Course No. 3910
Professor Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
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Course No. 3910
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What Will You Learn?

  • Examine who the Vikings were based on relics and archaeological finds.
  • Investigate the Norse religions, which were integral to Scandinavian life and united many communities.
  • Explore Scandinavian poems, literature, and mythology to see how memories were preserved.
  • Take a deep dive into the legacy of Cnut the Great, his period of rule, and the collapse of his empire.

Course Overview

As explorers and traders, the Vikings played a decisive role in the formation of Latin Christendom, and particularly of Western Europe. In this course, you will study the Vikings not only as warriors, but also in other roles for which they were equally extraordinary: merchants, artists, kings, raiders, seafarers, shipbuilders, and creators of a remarkable literature of myths and sagas.

Professor Kenneth Harl synthesizes insights from an astonishing array of sources: The Russian Primary Chronicle (a Slavic text from medieval Kiev), 13th-century Icelandic poems and sagas, Byzantine accounts, Arab geographies, annals of Irish monks who faced Viking raids, Roman reports, and scores of other firsthand contemporary documents.

Among the topics you will explore in depth are the profound influence of the Norse gods and heroes on Viking culture, and the Vikings' extraordinary accomplishments as explorers and settlers in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland. With the help of archeological findings, you will learn to analyze Viking ship burials, runestones and runic inscriptions, Viking wood carving, jewelry, sculpture, and metalwork.

From 790–1066, virtually invincible Viking fleets fanned out across Europe, raiding, plundering, and overwhelming every army that opposed them.

By 1100, however, the Vikings had disappeared, having willingly shed their identity and dissolved into the mists of myth and legend. How did this happen, and how should we remember this formidable civilization that, for being so formative, proved so transient?

A Wide-Ranging Story, a Versatile Historian

The Vikings were a people whose history stretched from the Vinland settlements in Newfoundland to Baghdad. Accordingly, the telling of their story requires a historian of Professor Harl's considerable powers.

As he has shown in his other Teaching Company courses, The World of Byzantium, Great Ancient Civilizations of Asia Minor, The Era of the Crusades, and Rome and the Barbarians, Dr. Harl has a special knowledge of Europe and the Near East, from antiquity through the Middle Ages. His expertise on nearly all of the peoples the Vikings encountered enables him to endow his lectures with the nuance and detail only a trained specialist can deliver.

The Past Is Never Dead: Scandinavian Beginnings

Professor Harl begins with a virtual tour of the unique Scandinavian terrain that determined that Viking civilization would be a culture like no other, a land and people apart from the rest of the world. Scandinavia was cut off by dense forests that kept individual settlements isolated from one another. The Scandinavian way of life was inherently temporary, for agriculture would not progress beyond the slash-and-burn technique until the end of the Viking Age. Villages lasted only a generation before soil exhaustion forced their abandonment, negating the possibility of permanent towns or lasting structures, political or otherwise. Anyone seeking wealth rather than mere subsistence had to look to the sea.

In this early part of the course you will also study in great detail the origins of the Vikings' ancient Germanic religion. You will learn the stories of the Norse gods and how the Vikings sought to honor them.

The lectures also examine how Scandinavians venerated their ancestors, great heroes of the past whom they emulated in life. Professor Harl demonstrates how we can glean the ambitions of the great Viking sea kings by examining the legendary exploits of their role models, such as the saga of the great ride of Hrolf Kraki, the 6th-century king of legendary Hleidr, a great Danish hall.

The Viking Edge

But culture only takes us so far. The Viking Age would have been impossible had the Scandinavians not possessed superiority in shipbuilding and warfare, and Professor Harl devotes two in-depth lectures to this achievement.

You will explore in detail how the design features of Viking ships allowed them to ride the waters rather than fight the waves, to be dragged across land from river to river, and to be beached in any port and sail almost anywhere. Many Viking victories resulted from the fact that their ships could sail several times faster than opposing armies could move on foot.

Contrary to the stereotype of slashing homicidal maniacs in horned helmets, Professor Harl discusses a precise, organized, battle-hardened army of men trained in warfare since boyhood. Vikings were extraordinarily fit, skilled in boarding ships, in leaping and jumping, archery, swordsmanship, and the wielding of axes. Even more frightful, they were fearless, regarding battle as a state of ecstatic joy and expecting thrill in victory or glory in Valhalla as they rushed at their foes.

Traders and Raiders

Viking warfare wasn't driven by any primitive, atavistic malice, or undirected rage. To them, it just made economic sense. We go a long way towards understanding Scandinavians' motivation and debunking popular stereotypes by seeing Viking raids as a logical extension of trading activities.

You will follow the Vikings as merchants who exploited trade routes in the Baltic, the North Sea, and on the river systems of Western Europe. They operated from the Arctic to the Mediterranean, selling everything from sealskin, whalebone, and amber to slaves.

Raiding was simply trade by other means. Vikings raided towns throughout the Latin West, and then set up impromptu markets to sell back the booty. They were indeed shocked to find a novel commodity in abbots whom the Christians paid handsomely to get back.

In Professor Harl's lectures we see the great adaptability of these Scandinavians, their willingness to evolve according to their local environment. Consider the divergent fortunes and destinies of just a few of the Northern peoples that left their Scandinavian homeland:

  • Under a deal negotiated with King Charles the Simple by their sea king Hrolf, the Vikings were awarded land in Normandy in exchange for protecting the Franks. Hrolf's descendants preserved their military prowess; they conquered England and Italy, eventually cutting off their ties to the sea and adopting the French language.
  • Swedish Vikings, known as "Rus," established outposts in Kiev and Novgorod. They used their Slavic subjects to clear the forests, allowing market towns to evolve into great cities, and a Rus king, Vladimir, would adopt Christianity as the official religion of the Rus state.
  • In a lightning campaign, the mostly Danish Great Army conquered three English kingdoms from 865–878 and settled in the northern half of England. They exerted a profound influence, transmitting 600 words into modern English and innovating the jury system that eventually passed into English law.

Because stereotypical images of the Vikings have long obscured the Vikings' importance in European history, you may learn something new in nearly every minute of these lectures. Did you know that:

  • We have Iceland to thank for preserving most of our information about what a pure Viking society was like. Icelanders preserved the old Norse traditions through storytelling during the long Icelandic winters. They eventually wrote down these poems, myths, and legends to create literature considered to be one of the miracles of the Middle Ages, deserving a place beside the Greek and Roman classics in the Western tradition.
  • Iceland functioned successfully without cities, taxes, or a complex government. You will study the simple yet effective political system—the Thing, the Althing, and the Law Rock—that made Viking Iceland a remarkable experiment in self-government.
  • An early Icelandic settler, Helgi the Lean, once remarked with characteristic Viking pragmatism and typical Icelandic wit, "On land I worship Christ, but at sea I worship Thor." A jest though it may have been, it seems prescient in light of the Scandinavian tendency to slough off the ancient gods at the water's edge.

The Beginnings of Modern Scandinavia

In the last part of the course, Professor Harl discusses how a variety of factors—wealth gained through Viking adventures, the creation of ever more professional Viking armies, increasingly better ships, and notably, conversion to Christianity—enabled Scandinavian monarchs to impose control and set up territorial kingdoms.

The creation of kingdoms and national churches was a testimony to the organizational skills of the Scandinavians, who lacked a history that connected them to the benefits of urban-based Roman civilization.

Who were the Vikings? Much more, perhaps, than you may have thought: raiders, seafarers, kings, and writers, a people who truly defined the history of Europe, and whose brave, adventurous, and creative spirit still survives today.

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36 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Vikings in Medieval History
    Hostile Christian sources demonize the Vikings; Muslim accounts render them exotic; and recent revisionist historians downplay the impact of Norse raids. Archeological finds such as ship burials, coin hoards, and human remains, combined with close study of the Norse sagas of Iceland, can enrich and balance our understanding of Scandinavia's place in medieval history. x
  • 2
    Land and People of Medieval Scandinavia
    Scandinavia's landscape shaped its culture. Dense forestation led to small, close-knit communities, skill in woodworking, and to sailing as the primary means of long-distance transport. Long, harsh winters engendered skill in cold-weather travel, a unique cosmology, and the emergence of great halls where storytelling and hospitality traditions were born. x
  • 3
    Scandinavian Society in the Bronze Age
    The physical evidence, expertly interpreted, paints a compelling picture of the Bronze Age in Scandinavia (2300–450 B.C.) Viking ancestors traded Arctic goods, amber, and slaves in exchange for foreign copper and tin to produce impressive bronze objects. New wealth fostered larger villages led by chieftains. A gilt bronze sun chariot, rock tracings, and other material culture indicate the beginnings of the Norse pantheon. x
  • 4
    Scandinavia in the Celtic and Roman Ages
    Scandinavia fed off of trade with the Celts (450–50 B.C.) importing improved cart, ship, and metalworking technology. Contact with Rome (c. 50 B.C.–A.D. 400) enriched the upper classes with fine silver, ceramics, and glass. More ominously, Scandinavians returning from Roman military service brought back advanced weapons and armor. Petty kings surrounded by loyal bands of warriors emerged, along with the first Scandinavian sailing ships that would soon take them abroad. x
  • 5
    The Age of Migrations
    Between 400–700, as the Roman political order collapsed in Western Europe, Scandinavians poured in: Anglo-Saxons in England, Franks in Gaul, Swedish Goths in Italy and Spain, Danes in Frisia. Cultural ties were so close that Scandinavian legends celebrated legendary West Germanic figures for centuries. But in the 7th and 8th centuries, Christianization and linguistic change transformed these immigrants into separate peoples, targets for Viking raids. x
  • 6
    The Norse Gods
    Norse religion was integral to Scandinavian life. A creation myth tells of primeval frozen wastes and sacred trees. The pantheon contained gods of war (Odin), sky (Thor), and fertility (Frey and Freya). The afterlife in Valhalla and other great halls was a reward for great deeds. Worship of these gods, and veneration of the ancestors united communities and separated them from Christendom. x
  • 7
    Runes, Poetry, and Visual Arts
    As a non-urbanized culture, Viking society expressed its visual genius in elaborate woodcarving and intricate jewelry, not architecture. Gods were represented by charming cult statues and contacted through magical runic drawings. Without writing, great myths and legends were transmitted in great halls by poets, playing a harp and composing spontaneous, witty, and metrical verse. x
  • 8
    Legendary Kings and Heroes
    The Epic of Beowulf (c. 675–725) and The Saga of Hrolf Kraki (c. 13th century) look back to the 6th century when legendary kings of Denmark and Sweden ruled from great halls and won great victories, albeit without the Viking longships of the 9th and 10th centuries. These figures were role models and inspirations to the sea kings and territorial rulers of the Viking Age. x
  • 9
    A Revolution in Shipbuilding
    Without the advances in shipbuilding that occurred in the 9th and 10th centuries, Viking success in raiding and trading would have been impossible. Viking vessels evolved from the earliest paddleboats to the great cargo and war ships that carried Viking goods and armies farther and faster than anyone else in the Medieval world. x
  • 10
    Warfare and Society in the Viking Age
    Swords, bows and arrows, javelins, spears, and axes made up the Viking arsenal, but their greatest weapon was unit cohesion. Trained since youth, they were expert in winter travel and foraging, the building of fortifications, and coordinated attack in advanced formations like the "shield wall." The Great Army of 865–878 showed that, when massed together by the thousands, they could virtually conquer all of England. x
  • 11
    Merchants and Commerce in the Viking Age
    From 675–840, Western economic and political activity revived, fueled by improved agriculture, growing towns and monasteries, and renewed Mediterranean trade. But it was the need for slaves in the Islamic world that led Vikings to pioneer extensions of this trade, southwest to Islamic Spain and southeast to Constantinople and Baghdad. Cosmopolitan market towns in Scandinavia eventually became sources of royal revenue and seats of royal power. x
  • 12
    Christendom on the Eve of the Viking Age
    The Carolingian Empire, which had actually conquered Germanic peoples under Charlemagne, possessed the economic and military strength to challenge the Vikings. But partition in 843 and civil conflicts between the nobles weakened Carolingian defenses, even as Frankish prosperity invited Viking raids. England and Ireland had cultural and economic ties to the Latin West through their vibrant and prosperous monasteries, but no means to resist attack. x
  • 13
    Viking Raids on the Carolingian Empire
    Vikings raided the Carolingian Empire throughout the 9th century, disrupting trade routes and depleting imperial coffers through the extraction of tribute (Danegeld). Local vassals stepped into the power void and claimed fiefs, while veteran Viking companies put down roots in the empire at fortified camps and bases. The axis of trade shifted away from the weakened empire, towards Scandinavia. x
  • 14
    The Duchy of Normandy
    In 911, Frankish king Charles the Simple faced the Viking sea king Hrolf and a massive Viking fleet en route to Paris. With no money to offer as ransom, Charles offered Hrolf the land around the town of Rouen. Hrolf's warriors, and their families and descendants, forged the powerful feudal state of Normandy that would later found two great feudal kingdoms. x
  • 15
    Viking Assault on England
    Vikings had been merchants in England for centuries when the first Viking raid destroyed Lindisfarne in 793. Viking raids climaxed in the Great Army's methodical ravaging of southern England and the Midlands from 865–878. They conquered three English kingdoms, but the fourth, led by Alfred the Great, fortified itself militarily and fiscally, preserving its independence. x
  • 16
    The Danelaw
    Many Danes settled in the northern areas of England conquered by the Great Army. In the 9th and 10thth centuries, Anglo-Danish rule brought prosperity and lasting changes in language, customs, and legal institutions. But in adopting Christianity and becoming a landed class, these Danes also surrendered their Viking identity and, with shocking docility, accepted the rule of the kings of Wessex by 954. x
  • 17
    Viking Assault on Ireland
    In 432–433, St. Patrick brought Roman Christianity to Ireland, but not Roman government. So in the Viking Age Ireland possessed great, learned, clan-supported monasteries surrounded by chieftain-led tribes. Norse Vikings devastated the monasteries, dominated the river systems and coastal ports, and co-opted local chieftains, transforming Ireland into a hub for the slave trade to Muslim Spain. x
  • 18
    Norse Kings of Dublin and Ireland
    In 917, Hiberno-Norse kings reestablished rule over Dublin and its hinterland, and many key ports. With Norse immigration in decline, however, they lacked the numbers to dominate the island. Cooperation, intermarriage, and assimilation marked Norse-Irish relations. Irish king Mael Sechlainn's victory over the Norse at Tara in 980 cemented their secondary position thereafter. x
  • 19
    The Settlement of Iceland
    Iceland filled with settlers between 870–930. Some sought relief from an overcrowded Norway, some sought free land, and others desired freedom from the tyrannical Norwegian king Harald Finehair. On this remote, barely habitable island just below the Arctic Circle, a purely Scandinavian experiment in self-government produced a remarkably independent society of free farmsteads, minimally governed by assemblies of free men. x
  • 20
    Iceland—A Frontier Republic
    The rugged terrain of Iceland necessitated egalitarianism. As men left home to hunt, fish, and tend pastures, women ran the households, handled legal settlements, and even acted as delegate chieftains. Law was informal, and justice "face to face," adjudicated by a trusted member of the community. These traditions persisted for centuries, even after timber depletion and civic unrest rendered the island dependent on Norwegian support and accepting of Norwegian rule. x
  • 21
    Skaldic Poetry and Sagas
    Icelanders preserved memories of their Scandinavian homeland and transmitted tales of the ancient Germanic gods through recited poems, consistent with an oral culture in which even law was recited publicly from memory. From the 10th century onward, literature became ever more ornate and sophisticated, culminating in the great written works of the 12th-14th centuries: the collections of Norse poetry and mythology, and the prose sagas. x
  • 22
    Western Voyages to Greenland and Vinland
    The daunting climate and the ultimate paucity of marketable trade goods prevented Greenland from becoming a viable settlement, while Vinland settlements foundered due to hostile Algonquins and remoteness from the Scandinavian homeland. The American fascination with these voyages reveals a sentiment the Icelanders would have appreciated, a yearning for connection with an ancient past. x
  • 23
    Swedes in the Baltic Sea and Russia
    By the 8th century, intrepid Swedes had moved into the Russian forest zones, acquiring slaves to trade with Khazar middlemen that controlled the Volga. These Swedes, or Rus, braved rapids and marauding steppe-peoples, adapting to a foreign land and adopting some indigenous customs and institutions. The market towns they established formed the core areas of future Russian states. x
  • 24
    The Road to Byzantium
    The shift in Swedish trading activity from the Volga in the east to the Dneiper in the west was also a shift away from the Islamic world and towards a Byzantine Christian civilization that greatly impressed the Swedes. The Rus became mercenary allies and trading partners with the emperors in Constantinople and imported imperial institutions into an incipient Russian kingdom, beginning the process of Christianization and political transformation. x
  • 25
    From Varangians into Russians
    Prince Vladimir of Kiev's momentous conversion to Orthodox Christianity in 989 was revolutionary. The Rus adopted literacy and the Slavic language, imported Byzantine builders to create masonry churches, shifted patronage from pagan poetry to Christian works, created cavalry and a military elite, and converted a slave-trade economy into an agricultural economy that would feed the great cities now taking shape. x
  • 26
    Transformation of Scandinavian Society
    From 790–1000, a massive influx of silver led to the minting of Scandinavian coins and resulting monetized markets. Newly wealthy individuals, increasingly women, enjoyed their largess through imported luxury goods and personal ornamentation found in ever-more opulent ship burials. Overseas Viking kingdoms in Russia and England provided the model, and silver provided the means, for Christian Scandinavian kings to form their own territorial states. x
  • 27
    St. Anskar and the First Christian Missions
    In a Viking-Age Scandinavia well served by the traditional gods of war, sailing, and prosperity, the Carolingian missionary St. Anskar had little success convincing the Vikings that Christianity was a powerful religion of victory. But by training Frankish clergy in the Scandinavian tongue, he put in place the institutions that would aid future Christian kings. x
  • 28
    Formation of the Kingdom of Denmark
    Denmark was forged under threat from the Holy Roman Empire to the south. Responding to Henry the Fowler's 934 invasion, the pagan king Gorm the Old raided the southern frontier, securing Jutland. His successor Harold Bluetooth precluded further invasions by Christianizing Denmark, fortifying the Danevirke, and establishing massive military camps. Harold's son Svein inherited a Danish kingdom with European-wide ambitions. x
  • 29
    Cnut the Great
    Cnut the Great (1014–1035), along with his father Svein Forkbeard, reclaimed England for Scandinavia, but viewed himself as a pan-European king in the mold of Charlemagne. Though not remembered fondly by his subjects, his maintenance of a powerful fleet, innovative use of proxy rule, and savvy employment of marriage alliances turned Denmark from a fragile kingdom into a Christian North Sea Empire. x
  • 30
    Collapse of Cnut’s Empire
    At Cnut's death in 1035, his sons clashed for control while also fending off Magnus the Good of Norway. In 1066, with Cnut's sons both dead and his nephew Svein Estrithson holding Denmark, Magnus's uncle Harald Hardardi attempted to wrest England from Cnut's distant relative Harold II. Harold repelled Hardardi but fell at Hastings to William the Conqueror, who had just begun to put Normandy on the map. x
  • 31
    Jarls and Sea Kings of Norway
    Harald Finehair, a king in Upplönd, imposed his rule over Norway after defeating a coalition of jarls at the naval battle of Hafsfjord c. 875. Although his line ended in 970, another sea king, Olaf Tryggvasson, used his Viking fleet, and Christian institutions, to become king of Norway. Olaf fell fighting a Danish rival, Swein Forkbeard, at the naval battle of Svöld, and Norwegians again acknowledged a Danish king. x
  • 32
    St. Olaf of Norway
    Converted in England, Olaf rose from a Viking raider to become a great Christian king of Norway, which he liberated from Danish rule in 1015. His heavy-handed rule led his subjects to expel and then kill him at the Battle of Stikelstad in 1030, but they later repented, and he survives in memory as Scandinavia's first royal saint. x
  • 33
    Kings of the Swedes and Goths
    Sweden, in resources and population, seemed destined for primacy in Scandinavia, but the Yngling kings of Uppsala did not profit from the Viking expansion in the East. In contrast to Norway and Denmark, Sweden lacked powerful sea kings that could forge a territorial state under hereditary Christian monarchs. x
  • 34
    Christianization and Economic Change
    In the 11th century, distinct national churches emerged in the Scandinavian kingdoms. Christianity brought new prosperity and population growth. Cathedrals and monasteries stimulated the rise of market towns. Coulter ploughs, better tools, and the three-field system improved agricultural productivity significantly for the first time since the Iron Age. x
  • 35
    From Vikings to Crusaders
    By 1100, the Viking age had passed. On the eve of the Black Death (1347–1351), all three Scandinavian kingdoms shared similar fiscal and institutional weaknesses. The three kingdoms were united under the treaty of Kalmar, a weak union that dictated the course of Scandinavian history down to the Reformation. x
  • 36
    The Viking Legacy
    The course of Medieval history was fundamentally altered by the Viking Age. The feudal states of Western Europe were born. The kingdoms of England and Scotland arose. Orthodox Kiev, founded by Swedish Rus, gave political organization to the East Slavic peoples. The three Scandinavian kingdoms emerged, as did the Norse settlements in the North Atlantic. The Vikings gave Christian Europe strength, and the era of the Crusades would have been impossible without them. x

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Your professor

Kenneth W. Harl

About Your Professor

Kenneth W. Harl, Ph.D.
Tulane University
Dr. Kenneth W. Harl is Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Crusader history. He earned his B.A. from Trinity College and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale University. Recognized as an outstanding lecturer, Professor Harl has received numerous teaching awards at Tulane, including the coveted Sheldon H. Hackney Award. He has...
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Vikings is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 199.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating course I have really enjoyed this Course. It's great to have a lecturer with such enthusiasm for and knowledge of what is a somewhat obscure subject in the English-speaking world. The only quibble is the frankly outlandish pronunciations that Prof Harl indulges in - but in time I decided it was quirky, but doesn't detract from his obvious scholarship. Thoroughly recommended.
Date published: 2019-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Professor! Great Professor who will keep you engaged and learning! Love the subject!
Date published: 2019-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating look at the Vikings Prof. Harl is one of the best presenters of the Great Courses and this one is no exception. He gives a comprehensive look at the history of the Viking Age and somewhat beyond. He covers the prehistory, and the settlement age, and what is known of Viking history and Norse Mythology and sagas. Interesting to me - and different than other books - he also focused on the transition of these lands into Christian kingdoms and what that transformation meant politically and economically. I also learned a lot about what happened to the settlements they made in Russia and other places, which helped fill some of the gaps from the medieval and Byzantine history I had read previously. Highly recommended if you have an interest in Medieval history or plan to travel to Scandinavia. Note that I listened to it on audio and find it perfectly suited to that medium.
Date published: 2018-12-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Harl the Jarl and His Scary Scandinavians This course is really a history of Scandinavia extending from the earliest human habitations in the Paleolithic Age to the late Middle Ages, a period of nearly ten thousand years. The Vikings occupy only the middle third of lectures, though they dominate the narrative. What we know about them depends on three kinds of sources: hostile Christian accounts that emphasize the horribleness of the barbarian invaders, Scandinavian sagas that stress their heroism and that of their gods, and physical remains studied by archaeologists for clues to everyday life. Viking raids changed everything in western Europe. With highly mobile long ships and infantry tactics making them almost unstoppable, the Vikings accelerated the breakdown of the Frankish Empire in Western Europe. In the Empire’s place rose a feudal order based on effectively independent provincial lords. In England a Viking army smashed three of four kingdoms. The surviving southwestern kingdom of Wessex was then able to claim—and eventually achieve--lordship over all England. Ireland was already a mess of warring clans, but the Vikings ended its cultural influence. In Scandinavia itself the accumulation of plunder and power produced warlords (“jarls”) strong and rich enough to establish the kingdoms of Denmark and Norway. These kings then accepted and promoted Christianity to make their rule effective. When the Vikings weren’t raiding, they were trading, creating a network that extended from the North Atlantic to the Black and Caspian Seas. Viking migrations produced very different results, depending on terrain, climate and the size of preexisting populations. In central England Danish settlers continued living according to their ancestral customs and speaking their home language. Thanks to them, we have many Old Norse words in our vocabulary. On the other hand, they soon submitted to English rule. In northeastern France Viking invaders under Hrolf/Rollo received permission (more or less) to take over the duchy of Normandy on condition of converting to Christianity. There the newcomers quickly adopted the Romance tongue and West Frankish institutions. The duchy itself became a new jumping-off point for the conquest of England and southern Italy plus Sicily. In Ireland the Vikings managed only to make themselves the strongest of several lordships and eventually lost even this local predominance to Irish counterattacks. Their Swedish cousins, the “Rus” or “Varangians,” did far better by establishing trading posts on the Dnieper River among the numerous forest-dwelling Eastern Slavs; these Rus founded and ruled the first Russian state based upon Orthodox Christianity and Old Church Slavonic. In Iceland there were no people at all, but settlers had more than enough difficulty handling the bleak landscape. They developed as exports cattle and great literature. The Vikings also colonized Greenland and Newfoundland, but cold and distance doomed them to failure, sooner in Newfoundland’s case and later in Greenland’s. Professor Harl’s presentation is, as always, somewhat lessened somewhat by his umms and uhhhs, plus some truly impressive verbal stumbling. I was irritated whenever he mispronounced Varangians as “Varingians.” He rushed quickly through Lectures 34 and 35, probably because he was trying to cover too much material on medieval Scandinavia. For some reason, a slide in Lecture 6 misspells trickster (in reference to the god Loki) as “trixter,” which has me thinking he really likes a certain General Mills breakfast cereal. Otherwise, the course is excellent in content and organization. I very much enjoyed Lectures 6, 7, 8 and 21 on Norse mythology, legends, poetry and prose. You will carry away a lot of knowledge about the Vikings. The most important is that—contrary to their popular image--they did NOT have horns on their helmets. Sorry, Hagar the Horrible!
