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The Viking Impact, c 750-1100


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: Elina Screen
  • Assessment: two 2500-word research essays (25% each) and a three-hour examination (50%)

Module description

The period we today call ‘the Viking age’ transformed both Scandinavia and the world around it. Abroad, Scandinavians made their mark as raiders, traders and settlers, generating political, economic and social changes in the societies they encountered.

The first part of the module will explore the Viking impact in Britain and Ireland, focusing on interactions between incomers and local populations, and the impact on material culture and identities, as well as the emergence of new polities and trading connections. In the second half of the module we broaden our perspective also to encompass Scandinavia, the Baltic, Normandy, Russia and the North Atlantic. We will draw on key themes in global history to explore processes of change and cultural encounter, using exciting recent scholarship on trading diasporas, gender and conversion to consider how Scandinavia and Scandinavians themselves were changed by the Viking age. In the final part of the module we turn to address memories and legacies of the Vikings. We will also explore the methodological approaches of historical archaeology and material culture studies, with a particular focus on the process of working with material and written sources, and the intersection between archaeological evidence and other sources, including the linguistic and place-name evidence.

This is a vibrant field of scholarship with new evidence coming to light every year. We will experience the excitement (and sometimes frustrations) of building up a picture from incomplete and sometimes conflicting evidence. (All the written sources are available in translation.)

Indicative module syllabus

The Vikings in the British Isles: impact and identities

  • The origins of the Viking age
  • Viking raiders, mercenaries and traders: the testimony of the written sources
  • Tracking the Great Army through the archaeological evidence
  • Alfred and the defence of Wessex
  • The Danelaw: cultures in contact
  • Viking towns: York, Dublin, Woodstown
  • Scotland and the Vikings: what happened to the Picts?
  • Vikings as allies and enemies in the Irish Sea world
  • Viking sculpture
  • The return of the Vikings

Encounter and transformation in Scandinavia and beyond, c. 750-1100

  • Communities and contacts
  • Trade: the Rus and the Islamic world
  • Exchanges and value in the Viking age
  • Gender and family
  • Viking religion and conversion
  • The settlement and conversion of Iceland
  • North sea empires
  • Viking identities in Normandy
  • Sagas and Vikings
  • Viking legacies and overview

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • understand major themes in relation to cultural encounter, religious, economic, social and political change, and identity formation in the Viking age
  • evaluate continuity and change across different local, regional and cultural contexts over time
  • engage critically with historians’ and archaeologists’ major interpretations of the subject
  • interpret primary sources (archaeological, written, visual and material) critically and relate them to secondary sources
  • identify the methodological challenges of integrating archaeological and written primary sources.