By Matthew Bennett
Last updated 2011-02-17
What made the Viking longship so adaptable was that it was suited to both forms of propulsion. Drawing only a few metres, and with the largest longships reaching 30m (100ft) in length, it was a fast and manoeuvrable vessel at sea, and one that could penetrate coastal wetlands and river systems.
In such longships Vikings reached the Mediterranean via the Atlantic and the Black Sea, and via the Volga and the Don. In addition they raided, and sometimes conquered, parts of the British Isles and the European littoral, from the Low Countries to the Pyrenees.
Navies have always been crucial to the projection of power. It was their navy that helped the Romans achieve their domination of the southern European region during the time of their empire, and the Mediterranean was a much-used conduit for the crusades. Then in the great period of European exploration during the 16th and 17th centuries, many vessels crossed the Atlantic and even circumnavigated the earth in search of Empire. The Chinese had almost achieved the same a hundred years earlier, but their adventure was curtailed by an over-centralised government.
The British Empire was thus based on the Royal Navy, and the outcome of both world wars also depended in a large part upon domination at sea. Now, early in the 21st century, it is the US fleet that provides the so-called 'Pax Americana'.
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