University of Iceland

Viking and Medieval Norse Studies

A two-year Nordic Master’s Programme that offers an interdisciplinary approach to Viking and Medieval Scandinavia.

Deadline for applications: February 1st

Viking and Medieval Norse Studies

University of Iceland

University of Iceland

The 1st year: Iceland

The first year (autumn and spring semesters) is devoted to course work at the University of Iceland in Reykjavík, Iceland, and the associated Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. Three separate faculties at the University of Iceland participate in the program and offer courses and thesis supervisors: The Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies, The Faculty of History and Philosophy, and the Department of Folklore Studies at the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences. The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies is a research institute that houses a large collection of Icelandic medieval manuscripts, visual and oral documents, as well as a research library in medieval studies that will be open to students in the program. The staff of the institute will provide assistance and participate in teaching and thesis supervision.

The principal aim of the first year is to lay the groundwork for further academic work in the field of Viking and Medieval Norse studies. The core of the coursework consists of three components:

(1) Language. No prior knowledge of Old Icelandic is required, but special emphasis is placed on developing skills in Old Icelandic in the first year through courses in Old Icelandic at introductory and intermediate levels. Courses in Modern Icelandic for foreign students are also available at the Faculty of Icelandic and Comparative Cultural Studies

(2) Literature, mythology, pre-Christian religion, memory of the Viking voyages. The student will get an overview of Norse literature and literary activity in Iceland and Norway in the middle ages by studying a variety of medieval texts, such as Eddic and Skaldic poetry, kings’ sagas, þættir, lives of the bishops, sagas of Icelanders, the contemporary sagas, romances, the legendary sagas (fornaldarsǫgur), as well as religious and didactic literature. In addition, students will be introduced to different theoretical approaches in the field of Norse medieval studies and contributions from other fields, such as archeology, anthropology, and sociology.

(3) History. The students will get acquainted with the fundamentals of medieval Icelandic and Scandinavian history.

In the first year, students complete four obligatory core courses; 30 ECTS credits in the autumn semester and 10 ECTS credits in the spring semester.


Required courses in the 1st semester — 30 ECTS

MIS105F Old Icelandic 1 (10 ECTS)

This course allows students to discover and learn Old Norse-Icelandic, the language of the Vikings and the settlers of Iceland, the language of Egill Skallagrímsson and Snorri Sturluson and the rich Old Norse-Icelandic medieval literature including the Eddas and the Sagas. Old Norse, Old West Norse, or more specifically Old Icelandic, is the language most abundantly attested in the literary sources handed down to us from medieval Iceland in the 12th century onwards. In this course, an overview of the structure of Old Icelandic, in particular the phonology and morphology, will be provided. Excerpts of original texts will be read, translated and parsed, including stories from Snorri Sturluson’s Edda (also known as the Prose Edda), the most extensive account of Norse mythology and legends that has survived from the middle ages. For a more detailed description, please see the Course Catalogue.

MIS701F The Old Norse-Icelandic Literary Corpus – Overview and Main Questions (10 ECTS)

This course offers a detailed presentation of the Old Norse-Icelandic literary corpus, covering all of the major types of texts (poetry, sagas, laws, encyclopaedic literature, etc.). The main scholarly issues will be discussed as well as the history of scholarship in the field. A selection of texts will be read in translation. For a more detailed description, please see the Course Catalogue.

MIS702F The Medieval North (10 ECTS)

Historical and historiographical survey of major topics in the history of the medieval North, with special emphasis on Iceland and Norway from the Viking Age into the fourteenth century. Topics include: power, kingship and state; law and feud; kinship, gender and social ties; religious and mental outlook(s); conversion, Christianity and church; economic conditions. For a more detailed description, please see the Course Catalogue.


Required course in the 2nd semester — 10 ECTS

MIS810F Old Icelandic 2 (10 ECTS)

This advanced-level course aims at developing reading skills in Old Icelandic by reading a variety of texts, both prose and poetry. Students will become familiar with the major literary genres and different types of text editions will be explored. For a more detailed description, please see the Course Catalogue.


