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The Viking World: From Vínland to Samarkand

Tutor: Pragya Vohra

Module type: Period Topic

Module code: HIS00073C

Setting out in impressive ships on seas uncharted to lands unknown, the romance of the Vikings has long been part of historical and popular culture. Initially reviled as viscious raiders and plunderers; later rehabilitated as traders and settlers, the Vikings are a complex early medieval cultural group and left a lasting impact across the world, from Vínland in North America to Samarkand in the Middle East. In recent years, historians have begun to understand the Viking world as a diaspora: a world of shared origins, language and cultural elements.

In this module, we will sally forth with the Vikings, charting their expansion to the west and east of their Scandinavian homelands. We will explore their settlements and interactions with their host societies by looking at a variety of interdisciplinary (sometimes contradictory) evidence: material culture, runic inscriptions, coins and hoards, and even genetics. We will uncover the voices of the Vikings and their hosts through sources originally written in Latin, Old English and Arabic, as well as Old Norse. Through this, we will aim to understand the political, economic, social and cultural impact of the Vikings and how they shaped the period of history to which they gave their name. Finally, we will evaluate the concept of diaspora and how it is applied to the world of the Vikings.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  • Origins of the Vikings: Scandinavia before the ninth century
  • Causes of the Viking Age? Understanding migration
  • Vikings in the British Isles (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales)
  • Vikings on the Western European Continent (Frankia, Frisia, Normandy)
  • Colonisation of Iceland, Greenland and Vínland
  • Eastward expansion: Varangians and the Volga trade route
  • Beyond Europe: Contact with the Middle East
  • Theoretical or functional? Evaluating the Viking Diaspora

To find out more

You might like to look at the following:

  • Jesch, Judith. The Viking Diaspora. London: Routledge, 2015.
  • Sawyer, Peter. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.


For more detailed information, please visit the module catalogue.