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The Franklin Institute’s newest exhibition gives insight into the world of Vikings through 600 artifacts, a 122-foot warship, and more

On Oct. 13, the Franklin Institute is set to debut Vikings: Beyond the Legend, a new, 16,000-square-foot exhibition that will take visitors on journey back to the Viking Age. An array of multimedia and interactive elements and 600 different artifacts will come together to try and retell the story of the explorers who set sail from Scandinavia centuries ago.

The Franklin Institute's newest feature exhibition, Vikings: Beyond the Legend, holds 600 different artifacts, such as the double-edged swords pictured here.
The Franklin Institute's newest feature exhibition, Vikings: Beyond the Legend, holds 600 different artifacts, such as the double-edged swords pictured here.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Built to carry 100 warriors and their weapons almost 1,000 years ago, the longest Viking ship ever discovered has made its way to Philadelphia. Find the Roskilde 6, a 122-foot warship, at the Franklin Institute, where Vikings: Beyond the Legend exhibition is set to make its North American debut on Saturday, Oct. 13.

Two other replica Viking ships will join the Roskilde 6, alongside 600 artifacts designed to take visitors on a journey back to the Viking Age (793-1066 A.D.) and through Scandinavia. Exploring themes including social class, the role of the warrior, religion, and everyday life, Vikings: Beyond the Legend provides an interactive insight into who the Vikings really were as well as the impact that their society has left behind on the modern world.

"A lot of people have a very specific image of Vikings wearing horns and conquering countries, but there's so much more to their culture," says Abby Bysshe, assistant vice president of experiences and business development at The Franklin Institute. "Helmets with horns aren't even a part of their history."

To celebrate opening day, The Franklin Institute will host "Viking Fest," inviting visitors to experience blacksmithing, wood turning, boat building, and an array of other hands-on activities, on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eric the Viking, a reenactor and historian, and Viking historians from Leif Ericson Viking Ship, Inc. will be on-site. A live musical performance by the Drexel University Percussion Ensemble will also unfold.

The exhibition runs through March 3 and begins with a short video that creates a geographical and historical orientation of the Viking Age. It then dives right into the crux of what characterizes the community of seafaring plunderers and traders — ship life. A ship replica and an array of displays provide insight into the process of shipbuilding, how ships were named, and how warriors traveled, as well as what types of weapons — including swords, spears, and axes — went with them.

The exhibition progresses to focus heavily on the day-to-day life of Viking communities, where most individuals spent their time not out in search of treasure but on the farm making a livelihood through agriculture. Craft- and jewelry-making were also highly coveted skills, and a wide array of necklaces, bracelets, brooches, and pendants (including one depicting Thor's hammer) can be found scattered throughout the exhibit. Clothing once worn by both royalty and the "free people" — the farmers, landowners, craftsmen, hunters, professional warriors, and merchants of the communities — are also on display, along with a few replica outfits that visitors are invited to try on.

Other hands-on activities include the opportunity to play Hnefatafl, an aristocratic board game based on military strategy, one of several board games, like chess, that Vikings played in their free time. Visitors can also build a virtual Viking ship, participate in a simulated burial dig, and pick up an accurate replica of a Viking Age sword, jousting it in the air to feel its weighted balance between blade and hilt.

One of the final interactive activities unfolds as an augmented reality rowing experience, calling on those of all ages to jump aboard the Roskilde 6 and paddle with a crew of Vikings. As your skills are tested to see if you can maintain the cadence necessary to move the ship, a 3D character will pop up and cheer you on, posing for a photo op along the way.

"The Vikings are often these mysterious characters that we learn briefly about in history class and leave us wanting to know more," says Larry Dubinski, president and CEO of The Franklin Institute. "We're trying recount the full and accurate story of who these people are, using elements like video and AR to educate a broad audience and reach people who learn in all different ways."


Vikings: Beyond the Legend

  1. Sat., Oct. 13-Sun., March 3, 2019, Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St., $15-$34, 215-448-1200,