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Celts, Picts and Vikings

Course Times & Enrolment

Thursdays from 28th September 2023 (Code AC043-103) Thursdays from
28th September 2023 2:10pm - 4:00pm • (10 classes)
M1 Paterson's Land, Holyrood Campus • Tutor: Kristian L. R. Pedersen BIS FSA Scot
This course is now closed for enrolments

Course Summary

Who were the Celts, the Picts, and the Vikings? How did they live and how did they interact with each other? This course will answer these and other questions, using the archaeological evidence to examine the impact of Celts, Picts and Vikings on Scotland. The rest of the UK, Scandinavia and the Viking colonies will also feature in the course material.

This course includes a visit to the National Museum of Scotland.


Course Details

Pre-requisites for enrolment

No previous knowledge of history or archaeology needed.

Content of Course

1. The Celtic background (and introduction to the course)

Who were the Celts? Where and how did they live? Celtic language, religion, artefacts, and sites.

2. The Celts in Britain

When did the Celts come to Britain? What have they left behind here? Were the Picts Celtic?

3. Sources for Dark Age Research

Sources for Dark Age research: written accounts, archaeology, dating techniques, social/cultural anthropology. When can these sources be used, and can they be trusted? Studying for credit: a few guidelines.

4. The Picts – artefacts and culture

Who were the Picts? How did they get their mysterious image? Pictish artefacts, monuments, burials, and house types. Who else lived in Britain in the Dark Ages?

5. Pictish society

Pictish economy and silver hoards. Gift giving and anthropological parallels. Pictish land administration and leadership. The Pictish language. Pictish and Celtic religion.

6. The Picts and their neighbours

The Picts and the Scots. The Picts and the Vikings. The formation of Alba

7. The Vikings, introduction

Scandinavia before the Viking Age. Who were the Vikings? Viking society and religion. House types, burial practices, typical artefacts.

8. Vikings on the move

The Viking raids – how, where, when and why? Viking settlements and finds from Scotland. Viking settlements and finds from the rest of the UK. Viking colonies: Ireland, America, Greenland, Iceland, Russia and the Baltic.

9. Celts, Picts and Vikings at National Museum of Scotland

A discussion of the items at the National Museum related to Celts, Picts and Vikings.

10. Summing up

What happened to the Celts and the Picts? Why and how did the Viking Age end? What characterized these different peoples? What did they contribute to our culture? Why are we attracted to this period of our history.

Teaching method(s)

Lecture based, with informal class discussions.

Learning outcomes

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

  • Show familiarity with the history and archaeology of the Celts, Picts, and the Vikings in Europe, especially Scotland.

  • Describe these peoples’ archaeological monuments, burial practices, house types, economy and religion.

  • Name the most important archaeological sites from this time period.

  • Discuss the Viking raids (why did some Scandinavians set out on these expeditions?)

  • Discuss the war/peace issue in Orkney.


Core Readings


  • Backlund, J. (2001) War or Peace? The Relations between the Picts and the Vikings in Orkney. Northern Studies Vol. 36, p. 33-48.

  • Carver, M. (1999 or 2005) Surviving in Symbols: a visit to the Pictish Nation. Birlinn Ltd.

  • Richards, J. (2005) The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

  • Smith, B. The Picts and the Martyrs or Did Vikings Kill the Native Population of Orkney and Shetland? Northern Studies Vol. 36, p. 7-32.


  • Cunliff, B. (2003) The Celts: a very short introduction. Oxford Paperbacks.

  • Ritchie, A. (1993) Viking Scotland. B.T. Batsford Ltd and Historic Scotland.

Web Sources

Class Handouts

Handouts will be provided.


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.