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Death, Commemoration & Memory in the Viking World - MST00061M

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  • Department: Centre for Medieval Studies
  • Module co-ordinator: Information currently unavailable
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

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

In a medieval Icelandic saga, a whole family are 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 2008, 54 medieval Scandinavian male skeletons are found decapitated in a pit in Dorset. 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; put in ship burials or funerary mounds or 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.

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

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

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


Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 - 4000 words
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
Essay 3500 - 4000 words
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • Within six working weeks of the completion of the assessment task. For more information, see the Statement on Assessment.

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.