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HIS3321 : Viking-Age Scandinavia

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Scott Ashley
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The Vikings transformed the face of northern Europe in the early middle ages. Raiding and settlement in the British Isles, Normandy, Iceland, Greenland and North America created a culture and economy that stretched across the Atlantic Ocean five hundred years before Columbus. In the east, Swedish Rus traders and raiders sailed to Constantinople and exchanged furs and slaves for the silver of the Islamic world. But how were early medieval Scandinavians able to achieve such feats and what effects did they have on their homelands?

This Special Subject allows you to explore the origins and course of the Viking-Age in Denmark, Norway and Sweden using a variety of written sources, including the Icelandic family and kings’ sagas, ancient Old Norse poetry and mysterious runic inscriptions. You will get the opportunity to examine in detail some of the key archaeological sites in Scandinavia, some only discovered in the last few years, including the trading-towns of Ribe, Kaupang and Birka, the great aristocratic complexes of Uppåkra and Tissø around the Baltic Sea, and Borg in Lofoten on the edge of the Arctic. You will also be able to delve into the everyday and inner lives of the Vikings, exploring their customs in life and death, their memories, heroes and religious beliefs, both heathen and Christian. This module will open a window for you onto a civilization that can be both profoundly alien and curiously familiar, but that is without doubt one of the most fascinating Europe has produced.

The module aims are to provide an opportunity to:
1) Engage with a series of challenging literary, material and visual sources and to develop an in-depth knowledge of a pivotal region in the history of early medieval Europe.
2) Acquire a sound general knowledge of the subject, reading widely and critically in the primary and secondary literature associated with it and to develop the capacity for independent study.
3) Investigate in some depth selected problems, including the appraisal of selected source material and the critical examination of current historiography.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will cover the political, social, cultural and economic history of Viking-Age Scandinavia, between c.700 and 1000 AD. Topics covered in the seminars may include:

1. Kingship in Norway and Denmark
2. ‘Central Places’
3. Towns
3. Old Norse myth and religion
4. Christianization
5. Silver and the Islamic dirham trade
6. Heroic and skaldic poetry
7. Feud, gifts and exchange
8. Discovery and settlement of Iceland
9. Graves and burial customs
10. Relations with the Sámi and the Arctic

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists