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History 4550: Age of the Vikings: Syllabus

History 4550: The Age of Vikings

COURSE OUTLINE, History 4550/7550


LeFevre Hall 112
Instructor’s Office:  114A Read Hall
Office Hours:  2:00-3:00 M,T, W and
by appointment
OFFICE PHONE:  882-5862
E-MAIL: <>

PURPOSE AND CONTENT:  The course is designed to provide a relatively intensive look at the Scandinavian peoples of Europe in the central Middle Ages.  The Scandinavian countries are regions that we often overlook in the traditional history curriculum.  If they are covered at all, it is only as a group who raided and disrupted settled Europe for three hundred years, beginning about AD 750.  In this course, we will look at their origins, then their political, religious, and cultural backgrounds.  The greatest percentage of readings and lecture will concentrate on the Scandinavian expansion of the eighth century and beyond.  Finally, we will look at the process of the Scandinavian conversion to Christianity and the assimilation of these peoples into the political order of Europe the later medieval period.  As much as possible, we will rely on primary source documents, combined with insights from archaeology, literary studies, and other fields.
ASSIGNMENTS AND GRADING: I will assign grades on the basis of one examination, several written assignments, a series of quizzes given over the course of the semester, and a major project that you will complete, either individually or in collaboration with your peers over the course of the semester.  
Examination:  There will be one examination, the final exam.  It will be a combination of essay and short answer format.  Unless we hear otherwise, the final exam will be held in the regular classroom on Thursday, December 16th from 1:00-3:00 pm.  It will count for 20% in determining your final grade.    
Written assignments:  The written assignments will consist of three short essays (about 1000-1250 words, usually four to five typewritten pages) that will be assigned during the semester. For the first and third papers, I will hand out several questions asking you to respond to issues raised in the reading and/or lecture.  You will receive more information about the writing assignments soon.  The third writing assignment will be a prospectus and tentative bibliography for your major project.
I will expect that your work will be original and that you will conform to all academic conventions concerning proper grammar, syntax, and careful citation of your sources.  In fact, properly crediting your sources is so important that I will not grade any paper that is turned in without proper citations, either internal citation, footnotes, or endnotes. It is also necessary to provide complete bibliographical information on all sources except the readings assigned for the class.  
Each written assignment will be worth 15% of your final grade; in total the writing assignments account for 45% of your grade.
Quizzes:  Five times during the semester, I will give pop quizzes covering reading assignments and important points from recent lectures. These quizzes will each consist of twenty (20) questions in an objective format (a mixture of fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, and true/false questions).  Some quizzes may include or focus on map identifications. The first fifty points will count for ten percent (10%) of your course grade.  If you accumulate more points, they will count as "extra credit" points that will be added to your point total as extra credit at the end of the semester.  Taking all the quizzes and scoring all the points available could add a 10% bonus to your semester grade!  In addition, I will re-use some of the quiz questions on the final examination at the end of the semester.  Thus, your graded quizzes can serve as study-sheets for the final examination.  NO MAKE-UP IS POSSIBLE FOR MISSED QUIZZES.
Class Project:  You will design and execute a major project on some aspect of Scandinavian/Viking history and/or culture that interests you.  The focus could be historical, archaeological, cultural, or just about anything that you propose, as long as the project can reasonably be carried out over the course of the semester.  You will discuss your work-in-progress with members of a research team to which I will assign you.  Assignments to teams will be based, as much as possible, on shared interests. You may choose to turn in a team project, an individual project, or you may choose to work with one other person in a partnership.  No matter which option you choose, you will receive an INDIVIDUAL grade for the project.
In addition to the choice of working individually or with others, you will also have a choice of format for your presentation.  Some of you will choose to write a traditional research paper (which should be about 10 pp. long).  Others might prefer other media -- for instance, an interest in Viking metalwork might lead you to put together a power-point presentation.  If technology is your forte, you might even make a model of a Viking longboat (either in wood or on a computer) and give an oral presentation on the design, function, advantages and problems inherent in this kind of ship.  I encourage you to evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses and I especially encourage you to get involved with others who might complement your skills. We’ll talk more about these projects over the course of the semester.  Projects will be due sometime about the fourteenth week of classes.  The schedule will vary depending on how many of you wish to use formats other than traditional papers.
The class project will account for 25% of your total course grade.
The graded assignments are designed to encourage you think more deeply and critically about issues covered in lecture and in the reading.  I encourage you to bring up any problems or questions that you might have and welcome your participation in all class sessions.  Please feel free to ask questions or offer insights at any time.
READING ASSIGNMENTS:  The reading and the lectures will complement but not duplicate each other. I will assume that you have done the relevant reading before coming to lecture.  If you check the assignments carefully, you will note that some weeks have relatively light reading while others have more onerous assignments. Feel free to read ahead on the lighter weeks!  Above all, you need to be aware that the reading is as important as the lecture and that I will expect you to display familiarity with the themes in the reading in your papers and examinations.
INSTRUCTOR'S OFFICE HOURS:  I will hold formal office hours in 114A Read Hall.  You may also reach me by phone or by e-mail.  If you'd like to talk with me for any reason and my office hours aren't convenient, please make an appointment with me to speak at a time convenient to you. If you find you're having trouble in the course for any reason, I urge you to talk to me as soon as you perceive a problem.  Most problems are easier to deal with in the earlier stages than in the later!
A NOTE ON COURTESY:  I recognize that many of you are more comfortable taking notes on laptops than with pen and paper, and I try to honor that preference.  However, many students have complained that other students using their computers throughtlessly can be distracting to others.  Please refrain from “multitasking” by such things as surfing the net, watching YouTube videos, updating your facebook status or sports standings during class.   If such things become an issue, you will be asked to refrain from using your computer in class at all.  Also, please turn off or silence all cell phones and other noisy devices.   During the final examination, you will NOT be allowed to use your cell phones to keep time, for obvious reasons.  Please bring a watch or rely on posted “time remaining” updates for that purpose.



Academic integrity is fundamental to the activities and principles of a university. All members of the academic community must be confident that each person's work has been responsibly and honorably acquired, developed, and presented. Any effort to gain an advantage not given to all students is dishonest whether or not the effort is successful. The academic community regards breaches of the academic integrity rules as extremely serious matters.  If I discover that you have plagiarized a paper or cheated in any fashion, I will impose sanctions.  Depending on the seriousness of the violation, sanctions could range from a zero on the assignment to a failing grade in the entire course.   I will report all cases of suspected academic dishonesty to the University Provost with a recommendation on whether further sanctions should be pursued.  When in doubt about plagiarism, paraphrasing, quoting, collaboration, or any other form of cheating, consult with me before submitting the assignment.

If you need accommodations because of a disability, if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please inform me immediately. Please see me privately after class, or at my office.
To request academic accommodations (students must also register with the Office of Disability Services, (, S5 Memorial Union, 882-4696. It is the campus office responsible for reviewing documentation provided by students requesting academic accommodations, and for accommodations planning in cooperation with students and instructors, as needed and consistent with course requirements. For other MU resources for students with disabilities, click on "Disability Resources" on the MU homepage.

The University community welcomes intellectual diversity and respects student rights. Students who have questions or concerns regarding the atmosphere in this class (including respect for diverse opinions) may contact the Departmental Chair or Divisional Director; the Director of the Office of Students Rights and Responsibilities (; or the MU Equity Office (, or by email at All students will have the opportunity to submit an anonymous evaluation of the instructor(s) at the end of the course.

REQUIRED BOOKS:  There are five texts for the course:
Asser, The Life of King Alfred.
This reading gives an example of the way that other peoples, in this case the Anglo-Saxons and Welsh living in Britain, perceived the Scandinavian expansion

Logan, Donald.  The Vikings in History.
           This reading mostly covers Scandinavian expansion.  It has chapters on France,  Ireland, England, Byzantium, the Mediterranean region, the Caspian Sea region,  Russia, Iceland, Greenland, and North America.
Rosedahl, Else. The Vikings.
           An introductory textbook that does everything an introductory textbook should do except provide maps and visuals.
The Prose Edda.
A translation of a medieval compilation of Scandinavian myth.

Egil’s Saga.

           The Vikings in Iceland produced a large body of literature written in the       vernacular before any other European country. Egil’s Saga is usually considered to be the masterpiece of early Icelandic literature.  It has it all: love, murder, Intrigue, murder, scandal, murder.....

GRADUATE STUDENTS:  There is a supplemental reading list for graduate students that covers material that will appear on the comprehensive examinations for medieval history students in the next few years.  I will be assigning two books to each grad student in the class based on your individual interests as much as possible; you will also read one additional saga.  Grad students will meet in extra sessions about once every three weeks over the course of the semester to present and discuss supplemental readings.  Interested undergraduates may join the discussions if they contact the instructor in advance.

Graduate students are free to take quizzes and exams if you believe that taking quizzes is beneficial to keeping you on track with your learning – however, grad student grades are calculated on the basis of:
1) The three written papers  (10% each) that the undergraduates do
2)  The final project which must be individual, and could be a non-traditional format but which must include a substantial bibliography which must be presented when you present your work (50%)
3)  Two additional readings and written reviews (10% each).