Date published: 2018-12-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Comprehensive course with occasional flaws This is one of three excellent lecture series by Harl that I have listened to. This one nicely expands on the standard Viking 'raider or trader' theme to integrate well into general northern European history between about 700 and 1100. My favorite parts were the sections on the formation of the Scandinavian nation-states beginning after 850. I also liked Harl's appreciation of the sagas, and his frequent reference to these stories as illustrative of Viking life and times. (In general, Harl is very good about providing the historical sources for the materials he is presenting.) His lecturing style is not without criticism. As other reviewers have noted, he has a sort of 'non-linear' rhetorical approach filled with tangents and asides. It is sometimes as if he were reading a book and adding the supplemental footnotes with no indication that these footnotes are not, in fact, part of the main narrative. This can be distracting, and any listener will have to pay close attention to keep track of his lines of thought. I frequently found myself repeating sections after having no idea where he was in his story. A second minor issue is his often strange pronunciations and awkward syntax. Inconsistencies abound - e.g. Snorri Sturluson's last name is modified to Strew-le-son in the course of a single lecture. Bizarre or unusual pronunciations are frequent - e.g. Harald Hardrada is called Harald Har-dar-ee. (When I heard him refer to the Anglo-Saxon king Edgar as 'Egg-dar' it occurred to me that there might also be some kind of dyslexic-like tendency in place.) His treatment of adverbs is unique, at best. These adverb peculiarities are the most notable and feature in virtually every lecture. As a typical example, here is one I just listened to: - This was a period of also migration. Clearly he means "This was also a period of migration". This (and other similar sentences) might work if he included pauses before and after the adverb, as in "This was a period of -- also -- migration" but he doesn't, and the 'also' comes out sounding like an adjective of 'migration'. But his style and speaking issues are minor distractions and worth tolerating to benefit from his thematic insights into European history. In general, I think all the GC lectures should be viewed the same as college lectures, where the teacher's presentation is intended as a broad interpretive oversight to topics often addressed more comprehensively in supplemental readings. I often find myself listening to these courses, reading other books on the same subject, then listening to selected lectures again as a sort of general recap and means to integrate the various sources into a single narrative.
Date published: 2018-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very interesting but moves F-A-S-T As a MN Vikings fan (yeah yeah yeah..), I wanted to learn more about this storied group of crusaders...beyond the all the generalizations normally associated with this band of invaders, pillagers. I haven't been disappointed so far. I'm only about 8 lectures into this course, but I like what Dr. Harl has to offer. His wealth of knowledge on Vikings is without question. However, the speed at which he delivers this information can be a bit overwhelming at times. From the poetry, to population dispersion, to jewelry, jade and weaponry, (not to mention Ammianus Marcellinus..) Dr. Hahl has covered a lot, and I'm looking forward to what's next. I'll report back. Until then - Skol!
Date published: 2018-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vikings The Vikings course is very interesting. Having purchased other courses, we expected that the course would be well presented with a very qualified professor; we were not disappointed!
Date published: 2018-09-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Vkings This is the old style presentation of the lecturer standing behind the podium and using the same photos over and over again. The content is good and you do learn from the series but it needs to be updated.
Date published: 2018-09-13
Rated 2 out of 5 by from exception that proofs the rule The rule: Prof.Harls Courses are excellent; sadly,this ,in my opinion, i own now all the Courses of prof.harl, gems like the course about the Ottoman empire or about the barbarian Empires, you name it, one is the exception : an endless stream of names,who can immpossibly be remebered for more than 5 seconds,no structure to the Courses, intersting details mixed with endless rambling..skip this one,especially the Audio Version,its painful and i struggle to finish the course
Date published: 2018-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good product Learn a great deal on the influence of the Vikings in the development of Western culture.
Date published: 2018-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful professor. Could have been shorter. I just finished enjoying the DVD version of this course, taking over 5 weeks to finish it. As always, Prof. Harl does a fine job with what to me has been an unknown historical subject. He really is a professor you would go out of your way to hear. The only criticism I have for the course is that it seemed too long, stretched a bit to get to the current 36 lectures. Other than that, the subject was of interest, and I had little knowledge of this topic beforehand.
Date published: 2018-07-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent content I have waited for a time to buy this one. I taught about the Vikings in school so some of it was very familiar. The drawback is the "absent Minded " professor. He frequently gets lost in his thought and constantly pushing up his glasses with is very distracting. If you can get past those items, you'll enjoy it.
Date published: 2018-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Vinland to Constantinople This is my fourth course given by Professor Harl, the other three being “Origins of Great Ancient Civilizations”, “The Barbarian Empires of the Steppes” and “The Era of the Crusades”. I enjoyed all of these courses and learned a great deal, meaning that I had high expectations for this course. I have not been disappointed. In many ways I enjoyed this course more than the others. As usual, Dr. Harl displays an encyclopedic knowledge, even when venturing outside his area of specialized expertise (to be sure I am not familiar enough with the Vikings to catch even obvious errors) and when he is discussing areas well within his specialties (such as ancient coins), the detail is amazing. His delivery style is much the same as it is in his other courses: rapid-fire, some ‘uhs’ and broken sentences, several asides (most of which wind up delivering additional value) and many, many facts. While this might seem negative, I quite enjoy his approach, although others may differ. In fact I thought that he had slowed his delivery down a bit in this course. The main problem I had was my unfamiliarity with most of the