Department of Scandinavian Studies
University of Washington

History of Scandinavia to 1720
(SCAND 380/HSTEU 380)

Fall Quarter, 2014
Time: MTWTh 10:30 - 11:20 am
Room: 201 Loew Hall
(5 credits)

Professor: Dr. Terje Leiren
Office: 305U Raitt Hall
Telephone: (206)543-7233
E-mail: leiren at
Office hours: Wed. 11:30 - 12:20 pm,
and by appointment

Course Overview

This is a lecture/discussion course on Scandinavian history from the end of the Viking Age to 1720. Covering such a long period of time, the course will present an overview of the period. However, major themes and events do emerge and we will focus on these from time to time. Class time will be devoted, primarily, to lectures and discussions of the lectures and reading material.

The Viking Age has traditionally been presented as a violent and chaotic period in the European middle ages. Vikings have generally been depicted as "pagans" and "barbarians" seeking to destroy Christian culture and society. While this may have a measure of truth in it, it is far from the whole story. In fact, Viking society is the principle foundation on which later society is built. The nations of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden emerge politically and economically during the Viking Age. With the conversion of Scandinavia to Christianity, the North finally joined Europe culturally, but developments throughout Scandinavia were probably more influenced by the pre-Christian culture than that which the Christian church and its allies were instituting, at least for several generation.

As in the rest of Europe, Scandinavia saw the rise of individual nation states in the early middle ages (ie. after the Christian conversion) and these states were gradually integrated into broader European culture. Although the Scandinavian middle ages did not reach the artistic heights of England or France, for example, it did develop a separate identity and significant level of sophistication. King Haakon IV Haakonsson was a major medieval monarch in the 13th century. The Icelandic Saga tradition which reached its height in the 13th century developed a literature unique in the world. Scandinavia also played a pivotal role in European commerce with contacts between the European continuent and the Arctic, largely facilitated by the Hanseatic League.

The early 16th century ushered in the Lutheran Reformation, a revolutionary new way of looking at the world --the temporal and the spiritual. In its wake, political conflicts led to the breakup of the Kalmar Union and the emergence of an independent and growing world power in Sweden. The 16th and 17th centuries saw the struggle for supremacy in the Baltic between Denmark and Sweden, with continuing interest in developments by England, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Poland, and the German states. During these conflicts, the political philosophy of "absolutism" reached its highest form of articulation in Scandinavia with the Danish lex regia. It defined the constitutional role of an absolute monarch and helped formulate the parallel development of economic, and political, mercantilism. The year 1720 essentially marks the beginning of the decline of Sweden as a major European power, and a new direction for Scandinavian political and cultural development.

Required Reading


There will be two exams and a short paper.
1. The exams will consist of an identification section and a short-answer section.
2. A short (5 pages) paper will discuss and evaluate the content and subject matter of an internet site specifically relevant to Scandinavian and Baltic history and culture in the period from 1100 to 1720. (See the official course syllabus distributed in class for specific requirements.) Paper is due, in hard copy, on Thursday, November 20.

Weekly Schedule of Topics/Lectures

A. Medieval Period: First Examination (October 30, tentative)

B. Early Modern Period:

Second Examination: Dec 8, 8:30 - 10:00 am.

Copyright © 2011 Department of Scandinavian Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3420