The following schedule is only a rough estimate of what we will be studying when.  I hope that your collective backgrounds and interests will shape the course somewhat as we go along.  



We’ll discuss geographical considerations and general European history from the end of the Roman era to the beginning of the Viking age.
MONDAY:  Course Introduction, Climate and Geography
WEDNESDAY:   Sources for the Study of Viking Age History
FRIDAY:   The European Context:  Rome to the Carolingians
READING:  Roesdahl, 3-39. Begin reading Egil’s Saga. Start looking at maps. There will be a map quiz in the second week of the course.

WEEK II (ending 9/3/10)  THE NORTHERN PEOPLES TO AD 800.  

We’ll look at what is known and guessed about the Scandinavian peoples in particular from their cultural origins to the age of migration. We’ll pay close attention to methodological problems, including the ambiguity of archaeology, the problem of determining the reliability of texts, and what biases are inherent when outsiders discuss the Scandinavian peoples.
MONDAY:  Written Sources from Outside Scandinavia
WEDNESDAY:  Written Sources from Scandinavia (including Runes)
FRIDAY:  Archaeology/Material Culture
            READING:  Roesdahl, pp. 3-30.  Edda, Intro, Prologue, and Gylfaginning.              Continue reading Egil’s Saga.



           WEEK III (Week ending September 10th):  THE STRUCTURE OF             SCANDINAVIAN SOCIETY
We’ll begin to look at the Scandinavian peoples in Norway, Sweden and             Denmark, concentrating on the early Viking Age (800-950).  We will look at             various topics including the structure of the family and kinship groups, warfare,             economic activities, religion (native and Christian), law, literature, and artistic             accomplishments.
            MONDAY:  No Class, Labor Day
            WEDNESDAY:  Kings and Jarls
            FRIDAY:  Marriage and Divorce in the Scandinavian Household
            READING:  Roesdahl, pp. 31-77.  Edda, Intro, Prologue, and Gylfaginning.              Continue reading Egil’s Saga.

            WEEK IV (Week ending September 17th) :  SCANDINAVIAN RELIGIOUS             SYSTEMS
This week’s concentration is on the heathen cosmology of the Scandinavian             peoples, including their understanding of the origins and fate of the universe.
           MONDAY: Scandinavian Cosmology
            Wednesday:  The Aesir, Vanir and Ragnarok
            Friday:  The Problem of Christianization
READING:  Roesdahl, pp. 147-184. Logan, pp. 15-34.  Read as Skaldskaparmal and as much of the rest of Edda as you are interested in.  Finish reading Egil’s Saga.

            WEEK V (Week ending September 24th):  SCANDINAVIAN CULTURE
            Monday:  Trade Goods, Travel, and Boats
            Wednesday:  Scandinavian Art and Architecture
            Friday:  Warfare, Weapons, and Feud
READING:  Roesdahl, 78-146.   
ASSIGNMENT DUE:  The first paper will be due in class on Friday, September 24th, 2010.

            WEEK VI (Week Ending October 1st):  This week we will begin to work             together in class to develop ideas and proposals for your major projects.  At the             same time, I will give some lectures based on the political history of the three             mainland Scandinavian countries in the Second Viking Age.
            MONDAY:  The Political History of Norway/Expansion into Iceland
            WEDNESDAY:  The Political History of Denmark
            FRIDAY:   The Political History of Sweden


            WEEKS VII (Week Ending October 8):  THE VIKINGS IN BRITAIN

We will look at the impact of the first Viking raids and settlements, primarily in England and Ireland, but touching also on Scotland and Wales.  Our focus will be political, military, and economic, but cultural transmission and other ideas will also be explored.

MONDAY:  The First Viking Raids in England and the Unification of England under King Alfred

WEDNESDAY: The Vikings in Ireland

FRIDAY: The Vikings on Orkney, Shetland and in Scotland

READING: Roesdahl,  184-261.  Logan,  1-42 and 121-153.   Asser, all.

           WEEK VIII  (Week Ending October 15th):  THE SCANDINAVIANS IN             FRANCE

            ASSIGNMENT DUE:  Your second paper, which will concentrate on             Asser’s Life of Alfred, will be due in class on Monday, October 11th

           MONDAY:  The Frankish Kingdoms and the Vikings from Charlemagne to             Charles the Bald   (Assignment due)
            WEDNESDAY:   The Settlement of Normandy
            FRIDAY:   The Norman Expansion into England
            READING:   Logan, 97-120, 153-160.
            (Week ending October 22nd)

This week, we’ll look intensely at what is known of one of the first mass movements of the Scandinavian people, the settlement of Iceland and Greenland and the question of the Vikings in North America.
MONDAY:   The Settlement of Iceland
WEDNESDAY:  Icelandic Society
FRIDAY OCTOBER 22nd:  No Class; use for library research for final project
            READING:  Roesdahl, pp. 262-276; Logan, 43-64.

