What Was the Purpose of the Mysterious Oseberg Cart?

Oseberg Viking Age Cart

The Oseberg cart hides many secrets. (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)

Along with the Oseberg ship, the most magnificent Viking ship ever found, a richly decorated wooden cart was the most impressive object in the burial mound. Many have wondered what the purpose of the mysterious carriage was, but maybe the craftsmen who made an exact copy have found the answer.

The Oseberg ship was used as a burial ship for two women: An elderly aged between 70 and 80 and a younger about 50 years old. No one knows who the two women were, even if it is put forward many theories. What is certain is that they were buried with objects representing a huge value in the Viking Age.

The ship was built around the year 820 while the wagon was built before the year 800. In Denmark and Germany remains of similar carts have been found, and almost without exception, all are found in wealthy women’s graves. To date, no one with certainty can say what they were used for.

Religious Ceremonies

The Oseberg cart’s total length, including the shafts, is about 5.5 meters (18 ft) and the maximum width is about 1.5 meters (5 ft) with a height of 1.20 meters (4 ft).

Carvings are showing animals, people and symbols, and the backside is decorated with cats. One interpretation is that they are depicting the cats which draw the fertility goddess Freyja’s wagon and that the carriage may have been used for religious ceremonies.

The scene on the front-end is showing a man struggling with snakes which surround him on all sides, while a four-footed beast bites him on one side. This most likely illustrates the myth of Gunnar in the snake pit.

The scene in the middle of the upper board on the right side is more difficult to understand. It shows three people who some believe is a scene from a saga or an old legend.

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Oseberg Viking Age Cart Carvings

Is this carving inspired by a saga or an old legend? (Photo: Museum of Cultural History, Oslo)

New Theory

The New Oseberg Ship Foundation has built an exact replica of the Oseberg cart and the experienced craftsmen have also put forward a theory about what it was used for. Construction Manager Geir Røvik believes that it was intended for wealthy women who were going to be transported to and from the ship.

– The wagon may have functioned as an amphibious craft. The ship was maneuvered as close to the shore as possible and the wagon transported the women to and from land, Røvik told Båtliv magazine in 2013.

There are several details that have made Røvik ponder.

– It has large wheels to get across the water in addition to having a “crib” where the lady can sit, and maybe the wagon was watertight. Also, the upper part of the cart can easily be removed and have frame handles.

Landing Craft

The construction is made of different types of wood with different age. It turns out that the parts can be disassembled to be transported by ship. The upper board is made of oak and the carriage has two shafts made of ash. It has probably been drawn by two horses, one on each side of the shafts.

– This theory that the wagon has been a landing craft is just speculation, but from what we can observe, there is much suggesting this, according to Røvik.

Along with other craftsmen, he has spent much time researching the original at the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo. Contrary to what was previously believed, it also turns out that the carriage is able to turn.

The Oseberg ship’s construction allowed navigation in waters only a few feet deep, making the theory workable.



Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews

Sources: Båtliv, Museum of Cultural History


Categories: Culture, History, Vikings

4 replies

  1. Transportation of trade goods might be a practical use for it.

  2. We know that priestesses of an earth goddess would tote around idols during special occasions in wagons like these. The Oseberg women’s most likely origin story is that of being priestesses of Freyja. The wagons are always found with wealthy women (priestesses get to eat the best food and get the best offerings), and the cats, found throughout the ship, are emblematic of Freyja.

    Amphibious landing craft? Sure, go for the bizarre non sequitur.

    And as far as it being able to be taken apart to transport on a ship, ship burials also contain beds that can be taken apart to be transported by ship, despite the fact that such a bed has never been found in a fixed site. It means nothing, but the last thing one would want in an amphibious landing craft would be the cradle floating off, given that it is only 4′ tall and would allegedly be operating in water several feet deep.

    This is just nonsense. Perhaps wealthy women today are perfect ladies who need cloaks thrown over puddles lest they faint, but that modern weakness should not be read into this part of the past.

  3. The picture taken from the Oseberg wagon depicts a scene from Skírnismál 🙂

  4. The upper part of the carts must be from the queen’s wedding.

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