Archaeological discoveries documents that the Vikings not only were fearless warriors but also sophisticated traders who came from an old and highly developed civilization. Viking Age people also had time for contests and games, something that was important to prepare youth for the life that awaited them.
Many of the physical games that entertained the Vikings were violent and sometimes ended in serious injury and death. According to researchers, the games most likely were held to demonstrate masculine skills valuable in combat, such as strength, agility and tactics.
The Grettis Asmundarson’s Saga describes wrestling matches, and the Viking Thorbiørn Angle who had great pleasure in organizing tournaments in different weight classes and virtually was forcing people to participate. The Vikings also measured their strength in stone-lifting competitions.
Ball games also were very popular. The sagas tell of the game knattleikr, involving a ball, full body contact, and sometimes even a bat. The sagas suggest that the sport sometimes ended violently. One particular anecdote also questions what the bat really was for.
The anecdote is from Egill Skallagrimsson’s Saga (c. 910 – c 990 AD), a Viking Age poet, warrior and farmer. Twelve years old Egill competed with a boy who was stronger and better than him, despite the fact that he was one year younger. This was more than Egill could tolerate, and at one point he attacked the boy with a baseball bat. Egill was defeated and retreated, but returned with an ax and killed the younger opponent.
Although physical strength, aggressiveness and violence took place in Viking games, there also was room for competitions of more intellectual character, and board games were popular.
Archaeologists have found several game boards and pieces from the Viking era, and chests that were taken aboard ships sometimes had game boards carved into the lids.
Board games are mentioned in both the sagas and poetry from this era. People who played are often referred to as ‘noble Vikings’ and strategies could be transferred directly to the battlefield.
Gaming piece of amber, perhaps the god Frey? (Photo: natmus.dk)
Women Participated in Drinking Games
Vikings were also fond of a party and drinking contests and drinking games were common. Beer and mead were on the menu, and sometimes it was served wine. Women often participated in these games but were otherwise quite passive in the Vikings’ leisure activities.
Viking entertainment also included mime, theater and music.
Text by: Thor Lanesskog, ThorNews
Sources: forskning.no, Wikipedia, arild-hauge.com