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SCAND 370 A: The Vikings

Meeting Time: 
MTWTh 11:30am - 12:20pm
BAG 154
Joint Sections: 
Terje Leiren
Terje I. Leiren

Syllabus Description:

History of the Vikings

(SCAND 370 A / HSTAM 370 A)

5 credits, VLPA / I&S


Professor Terje Leiren

Office: 305U Raitt Hall


Course Description:

This is a lecture/discussion course on the history of the Vikings.  Following a largely chronological sequence, but not rigidly bound by it, the class will exam the history of Scandinavia during the "viking age," approximately AD 750 - AD 1100, through the written and archeological records.  The first half of the course will focus on the Vikings at home in Scandinavia.  This will include an examination of the origins of Vikings society in the pre-historical period, including aspects of the great migrations and subsequent settlement patterns, the establishment of family farms, and the development of Viking material culture (such as the Viking ship).  We will also examine the political, social and cultural expressions of Viking society, 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 discussed.  The second half of the course will focus on the expansion of Viking society and the international contacts through exploration, settlement, trading and raiding.  Included in this overview will be Viking activity in Russia, Byzantium, Germany, France, England, Ireland, and Scotland as well as the North Sea islands of the Faroes, Iceland, Greenland and Vinland (in North America).

Historically, Vikings have inspired, and occasionally been romanticized by, writers and musicians alike, from Richard Wagner in the nineteenth century, to J.R.R. Tolkien in the twentieth century.  What, if anything, is the historical basis for some of these views?  Who were these people we call "Vikings" and how did they live?  What were the roles of family, law, art and literature in Viking society?  And, what has been the influence and legacy of he Vikings on western civilization and our own time? 

Learning Objectives:

This course has, essentially, two learning objectives: 1) to develop a fundamental knowledge of the Scandinavian region in the so-called "Viking age" and; 2) to develop a critical understanding of the history, culture and broader influence of the Vikings at home and abroad.  Through lectures, assigned readings, video / film viewings and classroom discussion, the course seeks to create a basic familiarity with, and an understanding of, Scandinavian culture and history during the "Viking age."  Students should be able to speak and write accurately about the Vikings and the northern European region in the "age of the Vikings."


There are two exams in this course, a mid-term and a final. Exams will consist of three parts: fill-in-the-blank; multiple choice; and written short-answers to specific questions relating to the subject matter.  The final exam is not comprehensive but will consist of questions covered in the second half of the course.  Each exam will count as 50% of the final grade.

Course Structure:

In class lectures are the major component of this course. Lectures will consist of the presentation of topics and themes relating to the main subject of the course, the history of the Vikings.  Lectures will occasionally be supplemented by films and videos.  


A detailed course syllabus with specific schedule and reading assignments will be distributed in class.


Required Reading:

The required reading will be supplemented, but the core reading generally includes:

Else Roesdahl, The Vikings

John Haywood, The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings

Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda (translated w/ intro by Jesse Byock)

The Rigsthula (The Lay of Rig) and The Havamal (Sayings of the High One)

Anglo-Saxon Chronicle  (portions)

Njal's Saga (portions)


Course Schedule:

A complete course schedule with specific pages to be read will be available in class at the beginning of each quarter but in broad terms, the outline of the course is as follows:

Week 1:  The Establishment of Viking Scandinavia: Introduction to the Course; Background to the Viking age; The Written Sources; The Geography of the Viking World.

Weeks 2-5: Vikings society; Daily Life; Cultural Beliefs; Political power; Social norms; Religion and Spiritual Values; Norse Mythology.

The mid-term will normally be held at the end of week 5.

Weeks 6-7:  Viking Expansion, Raiding and Settlement; Merchants and Traders.

Week 8: The Big Prize - Vikings in Britain

Weeks 9-10: Conclusions; Viking Legacy; Conversion to Christianity; Stamford Bridge and Hasting -1066.

Final Exam will usually be held at the regularly scheduled final exam time.  



Catalog Description: 
Vikings at home in Scandinavia and abroad, with particular emphasis on their activities as revealed in archaeological finds and in historical and literary sources. Offered: jointly with HSTAM 370.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:29pm