University of Cambridge



Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic

If you're fascinated by medieval history, literature and languages, and you relish the prospect of doing your own research using original source materials, this course – unique in the UK to Cambridge – will appeal to you.


Duration Three years

Colleges Available at all Colleges

2013 entry Applications per place: 2
Number accepted: 30

Open days and events 2015 Department open day booking recommended, see the Department website
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Contact details 01223 335079


A voyage of discovery

The history and culture of Anglo-Saxon England, Celtic languages and literature, or Viking exploits - Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (ASNC) allows you to explore a range of cultures, and to look at history, language and literature side by side.

ASNC focuses on the history, material culture, languages and literature of the peoples of Britain, Ireland and the Scandinavian world in the earlier Middle Ages.

ASNC students discover medieval history while learning one or more languages and reading great works of literature in the original languages, such as the Old English poem Beowulf, the epic medieval Irish tale Tàin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) and Icelandic sagas. Exactly which areas you study and to what depth is largely up to you, and to support your learning Cambridge has rare and exceptional resources to offer in the University Library, the College libraries, and in the Fitzwilliam and other museums.

What are we looking for?

No previous knowledge of the subject is expected or required; all languages are taught from scratch and we don't assume that students have studied early medieval history or literature at school. However, we do require passion and commitment, and look for evidence of your general ability in arts and humanities subjects.

Changing course

A few students choose to transfer to another course after Part I. ASNC combines well, for example, with Part II of the History or English degree courses.

After ASNC

This unusual and challenging degree develops your powers of argument and sharpens your powers of analysis. It equips you for a wide range of careers where intellectual and analytical skills are important.

'Asnac' (as they like to be called) graduatescan be found in a wide range of careers. Some take advantage of the specialist opportunities open to them and do research and teaching in schools and universities, or work in museums and libraries; while many others go into careers including journalism, banking, law, the Civil Service, industry and business.

Course outline

Teaching is provided through lectures, classes, seminars and supervisions and you can expect between 10 and 15 hours of lectures and classes per week during Part I.

Years 1 and 2 (Part I)

In the first year, you study the various disciplines which form the core of ASNC studies. There are no compulsory papers - you choose six subjects selected from a range of 10, and take an examination in four of them and departmental tests in the other two.

Historical subjects

  • Anglo-Saxon History
  • Scandinavian History
  • Gaelic History (Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man)
  • Brittonic History (Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, the Pictish kingdoms and the North Britons)

Language and literature subjects

  • Old English
  • Old Norse
  • Medieval Welsh
  • Medieval Irish
  • Insular Latin

  • Palaeography (the study of manuscripts and handwriting)

In your second year, you may continue to study your chosen subjects and take an examination in all six of them. Alternatively, you have the option to replace up to three of your first-year subjects with a dissertation and/or one or two papers 'borrowed' from related courses. Borrowed papers cover subjects from English, Archaeology, and Modern and Medieval Languages.

Year 3 (Part II)

This is where you develop and use the skills you learned in Part I, exploring your chosen fields and applying your newly-acquired knowledge in original and imaginative ways.

You study four subjects selected from a range of 17 papers including, for example:

  • The Conversion of Scandinavia
  • Beowulf
  • Advanced Medieval Irish Language and Literature
  • Germanic Philology

These are designed to give you the opportunity to pursue more detailed study in your chosen areas. Students may replace one of their four Part II ASNC papers with a borrowed paper. The range currently includes Medieval English Literature, Historical Linguistics, Anglo-Saxon Archaeology, Scandinavian Archaeology and a subject borrowed from the Faculty of History. Students may also replace one of their Part II subjects with a Part I paper that they didn't offer for the examinations at the end of their second year.

In addition, you write a dissertation of between 9,000 and 12,000 words on a specific subject of your own choice within the scope of the course.

Entry requirements

Typical offers require
A Level:
IB: 40-41 points, with 776 at Higher Level
For other qualifications, see our main Entrance requirements pages.

Course requirements

Essential: no subject specific subjects
Desirable: A Level/IB Higher Level languages and/or humanities subjects

In terms of A Level subjects, Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic applicants have varied backgrounds. Combinations normally include English, History, or a modern or ancient language, but we do not have any particular requirements and are simply looking for evidence of academic ability in the general area of the humanities, and for languages.

Check College websites for College specific requirements. See also Entrance requirements and our Subject Matters leaflet for additional advice about general requirements for entry, qualifications and offers.

