University of Washington
Department of Scandinavian Studies

The Vikings: A History

SCAND 370 A / HSTAM 370 A


This course is currently taught remotely at the University of Washington, Seattle. Only enrolled UW students have access to the course. This is a general course syllabus, it is NOT the syllabus for the online course. The online course has a considerably different structure and somewhat varied content than that which is presented in this online syllabus.

Fall Quarter, 2020
Time: MW 1:30-3:20 pm
Room: Thomson 101
VLPA and I&S
(5 credits)

Professor: Dr. Terje Leiren
Office:: Raitt Hall 305T
Office hours: M 12:00-1:00 pm and by appointment

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 CE - 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

As a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic, the course is taught online. Enrolled students must consult the class syllabus available on the class canvas site for information. In addition to assigned papers and/or exams, students will write a "response paper" on each of the poems: Rigsthula and the Håvamål.



*NOTE: Additional required reading may be handed out in class. Consult the printed class syllabus (handed out in class) for specific pages to be read for each exam.

Schedule of Lecture Topics

The Gotland Stone

The Establishment of Viking Scandinavia:

Viking Mentality, Life and Society

First Exam: End of 5th week.

Viking Expansion:

Second Exam: Exam primarily covers readings and lectures from weeks 6 through 10.

Hávamál: The Words of Odin the High One

Rigsthula: The Lay of Rig

The Account Given by Ohthere

*Lecture Overheads

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

Copyright © 2016-2020 Department of Scandinavian Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-3420