Unlike many books and previous exhibitions devoted to the Vikings, this exhibition does not set out to give a complete overview of every aspect of the Viking period. Instead, its four themes – "Contacts and Exchange", "War and Conquest", "Power and Dominion", and "Faith and Ritual" – focus on the important archaeological discoveries of recent years and on new interpretations of old finds. The heart of the exhibition, however, is the Roskilde 6, the point where the four thematic strands converge. For ships were not just a means of transport for the Vikings; they were present in all areas of their society: in art, religion, architecture, and as cultural symbols. At no other period in Scandinavian history were ships, seafaring and society so closely intertwined as in the Viking age.
Contacts and Exchange
The thematic strand "Contacts and Exchange" is concerned with maritime culture. Thanks to their skills as ship-builders and seafarers, the Vikings were able to build up a network linking three continents and enabling the traffic, not only of goods, but also of cultural ideas.
Raiding, trading, conquest and settlement were all routes to contact with foreign civilisations, resulting not only in economic exchange but in social integration on many levels. Interaction and exchange with outsiders therefore came not only from expeditions of conquest but also from the presence of immigrants, missionaries, traders and diplomats in their own settlement areas.
War and Conquest
The theme of “War and Conquest” connects to the Roskilde 6’s role as a warship. Warriors banded together to form ships’ crews for shared raiding expeditions, known as ‘viking’, plundering coastlines and conquering whole swathes of territory.
But this thematic strand also takes a critical look at the Viking stereotype. Vikings were, in fact, neither exceptionally brutal nor victorious in every battle. Historians now even believe that Viking warriors constituted only a small and not particularly representative section of Scandinavian society as a whole.
Power and Dominion
By her sheer size the Roskilde 6 epitomises the theme of “Power and Dominion”. Not only is she the longest Viking ship so far discovered by archaeologists, but her dimensions and construction type show that she belonged to the finest class of boats described in the historical records. Since building a vessel of this type required considerable resources, it is likely that she was a royal commission.
“Power and Dominion” also illuminates the way of life of the kings and rulers of the Viking period. Monumental construction and infrastructure projects which altered the landscape were part of their "language of power". Remains of large palaces and imposing works of civil engineering also attest to the technical know-how of the Vikings.
Faith and Ritual
Finally, the theme of “Faith and Ritual” establishes yet more connections with the Roskilde 6. In Viking times, boats and ships were intimately connected with the journey to the afterlife, a connection directly demonstrated by ship burials and burials within "stone ships" (outlines of ships set out in oblong stones), and reflected in pictorial representations, poetry and myth. The link persisted until the early 11th century, when Christianity gradually replaced the old belief systems of Scandinavia.
“Faith and Ritual” affords glimpses into the world of Viking belief, a world peopled by gods, giants, dwarves and other supernatural beings embodying various natural phenomena. Rituals were performed with the purpose of influencing the gods and seeing into the future. The so-called Witch of Fyrkat, for example, was buried with utensils and amulets which suggest ritual practices, but archaeologists have been unable to determine their nature.