hist-games: Halatafl

u.schaedler at museedujeu.com u.schaedler at museedujeu.com
Thu Nov 10 03:40:48 PST 2005

As far as I know we know very little about Viking board games. It seems
that Hnefatafl is practically the only game about which some plausible
assumptions have been made, notably the equation with tablut (after
Linnaeus' description in the 18th century). The Ballinderry board (and
other similar boards) is usually taken to be a Hnefatafl board. Normally
also the gaming stones in the Birka graves are interpreted as Hnefatafl
Peg-shaped pieces on the other hand are known from 1st century Britain
(Verulamium, King Harry Lane site), but the number of pieces on bothe
sides seems to have been identical, although one piece on one side is
marked as a special piece.
Roman games seem to have been known since they appear already in Germanic
graves dating to the 3rd century, and finally among the Vimose boards (XX

See recently Karsten Michaelsen's article Games and gaming pieces in Iron
age Denmark, in "Step by Step", ed. by J. Retschitzki and R. Haddad-Zubel,
Fribourg, 2002, p. 65-76.

Does anybody know anything reliable about Halatafl?

Ulrich Schädler

> Den 2005-11-10 07:19:13 skrev Damian Walker <damian at snigfarp.karoo.co.uk>:
>> Quoting Huette von Ahrens's message of Yesterday:
>>> Halatafl is what we now call "Fox and geese".
>> Sten Helmfrid's excellent site on hnefatafl, (recently moved to
>> http://hem.bredband.net/b512479/) presents a convincing argument that
>> halatafl wasn't in fact fox & geese, but was a name for a type of gaming
>> board, like "tann-tafl".  The main fact that the argument rests on an
>> extract from the Grettis Saga, where Þorbjörn "was playing hnefatafl, it
>> was a large halatafl."  This phrase would make no sense if halatafl is
>> taken to mean fox & geese.  We also know that fox & geese was known as
>> "ref-skak", meaning "fox-chess".
> In Grettis's Saga it is said that "he was playing Hnefatafl, it was a
> big Halatafl(-board)." So it doesn't seem likely that Halatafl refers
> to the medieval game Fox and Geese. As Sten Helmfrid points out,
> the name probably refers to the very board which the Vikings used
> for Hnefatafl. Obviously, this board was also used for the game which
> uses a similar initial setup as Alquerque, although with many more
> pieces. So it seems more logical to use the term 'Halatafl' for this
> game.  After all, the game needs a name. This notion is supported
> by this site about Viking games:
> http://www.regia.org/games.htm
> If it's true that 'Halatafl' refers to the pegged pieces, I have
> implemented
> pegged pieces in the graphics. By the way, I fixed two bugs in my
> Halatafl program so those of you who downloaded it before Nov 30
> can download it again:
> http://hem.passagen.se/melki9/halatafl.htm
> Mats
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