University of Washington
Department of Scandinavian Studies

The Vikings: A History

SCAND 370 A / HSTAM 370 A


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

There will be two written exams for this class. As a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic, the course may go online. In that case, students must consult the class syllabus available on the class canvas site for information. In addition to the exams, students will write two 3-4 page "response papers" on the poems: Rigsthula and the Håvamål.
  1. The first exam will cover the lectures and reading assignments from the first half of the quarter.
  2. The second exam will cover the lectures and reading assigments from the second half of the quarter. It is not a comprehensive final exam.