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Stouthearted Men

Brutal, yes, but also strong-willed

Andrew Curry first heard about plans to replicate a 1,000-year-old Viking ship and sail it from Roskilde, Denmark, to Dublin when he visited Denmark's Viking Ship Museum six years ago. He's been following the Sea Stallion "living-archaeology" project ever since. The idea behind it is to learn more about how the Norsemen were able to travel such long distances and what motivated them to do so. Curry, a freelance writer based in Berlin, visited the ship's crew in Roskilde last spring. "I think the real revelation for me," he says, "was how developed and extensive the Viking explorations were in the East. They had an incredible network in Russia, and there were Viking war parties that attacked Istanbul (then Constantinople) thousands of miles from home. They were ambitious, fearless and had to be well organized to be able to travel that far and be that aggressive."

Though perhaps not as aggressive as is commonly believed. Curry explains: "People have this perception of Vikings as bloodthirsty barbarians, killing people and then hopping on their ships and sailing away. They could be brutal, but what that stereotype overlooks is the organization and the willpower they had. Talking to the crew members in Denmark, I was reminded how difficult and dangerous it is to sail a ship like this on the open ocean today. And it was even more dangerous a thousand years ago. I asked one of the historians what would happen if a ship got into trouble back then, and he said: ‘Well, they would pray to their gods.' That was about all they could do. Imagine just setting out from Scandinavia, sailing west and hoping that you would run into land somewhere. It must have been pretty intense."

Speaking of intense, we are starting our 6th annual Photo Contest a bit early this year, i.e. Now! It will run from July 1 to December 1, 2008. We're also introducing "Picture This," an online gallery that will display the editors' picks of photographs as they are received. Check it out at Smithsonian.com. (We'll update "Picture This" often.) This year, for the first time, we will accept submissions from professional photographers. We have also decided to increase the number of photographs each entrant may submit, though a fierce debate about the exact number continues to rage here at Contest Central. By the time this issue reaches your hands, we should know its resolution. Please visit Smithsonian.com for all the new rules and other contest information. And please keep those great photographs pouring in!

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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