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Hnefatafl: The Game of the Vikings

Marija Georgievska

The family of Tafl games is at least 1, 500 years old and rather associated with the Vikings who brought it in the entire territory of Scandinavia, Britain and different parts of Europe and Russia.

The game developed differently at different locations. Archaeologists have found editions in places such as Ireland and Ukraine. Photo Credit

The game developed differently on different locations. Archaeologists have found few editions in places such as Ireland and Ukraine. Photo Credit

It is a family of ancient Germanic and Celtic strategy board games played on a checkered or latticed game board with two armies of uneven numbers. The attackers aim to surround and kill the enemy King while the defenders must protect their King as he tries to escape to a corner of the board.

The game is simple to learn but might require profound thinking – a classic game of strategic warfare.

Fascinating Viking game that is at least 1500 years old. Photo Credit

Fascinating Viking game that is at least 1500 years old. Photo Credit

In contemporary literature, Tafl or Hnefatafl, is also known as Brandubh, Tawlbwrdd, Alea Evangelii and Tablut, still less known as Gwyddwyll and Ficheall.

Tafl is one of the oldest known board games. Photo Credit

Tafl is one of the oldest known board games. Photo Credit

Hnefatafl was mentioned in several medieval sagas, including Orkneyinga saga, Fridpjofs saga, Hervarar saga and others.

These three-period treatments of Hnefatafl offer few important clues about the game, while many other potential references to Hnefatafl or Tafl exist in the saga literature.

Hnefatafl was a popular game in medieval Scandinavia and was mentioned in several of the Norse Sagas. Photo Credit

Hnefatafl was a popular game in medieval Scandinavia which was mentioned in several  Norse Sagas. Photo Credit

In Orkneyinga saga, the notability of Hnefatafl is evident in the nine boasts of Jarl Rognvald Kali Kolsson who tops his list with skill at Tafl. In Fridpjofs saga, a conversation over a game of Hnefatafl reveals that the king’s men are red and the attackers white.

The most revealing clues of Hnefatafl lie in series of riddles posed by a character identified as Odin in disguise in the Hervarar saga.

Tafl pieces from Birka in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. Photo Credit

Tafl pieces from Birka in the Swedish Museum of National Antiquities in Stockholm. Photo Credit

 

An unusual strategic war game of unequal forces. Photo Credit

An unusual strategic war game of unequal forces. Photo Credit

The importance of war is also reflected in Hnefatafl because it is a war strategy game which indicates the important reason why gaming boards were being played by males of all ages.

Vikings tended to take boys onto the battlefield with them which explains why young boys played these war-strategic board games.

When chess became a popular game during the Middle Ages, the rules of Hnefatafl were forgotten over time. Photo Credit

When chess became a popular game during the Middle Ages, the rules of Hnefatafl were forgotten over time. Photo Credit

Here is another Viking story from us:Viking shieldmaidens – some say the warrior women did not exist

Today, the game can be bought in a nice cardboard box, with the rules based on those from the 9th and 10th century and the Hnefatafl board of 11 x 11 squares.