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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: 2023-24

Module summary

In a medieval Icelandic saga, a whole family is burned to death in their home. On an island in Norway, a medieval queen is laid to rest in a custom-built ship, driven into a massive earth mound. In England, 54 medieval Scandinavian male skeletons are found decapitated in a pit. It is often through the record of death – in texts and archaeology – that we are able to learn about the life and worldview of the Vikings. All human societies remember, commemorate and even celebrate their dead and the Vikings were no different. Or were they? 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 may await resurrection at the Last Judgement. They might be buried or cremated; interred in ship burials or funerary mounds or placed in forgotten patches of land and sea; marked with hogbacks or standing stones or not at all. While some commemorations were entirely pagan, others married old ways with 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 will take an interdisciplinary approach to the Viking age dead, how they were commemorated and how memories were preserved and passed down the generations. Alongside the archaeology of funerary practices, there is a wealth of information in sagas, poetry, law codes and other documents, and runic inscriptions, which reveal how death was perceived and understood in the Viking world. This module will drive 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 period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are 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

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. How to Die a Viking: Theories, Connections and Intersections
  2. Notions of Death in 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
Essay: Death, Commemoration & Memory in the Viking World
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Essay: Death, Commemoration & Memory in the Viking World
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

Indicative reading

For reading during the module, 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)

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.