Vikings: Raiders, Traders and Settlers (Online)


Ravagers, despoilers, pagans, heathens - the Vikings are usually regarded as bloodthirsty seafaring pirates, whose impact on Europe was one of fear and terror. As they plundered the British Isles and the north Atlantic, these pagan invaders were seen by their Christian victims as a visitation from God. Yet these Vikings were also traders, settlers and farmers with a highly developed artistic culture and legal system. This course uses recent findings from archaeology to examine these varied aspects of the Viking world.

Their network of trade routes stretching from Greenland to Byzantium and their settlements, resulted in the creation of the Duchy of Normandy in France, the foundation of the Kingdom of Russia in Kiev and Novgorod as well as the development of Irish towns including Cork, Dublin and Limerick.

This course will use recent findings from archaeology together with documentary records, to examine these varied aspects of the Viking world and to give a detailed and balanced view of this fascinating period.

A wide variety of online resources including Google Maps and Google Earth as well as specific Viking web pages, are used in conjunction with text books and specially designed online interactive media to create an exciting insight into the world of the Vikings.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Origins – Scandinavia in the pre-Viking period

  • The Scandinavian environment
  • Early Scandinavian prehistory c. 11,000–500 BC
  • The early Iron Age c. 500 BC–AD 1
  • The Roman Iron Age c. AD 1–400
  • Later Iron Age – migration period c. AD 400–600
  • Late Iron Age c. AD 600–750

2. Viking society and the beginnings of expansion

  • Rural settlement and population
  • Social structure and political consolidation
  • Scandinavian runes
  • Trading emporia in early medieval northern Europe
  • Archaeological evidence for Viking ships
  • Shipbuilding techniques

3. The Vikings in Europe – the early raids

  • First contacts
  • The nature of the early raids
  • Ireland
  • The continent
  • Early attacks on England, Scotland and Wales
  • Overwintering
  • The Great Army in England
  • Archaeological evidence

4. The Vikings in Europe – conquest and settlement

  • The creation of the Danelaw
  • Settlement within the Danelaw
  • Scandinavian place-names in England
  • The defences created by Charles the Bald
  • The Alfredian burghal system
  • The creation of the duchy of Normandy

5. Western expansion – the settlement of the Faeroes, Orkney, Shetland and Iceland

  • Settlement of the Faeroes, Orkney and Shetland
  • The Isle of Man
  • The Western Isles
  • The settlement of Iceland
  • Archaeological evidence for the Viking settlement in Iceland
  • The Althing and the legal system

6. Trade routes to the east and south

  • The Viking trade routes in Europe
  • The Vikings in the east
  • The Rus and their society
  • The trade routes between the Baltic, Constantinople, Baghdad and further east
  • Constantinople in the Viking period

7. Greenland and Vinland – the Viking expansion westwards

  • The circumstances that led to the Viking expansion to Greenland and North America
  • The archaeology of the Greenlandic settlements
  • The economy of the Greenlandic settlements
  • Vinland
  • L’Anse aux Meadows Norse settlement site
  • The collapse of the settlements in Greenland and Newfoundland

8. Pagan religions and the change to Christianity

  • Pagans and Christians
  • The Germanic deities
  • Pagan cult sites
  • Pagan burials
  • Conversion to Christianity
  • The use of pagan myths in Christian contexts

9. Art and literature

  • Viking art – application and style
  • Metalwork and jewellery
  • Wood, ivory, antler and bone carving
  • Stone sculpture
  • Skaldic and Eddaic verse
  • The sagas

10. The end of the Viking era

  • Viking activity in late Anglo-Saxon England
  • The empire of Cnut
  • The last Viking attack on England
  • The end of the Viking period
  • Post-Viking Scandinavia and Christian Europe

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Mr David Beard

David Beard is a freelance archaeologist and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland specializing in medieval archaeology, especially the Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods. He has been involved in continuing education for many years having taught for the Universities of Oxford, London, Essex and Ulster.

Course aims

This course aims to:

  • Illustrate how archaeological evidence is recovered, processed and analysed and how this evidence can be used together with other sources of information to aid our understanding of the world of the Vikings.
  • Examine the main factors that led to the Viking expansion, the structure of society in the Viking homelands and the activities of the Vikings as raiders and pirates, traders and settlers consider current opinions on the nature of the impact of the Vikings on medieval Europe.
  • Consider current opinions on the nature of the impact of the Vikings on medieval Europe.

Course objectives

  •  Students will be able to evaluate archaeological evidence and use it together with other types of evidence to construct a detailed picture of the Viking period.
  •  Students will be able to to describe the main reasons for the Viking expansion and the major developments during the Viking period.
  • Students will be able to communicate their own ideas about the impact of the Vikings on medieval Europe and contribute to current debates about the Viking period.

Teaching methods

  • Introductory text from website with links to external sites
  • Guided reading from set text and case studies
  • Debate on a proposed topic (asynchronous discussion)
  • Occasional tutorial sheets

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • The importance of archaeological evidence in understanding the Viking period.
  • The nature of pre-Viking Scandinavia and the main factors that caused the Viking expansion.
  • The social and political structure of Viking age Scandinavia.
  • The role of the Vikings in Europe and northern Atlantic and the pagan religions and the conversion to Christianity.
  • Current thinking on the nature of the Viking period.

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

  • Evaluate and assess archaeological evidence.
  • Have an overall understanding of the events that led to the Viking expansion and the impact that the Vikings had on medieval Europe.
  • Communicate their own ideas on the nature and importance of the Viking period.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link:


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.