What did the Vikings ever do for us?

A Viking guide to business by Peter Schmidt-Hansen

viking boat
I’m going to declare a personal interest straight away. I’m Danish. I am a Viking.

Vikings have had a bad press for hundreds of years – they were murderers, rapists and plunderers. They came across the seas bringing nothing but death, destruction and misery. They raped and pillaged. Didn’t they?

If any people have been the victim of spin doctors, it’s the Vikings. The Vikings were pagans perhaps it’s not a surprise that they were smeared by both Christian and Islamic spin doctors. So what is the truth about the Vikings?

Without doubt, there was a violent side to some Vikings, but remember they lived in violent times. There was however a softer, more sensitive, more intelligent side to the Vikings. They were explorers, traders, artists, farmers and craftsmen. Viking women were respected, strong and independent. And above all else Vikings were good at business.

How do we know this? Traces of their dealings have been found in as far east as Istanbul, to the south in Morocco and of course North America, some 400 years before Christopher Columbus. Also some records have survived that paint an altogether more sympathetic view of the Vikings. One of these is ‘Konungs skuggsjá’ which is Old Norse for ‘The King’s mirror’. This text from about 1250 came after the Vikings were at their height, but was based on their habits. It covers many areas of life and significantly gives an insight into business including the following 15 lessons:

1. Merchants need to show great boldness and strength at sea. But if you are in a town, or wherever you are, make yourself polite and easy-going. That will make you popular with all good men.

2. Go out and see to your business, but if you are unfamiliar with business in that town, observe carefully how the men who are considered the greatest and best merchants go about their business.

3. Keep your table well with white cloths, clean food and good drink. Become known for your table, if you have the chance.

4. After dining, go out for a while, enjoy yourself and see what other good merchants are doing or whether any goods have arrived which you need to buy.

5. Put a good price on your goods, close to what you see can be obtained for them without being excessive. Then you will not be called a cheat.

6. Whenever you are free to do so, study…the fact is that no men are wiser than those who acquire their wisdom from books.

7. No man will be fully wise unless he has a firm grasp and command of local customs.

8. Make a habit of being as active as you can, but not so much as to damage your health.

9. Rarely be gloomy, because a gloomy disposition is always morbid. Instead be cheerful and light-hearted, keep a balanced mind and never shows extremes of temperament.

10. Be wary of reproaching others and teach good things to everyone who is willing to learn from you. Always be open to the company of the best men.

11. Guard your tongue carefully. Even when you are angry, say little, and speak nothing rashly. For if a man is not careful, he may speak in anger one little word that he would later be willing to pay gold never to have said.

12. Make yourself sharp with figures; this is essential for merchants.

13. If you happen to be where the agents of a king or nobleman who rule the country are, make them your friends.

14. It is harder to seek pardon afterwards than to be cautious beforehand.

15. Treat it as an honour to learn as much as to teach, if you wish to be called fully wise.

We now live in a digital age when many people believe business has moved on and changed forever. I don’t know about you, but I think many of the Viking lessons hold true today.

And you what? I’m proud to be a Viking and I’m not alone. A few years ago a DNA research study found that a significant proportion of British people had ‘Viking’ DNA. Whenever told of this the participants felt proud to have had Viking ancestors and conversely some people who didn’t have Viking DNA expressed disappointment.

Being Viking is cool. I am a Viking. No, let’s not be shy, I AM A VIKING!

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