Hnefatafl: the Game of the Vikings

A Hnefatafl Board from Oslo

A hnefatafl board from Oslo
A hnefatafl board from Oslo
© 2016 Kulturhistorisk museum

Sunday, 1st May 2016

This week I came to know of an old hnefatafl board of whose existence I was ignorant until now.  I don't know the details of its dating, or of exactly when and where it was found, but there is a lovely picture of it here.  Thanks go to Aage Nielsen in whose forum this fascinating board was mentioned.

There, it is interpreted as a board of fifteen rows of fifteen squares like the one at York.  But examination of the photograph, and comparison with another Norwegian board from Bergen, makes me think that this is a 13x13 board, a size we already know was popular in Norway.  Two boards from Bergen and one from Gokstad form had a grid of thirteen rows of thirteen squares.

A diagram of the restored Oslo hnefatafl board.
 On the Oslo board, there is a *-marked castle square near the top of the remaining fragments, and there are decorative X-marked squares arranged around it.  If, as suggested in Aage Nielsen's forum, the straight break across the board contained an extra row, then the pattern of Xs would be entirely symmetrical, giving a board like the one shown here.  The marked squares are decorative but also give a clear indication of the central portion of each edge of the board, which would have helped in setting up the pieces.

There are actually 14 columns of squares, but the leftmost column continues right to the left edge of the board.  The nail holes in that area suggest that a raised border covered this column of squares, thus giving a 13x13 board.  The design has many similarities to the 11x11 board from Trondheim, which also had a raised border.

I'll soon be reorganising the Archaeological Finds page into a new subsection of the web site.  As part of that, I'll find this board a place there, and hopefully in the mean time find out some more about it.


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