reduce the number of people who can pull a full load on the farm and you can revise the number of farmsteads it would take.

Next post, how many sheep would be needed to provide all that wool?

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