Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Gaming Pieces from Gunnarshaug

Pieces from Storhaug
Pieces from Storhaug
Copyright Marit Synnøve Vea. Used with permission.

Seventeen gaming pieces from Gunnarshaug, Korvastad, Karmøy, Rogaland, Norway.  They vary in height from 17mm to 20mm, and are conical in shape.  A single large piece is dark blue with a brown top and a yellow point.  Four slightly smaller pieces are yellow with a brown top.  The other twelve are light blue.

The pieces were found in a grave at the "Great Mound" (Storhaug) at Gunnarshaug, along with another set of twenty amber pieces.  These are all now kept at the Historisk Museum at Bergen in Norway.  The burial dates to A.D. 779.  You can read more about the burial here.

Neither set gives us the precise composition that we expect from a hnefatafl set.  The seventeen glass pieces appear to pit a king and four defenders against twelve attackers, a 3:1 ratio of attackers to defenders rather than the 2:1 ratio more usual in hnefatafl games.  The twenty amber pieces are undistinguished, and lack any identifiable "king" piece.  It is possible that both sets are incomplete.

Another theory about these pieces was put forward by Aage Nielsen: that they were all part of the same set; a blue king and twelve blue glass defenders, against 24 yellow pieces.  Four of the yellow pieces would be glass and the rest amber, with some special capability given to the amber pieces.  The modern Berserk Hnefatafl variant was formed around this theory.  Though an entertaining game, it is at odds with the archaeologists' view that the amber and the glass pieces were two separate sets.


New Comment

Yes No