University of Washington
Department of Scandinavian Studies
The Vikings: A History
(SCAND 370 / HSTAM 370)
(VLPA / I&S)
Autumn Quarter, 2016
VLPA and I&S
Professor: Dr. Terje Leiren
Office:: 305U Raitt Hall
Office hours: TBD
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.
There will be two written exams for this class. The exam will consist
of questions in the following format:
a) multiple choice,
b) fill-in-the-blank, and
c) specific questions requiring a short, written answer.
- The first exam will cover the lectures and reading
assignments from the first half of the quarter.
- The second exam will cover the lectures and reading assigments
from the second half of the quarter.
- Required Reading:
- Else Roesdahl, The Vikings
- John Haywood, The Penguin Atlas of Viking History
- Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda, with intro by Jesse Byock
- Njal's Saga, passim
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, passim
Readings for the Examinations*
Readings for the first exam:
- Else Roesdahl, The Vikings, to p. 184.
- John Haywood, Atlas, selected chapters.
- Snorri Sturluson, Prose Edda
- Rigsthula and Hávamál (See link below)
- Njal's Saga, Part 1: 9-11; Part 5: 72-79 (See link below)
Readings for the second exam:
- Roesdahl,The Vikings, from p. 185.
- John Haywood, Atlas, selected chapters.
- Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Part 3: 991-1014, Part 4: 1015-1036
(See link below)
*NOTE: Consult printed class syllabus for specific pages to be read for each exam.
Schedule of Lecture Topics
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, Njal's Saga
- Weeks 4 & 5: Religion and Spiritual Values: Norse Mythology
First Exam: TBD
- 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.
Second Exam: TBD
Virtual Vikings: Websites and Links
Documents and Texts:
Snorre Sturlasson's Heimskringla
Life of King Alfred
Dudo of San Quentin's Gesta Normannorum
Njal's Saga: The Story of Burnt Njal
Grettir's Saga: The Saga of Grettir the Strong
Einhard, Life of Charlemagne
Establishment of the DANELAW: Alfred and Guthrum's
Peace (AD 878)
The Invasion of England, 1066 (and the
The Full Bayeux Tapestry - Thumbnail images
From Pagan to Christian: The Story in the 12th-Century Tapestry of Skog Church, Halsingland, Sweden
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University of Washington,
Seattle, WA 98195-3420