Admissions tests and written work

The table below sets out the ways in which each College assesses applicants for this subject. For more information about these methods of assessment and why we use them, see the main Admissions tests and written work pages.

College Assessment of applicant for this subject
Christ's School/college essays
Churchill School/college essays
Clare School/college essays
Corpus Christi School/college essay
Downing School/college essay
Emmanuel School/college essay
Fitzwilliam Interview only
Girton School/college essay
Gonville & Caius School/college essays
Homerton School/college essay
Hughes Hall Test at interview
Jesus School/college essay
King's School/college essays
Lucy Cavendish School/college essays; Test at interview
Magdalene School/college essay
Murray Edwards School/college essays;
Newnham School/college essays
Pembroke School/college essays
Peterhouse School/college essays
Queens' School/college essays
Robinson School/college essay
St Catharine's School/college essay
St Edmund's Reading before interview
St John's School/college essay
Selwyn School/college essay
Sidney Sussex School/college essays
Trinity School/college essay
Trinity Hall School/college essays
Wolfson Test at interview
How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course, please see our Applying section for more details.

Further Resources

Find out more about Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic at Cambridge

  • Course website - Explore ASNaC in more detail on the course website.

Improve your knowledge of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic

  • Preparatory reading - Guidance on preparatory reading for students interested in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.
  • Experience ASNaC languages - Hear recordings of people speaking some of the ancient languages studied in the ASNaC tripos, and even try your hand at a grammar quiz, if you dare!

Tools to help you with your Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic application

Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic and your future

  • Transferable skills - A guide to the transferable skills you can develop during the course of an ASNaC degree.
  • Graduate profiles - Some recent graduates reflect on their experience studying ASNaC at Cambridge and on their subsequent careers.

The student experience

  • Student profiles - Some current students describe their experience of studying ASNaC.

Unistats info

Contextual Information

From September 2012, every undergraduate course of more than one year's duration will have a Key Information Set (KIS). The KIS allows you to compare 17 pieces of information about individual courses at different higher education institutions.

However, please note that superficially similar courses often have very different structures and objectives, and that the teaching, support and learning environment that best suits you can only be determined by identifying your own interests, needs, expectations and goals, and comparing them with detailed institution- and course-specific information.

We recommend that you look thoroughly at the course and University information contained on these webpages and consider coming to visit us on an Open Day, rather than relying solely on statistical comparison.

You may find the following notes helpful when considering information presented by the KIS.

  1. The KIS relies on superficially similar courses being coded in the same way. Whilst this works on one level, it leads to some anomalies. For example, Music courses and Music Technology courses can have exactly the same code despite being very different programmes with quite distinct educational and career outcomes.

    Any course which combines several disciplines (as many courses at Cambridge do) tends to be compared nationally with courses in just one of those disciplines, and in such cases a KIS comparison may not be an accurate or fair reflection of the reality of either. For example, you may find that when considering a degree which embraces a range of disciplines such as biology, physics, chemistry and geology (for instance, Natural Sciences at Cambridge), the comparison provided is with courses at other institutions that primarily focus on just one (or a smaller combination) of those subjects.

  2. Whilst the KIS makes reference to some broad types of financial support offered by institutions, it cannot compare packages offered by different institutions. Different students have different circumstances and requirements, and you should weigh up what matters to you most: level of fee; fee waivers; means-tested support such as bursaries; non-means-tested support such as academic scholarships and study grants; and living costs such as accommodation, travel.

  3. The KIS provides a typical cost of private (ie non-university) accommodation. This is very difficult to estimate as prices and properties vary. University accommodation can be substantially cheaper, and if you are likely to live in College for much or all of the duration of your course (as is the case at Cambridge), then the cost of private accommodation will be of less or no relevance for you. The KIS also provides the typical annual cost of university accommodation and the number of beds available. Note that since most universities offer a range of residential accommodation, you should check with institutions about the likelihood of securing a room at a price that suits your budget. Knowing the number of beds available is not necessarily useful: it may be much more important to find out if all students are guaranteed accommodation.

  4. Time in lectures, seminars and similar can vary enormously by institution depending on the structure of the course, and the quality of such contact time should be the primary consideration.

  5. Whilst starting salaries can be a useful measure, they do not give any sense of career trajectory or take account of the voluntary/low paid work that many graduates undertake initially in order to gain valuable experience necessary/advantageous for later career progression.

The above list is not exhaustive and there may be other important factors that are relevant to the choices that you are making, but we hope that this will be a useful starting point to help you delve deeper than the face value of the KIS data.