SCAND 370 A: The Vikings

Autumn 2021
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm / BAG 154
Section Type:
Joint Sections:
Syllabus Description (from Canvas):


(SCAND 370 A / HSTAM 370 A)

5 credits, VLPA / I&S

Autumn Quarter 2021

Bagley Hall 154


Instructor:   Professor Terje Leiren

Office: 305T Raitt Hall

Office hour: Monday, 12:00-1:00 pm


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? 

Vikings Live: a tour from the British Museum - YouTube 

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 three exams in this class.  Each exam will consist of two parts: (1) multiple choice, and (2) short essay covering the lectures, assigned readings, and films.  Each exam counts as 1/3 of the final course grade.  

Example short essay question:  "What was the Viking writing system?"

Example multiple choice question: "The author of Gesta Hammaburgensis is: (a) St. Ansgar, (b) William of Malmsbury, (c) Adam of Bremen, (d) Alcuin of York.

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.  


NOTE:  This class is conducted in-person.  Students are expected to participate in class to fully benefit from course activities and meet the course's learning objectives.  Students should only register for this class if they are able to attend in person.  To protect their fellow students, faculty, and staff, students who feel ill or exhibit possible COVID symptoms should not come to class.  When absent, it is the responsibility of he student to inform the instructor in advance (or as close to the class period as possible in the case of an unexpected absence).  How assignments or course grading might be modified to accommodate missed work, is the prerogative of the instructor.  For chronic absences, the instructor may negotiate an incomplete grade after the 8th week, or recommend that student contact their academic adviser to consider a hardship withdrawal (known as a Registrar Drop).

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, Prose Edda.  translated w/ commentary by Jesse Byock *

                   * NOTE: The text books are available for purchase at the University Book Store.

--The Rigsthula (The Lay of Rig) and

--The Havamal (Sayings of the High One)   (Click on the links to access the poems)       

Course Schedule:

A complete course syllabus including a schedule with specific pages to be read will be available in class at the beginning of the quarter.  In broad terms, the outline of the course is as follows:

Weeks 1-2:  Introduction to the Course; Establishment of Viking Scandinavia; Background to the Viking age;  Geography of the Viking World; Written Sources.

Weeks 3-5: Vikings Society: Daily Life; Cultural Beliefs; Political power; Social and cultural norms; Religion and Spiritual Values (Norse Mythology).

Weeks 6-7:  Viking Raiding & Trading: Russia, Byzantium (Constantinople), France.

Weeks 8-9: Vikings in Britain, Iceland, Greenland, Vinland

Week 10: Conversion to Christianity; Stamford Bridge and Hastings-1066; Viking Legacy; Conclusions.



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 Met:
Social Sciences (SSc)
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated:
February 25, 2024 - 4:30 pm