The study of Scandinavia has been, and still is, deeply influenced by the interpretation of its earliest history that was developed in the 19th century by political, legal, and literary historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists. Scandinavia figured prominently in discussions of early medieval Europe, not only as the homeland of the Vikings, but also as the region in which Germanic society remained uncontaminated by Christianity and other influences longer than anywhere else. In "Medieval Scandinavia", Birgit and Peter Sawyer question assumptions about early Scandinavian history, including the supposed leading role of free and equal peasants and their position in founding churches. They meticulously trace the development of Scandinavia from the early ninth century through the second and third decades of the 16th century, when rulers of Scandinavia rejected the authority of the Papacy and the attempt to establish a united Scandinavian monarchy finally collapsed. The authors include a discussion of medieval history writing and comment on the use of history in the 16th century and modern attitudes to medieval history which differ in various parts of Scandinavia.
They ultimately conclude that historic Scandinavia held greater similarities to other European regions than has been commonly supposed. Birgit Sawyer is one of the founders of the biennial interdisciplinary conferences on women in medieval Scandinavia. Peter Sawyer's previous books include "Kings and Vikings" and "The Age of the Vikings".