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The Vikings of the North Atlantic

Course Times & Enrolment

This course is currently unavailable.

Course Summary

This course explores the rich and varied evidence for the Scandinavian settlement of Scotland and the expansion into the North Atlantic, which ultimately led to the settlement of the Faeroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland.

Course Details

Content of Course

1. Scandinavian before the Viking Age 

Social and economic conditions in Scandinavia, especially Norway, which contributed to the movement of warriors and colonists overseas.

2.  Scotland and Ireland before the Viking Age

Social and economic conditions prevailing in the British Isles, particularly Scotland and Ireland as settlers ultimately left from these parts to travel further out into the North Atlantic, and the reasons for the Scandinavian settlement and attacks.

3.  Early Viking Age Settlement of Scotland

Investigations at Norwick on Unst in the Shetland Islands have provided some valuable evidence of a small site founded by Norwegians at roughly AD 700. Other evidence of early sites is also considered.

4.  Consolidation of Settlement 

Competing theories on the causes of the second wave of occupation in Scotland and Ireland in the ninth century.

5.  Settlement of the Faroe Islands 

Evidence for Scandinavian occupation of the Faroe Islands, with emphasis on the recent studies that have been undertaken at sites such as Toftanes.

6.  Exploration and Colonisation of Iceland

The discovery and early settlement of Iceland; assessment of literary, archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence.

7.  Nature of Settlement on Iceland

Consolidation of settlement on Iceland and emergence of powerful chieftains; consequences for agricultural productivity and social unrest; further expansion of population into Greenland and onward to North America.

8.  Social, Political and Economic Developments in the North Atlantic in the Tenth Century and onward 

Economic and political changes in the North Atlantic; destabilisation of many regions, including upheavals in the North Atlantic islands.

9. Settlement of Greenland

Colonisation of Greenland in latter half of the tenth century; evidence for agricultural settlement in one of the most challenging environments encountered by Medieval Europeans.

10.  Scandinavian Presence in North America 

Routine visits to North America by the Scandinavian settlers on Greenland; trading with the Inuit; discussion of evidence for expansion to Newfoundland.

Teaching method(s)

The teaching will consist of lectures and questions, supplemented by readings.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the social and economic processes in the Scandinavian lands before and during the expansion of population and settlement into the North Atlantic;

  • Appreciate the social and economic situation in Scotland and Ireland that permitted settlement here, or rendered them vulnerable to Scandinavian expansion;

  • Name the principal Scandinavian sites in Scotland and Ireland known through the archaeological record;

  • Describe the nature of the early settlements in the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland and their economic foundation;

  • Discuss the controversies regarding the causes of expansion.


Core Readings


  • Byock, J. L., 2001. Viking Age Iceland. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

  • Fitzhugh, W., 2000. Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga. Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Institute.

  • Pálsson, H., 1965. The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America. Harmondsworth: Penguin.


  • Jones, G., 1999. Eirik the Red and other Icelandic Sagas. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Sawyer, P.H., 1982. Kings and Vikings. London: Methuen & Company.

Web Sources

Web-sources will be recommended for each lecture.

Class Handouts

Handouts will be provided at every class.


If you have questions regarding the course or enrolment, please contact COL Reception at Paterson's Land by email or by phone 0131 650 4400.

Student support

If you have a disability, learning difficulty or health condition which may affect your studies, please let us know by ticking the 'specific support needs' box on your course application form. This will allow us to make appropriate adjustments in advance and in accordance with your rights under the Equality Act 2010. For more information please visit the Student Support section of our website.