Optional courses

In addition to the obligatory core courses, the students can choose optional courses (20 ECTS) in the spring semester. These vary from one year to another; see the current Course Catalogue. The following courses are offered almost every year:

MIS204F Icelandic medieval manuscripts (10 ECTS)

Introduction to West Norse manuscript studies with emphasis on the medieval period. Among the topics covered are: the development of Icelandic manuscript culture, palaeography, codicology and description of manuscripts. Students will practice manuscript reading and transcription, studying different scripts, letter forms and abbreviations. They will also learn about developments in the orthography and its significance for the dating of manuscripts.

MIS803F History of the Icelandic language (10 ECTS)

This course will present an overview of the history of Icelandic language from its earliest attestation to the present. Among the topics covered are The First Grammatical Treatise, Norwegian influence in the 13th and 14th century, the language of the Reformation era, as well as the standardization of Icelandic and the emergence of a national language. The goals of the course are three: (a) to introduce the linguistic concepts necessary for discussing language change, (b) to study some of the most important linguistic changes that Icelandic has undergone from Old Icelandic to Modern Icelandic, and (c) to study the cultural context for some of these changes.

MIS805F Landscapes, Places and Sagas about Early Icelanders (5 ECTS)

Several sagas about early Icelanders (Íslendingasögur) will be read in light of different theoretical approaches to the relationship between places, landscape and literature. The genre is intimately connected with the discovery and settlement of a previously uninhabited land and the events are directly linked to defined places that still can be visited. The study of the use and significance of places in the sagas is therefore of the utmost interest. The teacher will take the students on several excursions, among them a three day trip to the Westfjords area. Students must allow for travel expenses.  The student will write an essay (5000 – 10000 words).

FOR102F Viking Age Archaeology (10 ECTS)

Overview of the history of the Viking age and history of Viking research. Emphasis is placed on the archaeological evidence, the sites and the objects, and discussing how archaeological data has contributed to our understanding of this period. Particular attention is given to economic patterns, issues of ethnicity and state formation.

ÞJÓ203F Old Nordic Religion and Belief (10 ECTS)

An examination will be made of the religious beliefs and practices of people in Scandinavia from the earliest of times until the conversion, material ranging from burial practices to rock carvings, to the written evidence given in the works of Tacitus, Adam of Bremen and Saxo Grammaticus, as well as in early Icelandic works like the Eddic poems and the Kings' sagas. Alongside this discussion of the development and key features of Old Norse religion, some attention will be paid to the concepts of seid and shamanism, especially in connection to their role in early religions. Finally, an examination will be made of the conversion of Scandinavia and how Christian concepts and practices both fitted and contrasted with the previously dominant Old Norse worldview.

MIS201F New Critical Approaches (5/10 ECTS)

The New Critical Approaches seminar, a week-long intensive seminar offered in the second half of May every year, is taught by visiting faculty and covers a different subject every year. Recent seminars include:

2017 Stephen Mitchell (Harvard University): Magical Texts: Memory, Learning, and the Power of Words
2016 Barbara H. Rosenwein (Loyola University Chicago): What Is the History of Emotions?
2015 Rita Copeland (University of Pennsylvania): Rhetoric and the Emotions in the Middle Ages
2014 Gerd Althoff (University of Münster): Violence in the Middle Ages
2013 Dominique Barthélemy (Université Paris — Sorbonne): Chivalry and the Peace of God in feudal France (11th and 12th century): A reassessment
2012 Kevin J. Wanner (University of Western Michigan): The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and Medieval Literature
2010 Jesse L. Byock (UCLA): Archaeology, Sagas, History and the Mosfell Excavations
2009 Peter Brown (Princeton University): Treasure in Heaven: Wealth, Poverty and the Christian Church, 60-600 AD
2008 Patrick J. Geary (UCLA): Feuding, Peace-Making and Conflict Processing in the Middle Ages: A Comparison of Iceland and Continental Europe
2007 Margaret Clunies Ross (University of Sydney): Myth and Religion of the North: Critical Approaches for the Twenty-first Century
2006 William Ian Miller (University of Michigan): “Getting Even”


Other courses offered in recent years include:

  • Heroic poetry and legendary sagas (5 ECTS)
  • Theoretical approaches to sagas about Icelanders (10 ECTS)
  • Living with the dead in the Middle Ages (5 ECTS)
  • Skaldic poetry and saga writing (5 ECTS)

In addition to traditional course work, excursions in Iceland will be offered. These typically include visits to important locations from the sagas, such as Njáls saga (Southern Iceland) or Gísla saga (the Westfjords).

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