The Copenhagen-based Augustinus Foundation has just granted a generous sum of nearly 2 million Danish kroner (268,000 EUR) to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde and fellow prestigious Nordic institutions to undertake a new research project investigating leadership and management among Viking groups.

Wisdom, Courage, and Kindness: Nordic Management Ideals and Practices in the Late Viking Age and Early Middle Ages will involve four experts in their fields at four different centers across Scandinavia. 

The Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde showcases well-preserved longships and offers insights into ancient Nordic seafaring techniques. Photo: Werner Karrasch / The Viking Ship Museum

Captaining the ship 

A spokesman for the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde emphasized the leadership challenges faced at sea: "When fleets had to cooperate in the midst of the raging elements on the open sea, it made great demands on management."

"The Vikings were much more than just fearsome warriors. They were leaders who navigated complex social and political challenges in a particularly innovative and eventful era in Nordic history."

"In the Viking Age, people worked together to build impressive longships and great halls. The people of that time also had an almost unrestrained desire to work with voyages of discovery, settlements, and conquests."

"In order for all these projects to succeed, it was crucial to have competent leaders who could handle the complex challenges that society was facing." 

"With support from the Augustinus Foundation, an ambitious research team will now investigate the management ideals of the time," concluded the spokesman.

The National Museum of Denmark houses an extensive collection of Viking artifacts, providing invaluable resources for understanding Viking culture and society. Photo: Illya Kondratyuk / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Staffing the project 

On board with the Viking Ship Museum are experts in the field attached to the Universities of Iceland and Copenhagen, the Moesgaard Museum near Aarhus, Denmark, and the National Museum of Denmark.

The project's leading researchers are a diverse group of experts. Morten Ravn, an archaeologist specializing in naval operations during the Viking Age, is affiliated with the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde. 

Joining him are Lisbeth Imer from the National Museum of Denmark, known for her work on Nordic runic inscriptions, and Kasper H. Andersen, a historian at Moesgaard Museum with expertise in European medieval history.

Annette Lassen, an authority on Norse literary, cultural, and textual history, contributes her knowledge as a lecturer and adjunct professor at the Universities of Copenhagen and Iceland. 

The project delves into how leadership was exercised among the king's courtiers, in cities, the countryside, and on Viking ships. Photo: Werner Karrasch / The Viking Ship Museum

Sagas, chronicles, and runes 

In recent years, numerous experts in modern business strategies have started using terms like "Viking management" to characterize the organizational system unique to Scandinavia. 

This so-called flat management structure invites everyone in the group to express their opinions at meetings, even during major decision-making discussions.

However, whether this strategy truly originates from the Viking Age remains undocumented in source material from that period. 

This gap in historical understanding is precisely what the current research project aims to address, seeking to provide a more accurate depiction of Viking activities between 950 and 1250. 

"We want to explore the Nordic management ideals and practices in the late Viking Age and early Middle Ages," outlines Morten Ravn from Roskilde. 

"The sagas, legal texts, chronicles, skaldic quatrains, and rune texts of the time are full of statements about leadership, but a comprehensive description and a scientific exploration of these statements still need to be provided. That's what we'd now like to remedy." 

Senior researcher and archaeologist Lisbeth Imer, meanwhile, will contribute her in-depth knowledge of Nordic runic inscriptions:

"The starting point is the management situations of the time, as they played out in society's many different communities, among the king's courtiers, in cities and the countryside, and onboard ships." 

"The options open to managers in one of the most innovative and eventful eras in the history of the Nordics are what we seek to clarify with this project."

The project will begin in the summer of 2024 and end in 2026 when the researchers should have gathered enough material to give a valuable insight into this little-explored area of Viking culture. 

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