hist-games: How did vikings play chess?

Mark Waks, AKA Justin du Coeur justin at intermetrics.com
Mon Jan 31 10:59:12 PST 2000

tor.gausen at c2i.net wrote:
> I'm new on this list and wonder if anyone here could please
> say a few words about what rules vikings (i.e. AD 800-1050)
> followed when engaging each other in something as peaceful
> as a game of chess.

I'm not an expert, but I looked into this recently, and I gather that
the current scholarship is relatively skeptical that the Vikings *did*
play chess. Chess basically spread from India, through the Arabic world
to Europe, and mostly didn't hit northern Europe until after the

I've seen persistent references to the notion that the Vikings imported
the game separately, but never much evidence to back that up. I get the
impression that this is a misimpression, caused by old mistranslations
of "tafl" (a very different popular board game of the time) as "chess".
People got the idea in the 19th century that the Vikings played chess,
and that idea has never been shaken.

If anyone has any reasonably hard information otherwise, I'd love to
hear it. We're soon doing an SCA event set in AD 1000 Britain, and I
would be more than happy to include chess among the recreations. But I
get the impression that that's wishful thinking.

If the Vikings *did* play chess, odds are that it would be more or less
Shatranj, which is pretty much "generic medieval chess". See the Period
Games Rules Page:


for a pointer to that...

(The above is mostly based on HJR Murray's History of Chess, and Richard
Eales' Chess: The History of a Game.)

				-- Justin

Random Quote du Jour:

Re: The History of Usenet
"More seriously, the cabal worked for a while. Then it stopped
 working, and we tried something else. At the time this seemed like
 the end of the world as we knew it, in reality it was evolution in
 action. (The dinosaurs, as they saw the comet streaking down towards
 impact, probably reacted similarly. `Shit. Now we'll never get
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		-- Chuq

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