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Death, Commemoration & Memory in the Viking World - HIS00094M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Pragya Vohra
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2019-20

Module summary

In an Icelandic saga, a family are burned to death in their home. In Norway, a medieval queen is laid to rest in a custom-built ship, driven into a massive earth mound. In Dorset, 54 medieval Scandinavian skeletons are found decapitated. It is often through the record of death that we are able to learn about the life and worldview of the Vikings. All human societies remember, commemorate and even celebrate their dead; but across the Viking diaspora, there was no one way to deal with the dead. The Viking dead might feast in Valhalla, or be prisoners of Hel, or await resurrection at the Last Judgement. They might be buried or cremated; put in ship burials or funerary mounds or forgotten patches of land and sea; marked with hogbacks or standing stones or not at all. Some commemorations were entirely pagan; others drew on the new Christian religion.

This module seeks to understand the traces left in the varied death records of the Viking age in different parts of the diaspora. It takes an interdisciplinary approach to the Viking age dead, how they were commemorated and how memories were preserved. Alongside the archaeology of funerary practices, there is a wealth of information in sagas, poetry, laws, and runic inscriptions, revealing how death was understood in the Viking world. This module drives towards an understanding of the role of remembrance in funerary practices and the importance – to the Vikings and to us – of preserving the memories of the dead.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have:

  • An understanding of the historical context of the Viking diaspora
  • An appreciation of the range of practices related to death and memory used in the Viking world
  • An awareness of the variety of source material available to study the topic and an understanding of some of the problems involved in the use of these sources
  • The ability to use and reflect critically upon a range of relevant interdisciplinary primary and secondary material: historical texts, manuscripts, archaeological evidence, runic inscriptions, numismatics and literary sources (e.g. skaldic poetry)
  • An understanding of comparative approaches to historical questions
  • An appreciation of the role of memory in history and history writing

Module content

Teaching Programme:
Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

  1. How to Die a Viking: Theories, Connections and Intersections
  2. Notions of Death in Norse Myth and Religion
  3. Viking age Funerary Practices: The Textual Evidence
  4. Viking age Funerary Practices: The Archaeological Evidence
  5. Material Memories: Runic inscriptions
  6. Material Memories: Hogbacks
  7. Commemorations in Song and Story: Skaldic verse and the Sagas
  8. Death, Magic and Memory


Task Length % of module mark
4000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 or 7 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Price, Neil. ‘Dying and the Dead: Viking Age Mortuary Behaviour’ in The Viking World ed. by Stefan Brink and Neil Price, Routledge: 2008

Sawyer, Birgit. The Viking-age Rune-stones: Custom and Commemoration in Early Medieval Scandinavia. Oxford, Oxford University Press: 2000

Williams, Howard. Death and Memory in Early Medieval Britain, Cambridge Studies in Archaeology. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 2006

Geary, Patrick J. Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, Cornell University Press: 1994

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.