Tim Severin

Tim Severin bigraphy, stories - British explorer, historian, writer

Tim Severin : biography

1940 –

Tim Severin (born 1940) is a British explorer, historian and writer. Severin is noted for his work in retracing the legendary journeys of historical figures. Severin was awarded both the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and the Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He received the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award for his 1982 book The Sindbad Voyage.

Awards and honours

  • Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society
  • Livingstone Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society
  • Honorary Doctor of Letters, Trinity College, Dublin
  • Honorary Doctor of Letters, University College, Cork
  • Gold Medal of the Maritime Institute of Ireland

Early life and career

He was born Timothy Severin in Assam, India in 1940. Severin attended Tonbridge School and studied geography and history at Keble College, Oxford.


Severin has also written historical fiction. The Viking Series, first published in 2005, concerns a young Viking adventurer who travels the world. In 2007 he published The Adventures of Hector Lynch series set in the late 17th century about a 17-year-old Corsair.

Recreating ancient voyages

Tracking Marco Polo (1961)

While he was an undergraduate at Oxford University, Severin, Stanley Johnson and Michael de Larrabeiti retraced Marco Polo’s thirteenth-century journey through Asia on motorcycles, using Polo’s The Description of the World as a guide. They traveled from Venice through Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan, surviving sandstorms, floods, motorcycle accidents, and time spent in jail. Severin and his guides rode camels through Deh Bakri pass to identify the Persian "apples of Paradise" and the hidden hot springs described by Polo. They were unable to complete the voyage due to visa problems at the border of China and returned to England by sea from Bombay.

Explorers of the Mississippi (1967)

From conquistadors to nineteenth-century gentlemen explorers, Severin follows the routes and tells the stories of the adventurers who have traveled the mighty Mississippi for hundreds of years—and does so while navigating the length of the river by canoe and launch.

The Brendan Voyage (1976–1977)

Latin texts of Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis (The Voyage of St. Brendan the Abbot) dating back to at least 800 AD tell the story of Brendan’s (c. 489-583) seven-year voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land and his return. Convinced that the legend was based in historical truth, in 1976 Severin built a replica of Brendan’s currach. Handcrafted using traditional tools, the 36-foot (11 m), two masted boat was built of Irish ash and oak, hand-lashed together with nearly two miles (3 km) of leather thong, wrapped with 49 traditionally tanned ox hides, and sealed with wool grease. Between May 1976 and June 1977, Severin and his crew sailed the Brendan 4,500 miles (7,200 km) from Ireland to Peckford Island, Newfoundland, stopping at the Hebrides and Iceland en route. He considered that his recreation of the voyage helped to identify the bases for many of the legendary elements of the story: the "Island of Sheep", the "Paradise of Birds", "pillars of crystal", "mountains that hurled rocks at voyagers", and the "Promised Land". Severin’s account of the expedition, The Brendan Voyage, became an international best seller, translated into 16 languages.

The Sindbad Voyage (1980–1981)

The famous adventures of the medieval sailor Sindbad, as recorded in One Thousand and One Nights, became the inspiration for Severin’s next voyage. After three years of researching the legend and early Arab and Persian sketches of medieval ships, he brought the project to Sur, Oman in 1980. Sponsored by His Majesty Qaboos bin Said al Said, Sultan of Oman, he guided Omani shipwrights in the construction of the "Sohar", an 87 foot (26.5 m) replica of a ninth-century, lateen-rigged, cotton-sailed Arab dhow. The ship was constructed in seven months of hand-sawn wooden planks sewn together with nearly 400 miles (640 km) of hand-rolled, coconut-husk rope.