The monastery at Lindisfarne in England had suffered disaster. Raiders had visited the island in June of 793, and not all the monks had survived. As summer turned to winter, the monk Alcuin reflected on the loss and encouraged his brethren from afar: “Do not lament the dead with your tears, for they are Christ’s companions forever.” Perhaps his words fell flat. In subsequent letters Alcuin struck a softer tone, describing daily sorrows at the pagan depredations. And yet he couldn’t but wonder: “Is this the beginning of a greater suffering, or the result of the sins of those who live there? It has not happened by chance but is the sign of some great guilt.”1
At a distance of a thousand years, these words take on double meaning. Alcuin did not simply describe events as he saw them, but he also sought to fit them into a story that made sense. For Alcuin, this was the story of God’s plan for salvation. Two hundred years since missionaries had brought Christianity back to Britain, the clergy had grown complacent. Perhaps God had deemed an existential threat necessary for renewing the faith. For us, with knowledge of what came next, Alcuin’s words seem prescient. The events at Lindisfarne do seem to be a beginning, inaugurating a period we call the Viking Age.
These observations formed the basis for a course taught at Princeton in Spring 2023, HUM 402: Making the Viking Age. This course pursued two parallel questions—how did people in the Viking Age make their world, and how do we remake that world today? The present site was created to accompany these efforts. It outlines the basic goals and accomplishments of the course and incorporates work done by students as part of their final projects.
On this site, you will find:
- Making the Viking Age
An overview of the course
- The Crow Girl
A short story drawing on the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok
- A Viking Adventure
Choose your own adventure through the Viking Age
- Animals & Food
A look at human-animal entanglements
- Female Narratives
The Viking Age seen through a focus on women
Interrogating ideas of personhood in the Viking Age
A fresh perspective on interregional connections
- The Lejre Figure
An enigmatic figure—maybe a god?
- Völuspá Entangled
Material connections to an apocalyptic poem
Matthew Delvaux is a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows and a Lecturer in the Humanities and History at Princeton University. He designed and taught this course in Spring 2023 with the support of a Magic Grant for Innovation awarded by the Princeton University Humanities Council. Student contributions were written by Fahim Azaz, Cassy James, AJ Lonski, Autumn Shelton, Megan Specht, Kate Weseley-Jones, Daniel Viorica, and Wendi Yan.
Matthew C. Delvaux et al., Making the Viking Age (2023). Online: https://commons.princeton.edu/makingvikings/
1 Quotations are adapted from Alcuin, “The Destruction of Lindisfarne,” in Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance, trans. Peter Godman (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985), 126–39, at 137 (ll. 211–12); Stephen Allott, Alcuin of York, c. A.D. 732 to 804 – His Life and Letters (York: William Sessions, 1974), 36 (letter 26).