WEEK X:  (Week Ending October 29th):  GREENLAND AND THE AMERICAS

MONDAY:  The Settlement of Greenland
WEDNESDAY:   The Fate of the Greenland Settlement
FRIDAY:  The Scandinavians Discover America
READING:  Logan, 65-96
ASSIGNMENT DUE:  Your Third Paper, which will be a prospectus and             bibliography for your final project, will be due in class on Friday, October 29th
MONDAY:   Trade Routes in the Baltic
            WEDNESDAY:  The Problem of the Rus
            FRIDAY:   The Rus and Byzantium

We will look at the impact of the Viking raids and settlements in Russia, the Baltic area, Byzantium, and beyond.  Our focus will be political and economic, but cultural transmission and other ideas will also be explored.  
READ:  Rest of Logan; Rest of Roesdahl
MONDAY: The Vikings in the western Mediterranean
            WEDNESDAY:  The Normans in Italy
            FRIDAY:   Consultation/Final project exercises
WEEK XIII  (Week ending November 19th):  THE VIKINGS AND THE MUSLIMS
MONDAY:  The Writings of Ib’n Fadlan
            WEDNESDAY:   The Vikings and the Muslims
            FRIDAY:   Consulation/Final project exercises


WEEK XIV (Week ending December 3rd):  RESULTS OF STUDENT RESEARCH  

I hope that most of this last full week of class will be devoted to presentation of class projects.  You will be tested on the content of these presentations.  
Your paper will be due on Friday, December 3rd)

WEEK XV (Week ending December 8th):   FINAL BUSINESS
MONDAY:  The End of the Viking Age, Reflections on the Viking Era in             European History
            WEDNESDAY:  Final Exam Review/Evaluations



All graduate students will read one saga in addition to Egil’s Saga, You should read the additional saga by the time of the first paper assignment.
Graduate students who have NOT read Geoffrey Barraclough’s The Crucible of Europe will be expected to read that book for their first additional reading assignment.
Each grad student will read and review one of the following works in addition to Barraclough. If you have already read Barraclough, read and review two of these works.
I will be polling students soon to establish a meeting time and place for three out of class meetings.  Expect to spend two to three hours three times during the semester to discuss additional readings.
Bandlen, Bjorn, et alia, Strategies of Passion:  Love and Marriage in Old Norse Society
Byock, Jesse.  Feud in the Icelandic Saga
Byock, Jesse, Viking Age Iceland
Christiansen, Eric.  The Norsemen in the Viking Age (2001).
DuBois, Thomas, Viking Age Religions.
Hadley, Dawn. The Vikings in England:  Settlement, Society, and Culture (2007)
Hines, John, ed., Land, Sea, and Home:  Settlement in the Viking Period
Hodges, Richard.  Goodbye to the Vikings: Re-reading Early Medieval Archaeology (2006)
Jesch, Judith, Women in the Viking Age  (2005)
Jochens, Jenny, Women in Old Norse Society (1995)
Jochens, Jenny, Old Norse Images of Women (1996)
Lawson, M. K. Cnut, King of England 1016-1035
Miller, William Ian.  Bloodtaking and Peacemaking:  Feud, Law, and Society in Medieval Iceland.
Nedkvitne, A.  The Social Consequences of Literacy in Medieval Scandinavia
Norman, Lena Elizabeth.  Viking Women:  The Narrative Voice in Woven Tapestries
Quinn, J, et alia, Learning and Understanding in the Old Norse World

Ross, Margaret Clunies, Old Norse Myths, Literature and Society
Sawyer, Birgit, The Viking-Age Rune Stones:  Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia
Sawyer, Birgit and Peter.  Medieval Scandinavia from Conversion to the Reformation.

Searle, Eleanor. Predatory Kinship and the Creation of Norman Power, 840-1066
Sawyer, Peter, Kings and Vikings

Also, students should be aware of Gwyn Jones, The Vikings.  It is long and wordy and I will not assign it this semester, but it is the text that everybody in my generation and before grew up on and it is a fantastic source for lectures.  
If you have something else in mind you would prefer to read, let me know and we can discuss the substitution.