The Viking Phenomenon

Time period: 2016-01-01 to 2025-12-31

Project leader: Neil Price

Funder: Swedish Research Council

Type of award: Research environment

Total fundning: 50 000 000 SEK

The Viking Age (c. AD 750-1100) has long been a touchstone of identity in the Nordic countries, not least in Sweden. While the Vikings enjoy a popular recognition common to few other ancient cultures, their history has been reinvented, used and abused to suit the needs of successive generations, in a process that continues today. Much of the recent research into the Vikings and their time has focussed on the complex process of state formation and Christian conversion that eventually gave rise to the modern Scandinavian nations. Far less attention has been devoted to the very beginnings of this trajectory: who really were the Viking raiders in a specific sense, why did they do what they do, what kind of societies produced them, and why did they start to expand so violently into the world at precisely this time?The answers to these questions concern the very origins of the Viking phenomenon. They are of crucial interest for understanding how Sweden became what it is today, and the sometimes problematic ways in which this knowledge of the past is received in contemporary society. Under the leadership of one of the world´s leading Viking scholars, this ten-year programme will explore these issues in a core research group based at Uppsala University and the Swedish History Museum, working in close collaboration with Tallinn University. During the lifetime of the project they will be joined by a team of international scholars, each making targeted contributions to their areas of expertise. At the heart of the project is one of Sweden´s greatest archaeological treasures, the largest cemetery of ship burials ever found, the classic site of Valsgärde in Uppland. For more than 500 years, each generation interred its leaders here in magnificent boat graves, filled with objects and animals. Excavated from the 1920s to the 1950s, together they tell the story of Sweden and its growth from the heart of the Mälar Valley - but the graves´ very richness and complexity has meant that they have never been fully researched and published. The full analysis of the Valsgärde cemetery and the society behind the burials is one of our main priorities. As a crucial counterpart to this work on an old find, is the exploration of a new one: the extraordinary and exactly contemporary remains of a central Swedish raiding party, buried in two ships on the Estonian seashore where they came to grief at the very start of the Viking Age. These excavations, undertaken at Salme on Saaremaa in 2010-11, mark the most significant Viking discovery of the last hundred years, and we are delighted that its full investigation is incorporated in this project. Combining Valsgärde and Salme, we have a unique opportunity to reveal the world of the first Vikings, at ´home´ and ´away´, in a project of a kind never before attempted.Underpinning these early Scandinavian enterprises was what can be precisely termed ´Viking economics´ - the complex networks that motivated the early raiders and sustained their continued existence. Among the key issues to be explored here are the complex and multicultural roots of Scandinavian identity; the roles played by both women and men in Viking culture; the prominence of slavery in Viking life; the existence of unique pirate polities, living outside the communities of the Scandinavian homelands; and the importance of the Vikings´ non-Christian beliefs in their encounters with a wider world. With a new understanding of the Viking phenomenon as its objective, this project will create Sweden´s leading centre for the study of this critical time period in the nation´s history. The Vikings are still today the most visible signal of Scandinavian heritage, and this research programme will be deeply embedded with contemporary concerns, ensuring the exploration of this long-lasting legacy for the widest possible public.