University of Washington
Department of Scandinavian Studies

The Vikings: A History

SCAND 370 A / HSTAM 370 A


Autumn Quarter, 2021
Time: MW 1:30-3:20 pm
Room: Bagley 154
VLPA and I&S
(5 credits)

Professor: Dr. Terje Leiren
Office:: Raitt Hall 305T
E-mail: leiren at
Office hours: W 12:00 - 1:00 pm

Course Content

This is a lecture/discussion course on the history of the Vikings. Following a largely chronoglogical sequence, but not rigidly bound by it, the class will examine the history of Scandinavia during the Viking Age (approx. 750-1100 CE) through the written and archeological records.

The first half of the course will focus on the Vikings at home in Scandinavia. This includes an examination of the origins of Viking society and culture in the pre-historic period, including settlement patterns, the establishment of family farms, and the development of the Viking ship. We will also examine the political, social and cultural expressions of Scandinavian society in the Viking Age, such as commercial expansion, military conflict, and religious expression. The structure and significance of the pre- Christian pagan religion of the Scandinavian North will also be examined in depth.

The second half of the course will focus on Viking expansion and the international contacts established throgh exploration, trading and raiding. We will examine the Viking presence in Russia, Byzantium, France, German, Britain, and follow the western expansion that took the Scandinavian Vikings to the North Atlantic islands of the Faroes, Shetland, Orkney, Iceland, Greenland and, eventually, North America.

Historically, the Vikings have been romanticized by writers and musicians alike. These include German composer Richard Wagner in the 19th century, Hollywood film makers and Black Metal bands in the 20th and 21st centuries. What, if any, is the historical basis for some of these views? Who were these people we call "Vikings" and how did they live? What, for example, were the roles of the family, law, art, and poetry in Viking society? To what extent can we be certain about aspects of Viking society prior to the "Saga period" when the Icelanders wrote their remarkable literature in the 13th century? And, finally, what, if any, lasting influence did Vikings have on European and Western civilization?

In addition to the lectures, class time will include the viewing of documentary videos and films about the Vikings.

Course Requirements

It is expected that Covid-19 restrictions will be lifted when Autumn Quarter begins on September 29, 2021, and the class will meet in-person on campus.
Enrolled students should consult the class syllabus available on the class Canvas site for information. The official printed syllabus will be available in class.



  • Else Roesdahl, The Vikings
  • John Haywood, The Penguin Atlas of Viking History
  • Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, trans. by Jesse Byock
  • Rigsthula online (see link below)
  • Hávamál online (see link below)
  • Johanna Katrin Fredriksdottir, Valkyrie: The Women of the Viking World
  • Neil Price, Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings
  • Anders Winroth, The Conversion of Scandinavia: Vikings, Merchants, Missionaries in the Remaking of Northern Europe
  • John Lindow, Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs
  • The Saga of Sigurd the Dragon Slayer. Translated with introduction by Jesse Byock.
  • Adam of Bremen, History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen Translated with introduction by Francis J. Tschan.

Schedule of Lecture Topics

The Gotland Stone

The Establishment of Viking Scandinavia:
  • Week 1: Introduction to the Course:
    Scandinavia and the Background to the Viking Age;
    The Written Sources. Overview of the Geography of the Viking World.
Viking Mentality, Life and Society
  • Week 2: Viking Society: Daily Life, Rigsthula, Viking Art
  • Week 3: Cultural Beliefs, Political Power and Social Norms, Hávamál and Rigsthula .
  • Weeks 4 & 5: Religion and Spiritual Values: Norse Mythology. Prose Edda
Viking Expansion:
  • Week 6: Vikings Expansion I: Ships, Merchants and Traders
  • Week 7: Viking Expansion II: Raids and Settlement, France, Russia, Iceland
  • Week 8: The Big Prize: Vikings in Britain
  • Weeks 9 & 10: Conclusion: A New Religious Norm Emerges; 1066: Stamford Bridge and Hasting; Viking Legacy.

Hávamál: The Words of Odin the High One

Rigsthula: The Lay of Rig

Ohthere's (Ottar) Account to the Court of Alfred

Virtual Vikings: Websites and Links

Documents and Texts:

Dudo of San Quentin's Gesta Normannorum

Einhard, Life of Charlemagne

Establishment of the DANELAW: Alfred and Guthrum's Peace (AD 878)

The Invasion of England, 1066 (and the Bayeux Tapestry)

The Bayeux Tapestry scene by scene

From Pagan to Christian: The Story in the 12th-Century Tapestry of Skog Church, Halsingland, Sweden

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