[November 1, 2019] A recent article in LiveScience tells us of a recently discovered Viking grave near Scotland’s Swordle Bay long ago. In the 10th century, the Vikings dug an elaborate grave and buried a “warrior of high status” in a boat containing items representing the man’s stature.1 While archeologists remain focused on this warrior’s artifacts found, I believe we should be looking closer at the symbology of his burial and how it represents leadership in the Viking clan.
Many believe that burial artifacts are of things that had special meaning to the Viking. For example, a blacksmith is buried with his tools. A woman is buried with her jewelry and other items representing key moments in her life. The Oseberg ship discovery was one of the most magnificent found in modern times that shows us that women were also treated according to their status.
In ancient cultures, as it is today, status is closely associated with leadership. The higher one’s position and achievements, the greater their leadership certainly must have demanded. Wooden ships were the most common vessel that Vikings used for the burial of their leaders. It could be a wagon or other mode of transport. This demonstrates the crucial importance of good men and women to lead the clan. Great leadership mattered greatly to those in ancient times.
In the Viking burial in Scotland, archeologists discovered the warrior was buried with his sword and also with an ax, spear, and shield. These were the most important tools that a warrior Viking could own. Experts tell us that being buried with these items shows that those who survived fundamentally understood the symbology of those tools and how much they were revered. Today, however, we put our dead in a business suit or dress. That’s all we do.
Once Christianity swept throughout what is today modern Europe, burial customs changed. Christianity puts more on spiritual awareness and faith, as opposed to objects. The movement of Christianity has a similar effect across cultures and time and shows a significant evolutionary change in the way human societies viewed their leaders. What it did not change were the funeral and its symbology.
My advice to all leaders has been to always attend funerals.2 Good leadership means being present to honor those who have died. To honor the dead no longer means to sacrifice animals, tools, food, or money but to be there and say a few good words about those who have passed away. The Vikings understood there was nothing more important than giving their dead an honorable send-off.