key players names (many of whom seemed to have the same or almost the same names), and exactly where they fit in the history of Scandinavia. Careful attention is required to sort this all out, as well as an occasional rewind. Personally I think this course would be a bit easier in video rather than audio, but certainly not a requirement. Before taking this course, I had some idea of the Viking raids in the British Isles and mainland Europe, but I had little idea of how settled they had become in places as far away as Constantinople. Or how the Viking raids looked from their perspective. The whole course is filled with great information, not only about the battles, trade and their influence on other cultures, but is very rich in the culture of the Vikings themselves. I had not known, for example the great writers of the sagas, were primarily from Iceland, nor anything much about how life was lived and sustained in Iceland. For me a couple of highlight lectures were on the development of the “long ships” and the very sophisticated trade and commerce of the Vikings during this era. Actually I could comment on almost every lecture, but get the course for yourself.
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too soon to review!! I love Great Courses' CD format, and listen to them on short and long road trips. But as usual, the request for the review has come well before I could finish -- or even start -- this course, as I am still working my way through the last one (Conquest of the Americas, terrific) -- hence my 3-out-of-5/midpoint rating at this point. But I take this request as a chance to offer a suggestion: PLEASE OMIT the opening FANFARE AND APPLAUSE with every lecture!! (Conquest has this, not all do, don't know about Vikings) -- it's VERY annoying. Some courses open with a simple announcement of the lecture title, which is all that's needed for confirmation that I have the right CD in the player....I don't expect you to post this "review" (my replies to specific Q's below are based on past experience and intended in the future tense) but hope someone at GC will read it. The constant fanfare, and applause both before and after each lecture, add nothing and only make me want to turn down the volume for those moments. Otherwise, I love your products and appreciate the frequent sales.
Date published: 2018-05-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyed this course I got this course from a friend and enjoyed it quite a bit.
Date published: 2018-04-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly enjoyable introduction. I liked Dr Harl's enthusiasm but he really does say "um" or "ah" a lot.
Date published: 2018-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Thorough and Well Documented I am just beginning this course and it seems up to your usual standards. I have a suggestion however. How about offering a course on the post-Civil War Reconstruction period?
Date published: 2017-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Solid Introduction to the Vikings... With so many modern takes on Vikings coming from pop culture and entertainment its easy to create a certain history around these people and how influential they were and are in our present world. Thankfully this lecture embraces the bold attempt to pack a massive block of history, culture and even conquest into a series. As with every Great Course the subject matter deserves a multi-volume study but that is not what the purpose of TGC's are. So, if you can wrap your mind around this course in an intermediate history of the Vikings you will be just fine. The professor is enthusiastic and at times a little "sloppy" with his phrases and wording; but that is not enough to take away from the work and subject matter. I was pleased with the presentation and would recommend the lecture and lecturer.
Date published: 2017-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of information Professor Harl was enthusiastic about his subject. He gave tons of information that I hadn't known. He managed to organize the material well, even though it seemed like it could have gotten overwhelming I really enjoyed it.
Date published: 2017-10-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding! I am delighted with this program. The presenter is incredibly knowledgeable, and he makes what he's telling us thoroughly interesting and, yes, entertaining. The maps are very helpful, and make video greatly preferable to audio. This is one of the most enjoyable programs of the many I have had from the Great Courses.
Date published: 2017-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of Details As usual Harl gives a great presentation. His content is very high and demands close attention to what he says. This course really needs the video version; like his others there are many maps.
Date published: 2017-09-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Best Course by Professor Harl This is my favorite course from Professor Harl. It is the 8th one I've listened to and while I struggled with most of the previous ones and did not take to his teaching style, this is a very solid course. It has good historical narrative on the peoples of Scandinavia (Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) from Apx. 8000 BC to Aprx. 1400 AD focusing on the Vikings age of 790 AD to 1100 AD which centered on their raids and attacks against Europe as well as the formations of the kingdoms of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden: o Attacks on the Frankish kingdom in the 9th century (Danes) o Attacks on the kingdoms of England in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries (Danes) o Attacks on the Celtic West (Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Isle of Man) in the 9th, 10th, and 11th centuries (primarily Norwegians) o Settlement of Iceland (9th century by Norwegians) o Settlement of Greenland (10th century by Norwegians) o Discovery of Vinland (Newfoundland) in the early 11th century by Norwegians o The forays of the Russ (from Sweden) into eastern Europe including founding a state in current day Russia and their conflicts and alliances with the Byzantine Empire (9th century) o Unification of Norway (end of the 9th century) o Unification of Denmark (10th century) o Emergence of Sweden (11th century) In the past I'd typically characterized Professor Harl's teaching style as throwing out as many facts as you can in 30 minutes rapid-fire style, hopping all over the map and across various ruling families while doing so. Relating info vs. teaching. There's still a bit of that in this course. It is sometimes