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Level 5

5AAH1011 The Vikings in Britain

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor: Professor Peter Heather
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 1,500-word formative essay;  1 x 3,000-word essay (100%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Assessment pre 2019/20: 2 x 2,500 word essays (100%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years

Illustration to accompany 5AAH1011

The purpose of this module is to allow students to engage with one of the most remarkable episodes in British medieval history. Viking raids on Britain and Ireland began in the late eighth century, and escalated in scale and intensity during the early ninth. As the number and size of Viking armies increased, their tactics and objectives evolved, so that at different times and in different places they began to set their sights on political conquest and settlement, often with astonishing success. During the course of the ninth century, several kingdoms fell, several more were profoundly affected, and a significant part of the land mass of Britain and Ireland became occupied by Scandinavians. During the tenth century in England, the ‘Danelaw’ was conquered by a regime which rebranded itself as ‘English’ and the resulting polity as England; but in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, a Danish army conquered England in 1016 and ruled the kingdom for 26 years.

This module will provide students with a broad overview of the Viking Age in Britain and Ireland, and allow them to enable to engage with some of the most pressing and arresting questions in a fast-moving field. What circumstances made the Viking Age possible? What was the nature and scale of Viking activity in Britain? How can we know, and why do these basic questions remain so controversial? What impact did the Vikings and the indigenous populations of Britain have upon one another? This module will naturally cover the military and political dimension to the period, but it will also have a strong social and cultural focus, allowing students to examine various points of contact and exchange – through settlement, religion, trade, language, art and so on – to explore how the Vikings and indigenous population interacted with one another. Students will be expected to engage directly with a wide variety of primary source material, both documentary and archaeological, as well as with a vibrant secondary literature dealing with many different regions, including England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland and Wales.

Provisional teaching plan

  1. Introduction
  2. The Vikings in Ireland
  3. Vikings in Northern and Western Britain
  4. The Vikings in England I: King Alfred
  5. The Vikings in England II: the Danelaw
  6. The Vikings in England III: Æthelred ‘the Unready’
  7. Anglo-Scandinavian England 1016–42
  8. Aspects of Viking Society
  9. Money, Trade and Coinage in Viking-Age Britain
  10. Religion and Conversion

Suggested introductory reading

S. Brink and N. Price (ed.), The Viking World (London, 2008)

P. Sawyer (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings (Oxford, 1997)

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