Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

Tablut: the First English Translation

Diagram of the tablut board by Linnaeus
Diagram of the tablut board by Linnaeus

The botanist Carl Linnaeus observed a game of tablut in 1732 and noted down his observations in his diary, along with diagrams of the board and pieces. These are the rules as translated into English, by J. E. Smith, in 1811. There is some controversy over the translation. The figures of the pieces are not shown here.

The game called Tablut is played with a checkered board, and twenty- five pieces, or men, in the following manner.

Fig. 1, is the king, whose station is in the central square or royal castle, called konokis by the Laplanders, to which no other person can be admitted.

Fig. 2. represents one of the eight Swedes his subjects, who, at the commencement of the game, are stationed in the eight squares, adjoining to the royal castle, marked 2 and 3.

Fig. 3. is one of the sixteen Muscovites, their adversaries, who occupy the sixteen embroidered squares, situated four together in the middle of each side of the field.

The vacant squares, distinguished by letters, may be occupied by any of the pieces in the course of the game. Laws

1. Any piece may move from one square to another in a right line, as from a to c; but not corner-wise, as from a to e.

2. It is not allowed to pass over the heads of any other pieces that may be in the way, or to move, for instance, from b to m, in case any were stationed at e or i.

3. If the king should stand in b, and no other piece in e, i, or m, he may escape by that road, unless one of the Muscovites immediately gets possession of one of the squares in question, so as to interrupt him.

4. If the king be able to accomplish this, the contest is at an end.

5. If the king happens to be in e, and none of his own people or his enemies either in f or g, i or m, his exit cannot be prevented.

6. Whenever the person who moves the king perceives that a passage is free, he must call out raichi, and if there be two ways open, tuichu.

7. It is allowable to move ever so far at once, in a right line, if the squares in the way be vacant, as from c to n.

8. The Swedes and the Muscovites take it by turns to move.

9. If any one man gets between two squares occupied by his enemies, he is killed and taken off, except the king, who is not liable to this misfortune.

10. If the king, being in his own square or castle, is encompassed on three sides by his enemies, one of them standing in each of three of the squares numbered 2, he may move away by the fourth. If one of his own people happens to be in this fourth square, and one of his enemies in number 3 next to it, the soldier thus enclosed between his king and the enemy is killed. If four of the enemy gain possession of the four squares marked 2, thus enclosing the king, he becomes their prisoner.

11. If the king be in 2, with an enemy in each of the adjoining squares a, A and 3, he is likewise taken.

12. Whenever the king is thus taken or imprisoned, the war is over, and the conqueror seizes all the Swedes, the conquered party resigning all the Muscovites that he had taken.


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