hard to follow the various dynastic family members, marriages, relationships, and conflicts due to him covering a lot of ground in a short period of time. However, I did find myself enjoying these lectures much more than past courses. While the professor still makes it "hard work" to listen to his lectures (no multi-tasking or listening in the background or you will get lost very quick or miss key points!) I actually found these to be easier to listen to than previous courses. And that sensation of "can't wait to listen to the next lecture and the one after that" returned. And it wasn't because I just wanted to get through the course. Another somewhat negative: when the professor discusses the fall of one empire and the rise of another (for example Norwegians in Ireland who are essentially toppled by the Irish kings in 980) often times he doesn’t explain why this occurred or the primary reasons for the circumstances changing. Just a statement of fact and then moves on. But all in all I am happy I purchased this course. If you have any interest at all in the early kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway and how the Viking warriors of the early Middle Ages impacted the rest of Europe including the formations of states such as France, England, Ireland, and Russia then I definitely recommend this course. it fills a gap in The Great Courses' offerings nicely. Now if we can only get a course on Scandinavia post the Vikings age....
Date published: 2017-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Norse My father was from Uppsala, Sweden and my Grandfather on my mother's side was the Police Chief in Bergen, Norway and he married a women from Normandy. It was interesting to see where they came from.
Date published: 2017-08-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful series by an excellent professor My wife and I listen ti the "Vikings" during a trip to Colorado. Now we want to travel to Denmark, Norway and Sweden!
Date published: 2017-07-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting Course discussed histories of people that I had previously known only in the way they fit into the stories of other peoples. it was good to see the breadth of their own history, good and bad.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Very Fine Introduction I have been watching this series with my 14-year-old son as part of his history credit. Overall, I find this lecture series very valuable. We have both learned a great deal not only about the Vikings themselves but about their far-reaching impact on the Western world, an impact that was somehow neglected in all my previous history courses (including in university). Simply understanding how broad-ranging the Vikings were makes this course valuable and one I can definitely recommend. In addition, Professor Harl has a good sense of humor and uses word play that makes my son and I laugh. He also tells very interesting anecdotes, both apocryphal and factual, that keep the overall story moving along. He has organized the course very well. Both within and across lectures, Professor Harl makes his objectives clear, and I feel that he definitely accomplishes them. I have only two criticisms: one is that he does not consistently pronounce names and places, nor does the written version on the screen always correspond to what he is saying. For example, the screen shows the name Anskar but Professor Harl pronounces it "Angster." (He also, inexplicably, says, Euro-peen instead of Euro-pe-an.) The second criticism is that Professor Harl sometimes nests so many asides and tangets into his sentences that we lose the thread of what he is saying. We can remedy this by rewinding and listening again, but it can sometimes be frustrating. Those issues aside, both my son and I have learned a lot from and enjoyed these lectures, and I recommend them for someone who wants a broad introduction to the Vikings.
Date published: 2017-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating topic! Top notch presentation! Professor Harl does an excellent job presenting subject. I was fascinated with the level of detail he brought about the Vikings, their culture, history, technical achievements, and what it was that drove these people to be such a big part of European history. I would recommend this course to anyone with an interest in this key part of world history!
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting culture This is our third lecture series by Professor Harl. He lectures are fascinating and so well researched.
Date published: 2017-02-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another historical world opened by Prof. Harl We have all heard of the Vikings, about their raids on various poor Europeans; maybe we think of Iceland, Greenland, and "Vinland". But this course lays out the traditions of Scandinavia which led to the Viking Age, and the effects on Europe and its historical connections. The Vikings conquered or traded with Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, England, Normandy (from "North Men"), Russia, Constantinople, Italy. Just prior to the Normans taking England, King Cnut (King of England, Denmark, and for a while Norway, had forged a strong kingdom. Just a few months prior to the Battle of Hastings, the King of England had defeated the last attempt of Scandinavian conquest of England before marching south to Hastings, to lose to William of Normandy, descendent of Vikings. In addition to plunder, the Vikings were very much involved in trade, with the best cargo ships of the era. Slaves for especially southern Europe, Constantinople, and points east provided a large amount of the wealth which poured into Scandinavia. Prof. Harl does not just read us history: he has obvious studied his topics well, understands detail, then can present a good sweep of the overall historical picture. A "must course" for anyone interested in European history,
Date published: 2017-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Dr. Harl is talks are fascinating During a recent long illness, instead of flowers my thoughtful, practical daughter sent me Professor Harl's The Vikings. I was able to focus on Professor Hart's enthusiastic, well organized presentation instead of my misery. I love the way the course is divided into separate topics with each lesson. I feel as though I was able to absorb so much of the content and found it so continually interesting my mind didn't drift. I wish all my college professors had been as interesting as Dr. Harl.
Date published: 2016-12-12
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