They Buried Him with his Sword and More

By | November 1, 2019

[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.


Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

16 thoughts on “They Buried Him with his Sword and More

  1. Kenny Foster

    Excellent article, Gen Satterfield. For some reason, I’ve always had an interest in archaeology and the discovery of olden things. I’m sure the artifacts tell us much more than we get from the news media. Thanks.

    1. José Luis Rodriguez

      Hi Kenny! Yes, I agree this is a good article because of the linkage between things and respect. I found that Gen Satterfield nailed it with something that I’d been looking for for ages. Things do symbolize respect and that is why they are so important. Like the flag of a nation. It symbolizes what is good in a nation. No surprise people don’t like it when it is destroyed (eg burned or stepped on).

  2. Crazy Dude

    Wow. Very interesting. Thanks, Gen. Satterfield for info on the Viking culture.

  3. Greg Heyman

    I always wanted to be an archaeologist but never had the guts to go into the field because the pay sucked and the conditions were terrible. I’m glad others did it and here is some of the results. Most important, I firmly believe, is that it tells us that we haven’t really changed that much compared to man 1,000 years ago.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      This confirms that ancient ideas and customs should not be put down as useless or degraded. Those ideas that survived should be studied closely, including customs like putting objects in burial sites.

  4. Dale Paul Fox

    Another way of looking at the symbols. Thanks Max. I agree and we do that today. Ever have your child bury a hamster in the backyard? They will want to put something in the burial. Seems that there is some innate desire to put physical objects in burials.

    1. Yusaf from Texas

      I appreciate the support. Humans take care of their dead. That is one way we differ from the animals. Another way is that we can plan for the future and by “planning” that means others will treat us properly and respectfully when we die.

      1. The Kid 1945

        What is also interesting is the contribution that Christianity made to the changing of traditions. The symbols began but lessened the objects placed in the burial site. How that came about and why is a big unanswered question.

  5. Max Foster

    I personally like reading about discoveries of Viking burials. Since I was a kid, I was interested. What I see in this particular burial – that differs – is its discovery in the UK where they are rare. The boat symbol is especially meaningful. Archaeologists believe it symbolizes traveling to a new world. Of course, we will never know but I believe it symbolizes their love of the person and their contribution to their tribe.

    1. Dale Paul Fox

      Another way of looking at the symbols. Thanks Max. I agree and we do that today. Ever have your child bury a hamster in the backyard? They will want to put something in the burial. Seems that there is some innate desire to put physical objects in burials.

  6. Ed Berkmeister

    Very interesting. The idea of the strength of symbols, is one that has mystified academics for centuries.

    1. Len Jakosky

      You hit that argument squarely in the face, Ed. Well said. I agree that academics are looking for the real meaning but I think the fact they are academics and have little real world experience, does indeed explain a lot.

      1. JT Patterson

        This should come as no surprise. Academics are extremely limited except those that came from the ordinary world like the rest of us. Don’t trust what they say until you see how their works stand up to extreme scrutiny. I find most are simply echoing words and ideas of others and there is little original thought.

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