SV: hist-games: Hnefatafl material at Hedeby

Jane & Mark Waks waks at
Wed Aug 16 18:15:15 PDT 2006

Damian Walker wrote:
> Sometimes the pictures themselves are worth quite a lot.  I'm of the 
> opinion that we probably won't find any useful recordings of the rules 
> now; smaller sources serve either to confirm what we know or, simply to 
> throw matters into confusion (especially when taken too literally).

Well, confusion is sometimes necessary, even instructive.

I come at this from an odd direction: my original field of study was 
Renaissance Dance. One thing I learned there was how quickly things can 
change, and how the same name can be associated with very different 
details from time to time and place to place. In the dance world, it's a 
pretty safe bet that the same name in sources 20 years apart are *not* 
talking about exactly the same dance. Maybe similar and related (maybe 
not), but it's pretty rare for a dance to be unchanged for any serious 
length of time. (Only example I can think of offhand is the Inns of 
Court dances, which are a special case: they were semi-ritual dances, 
taught formally among a small set of lawyers, which stifled their 
evolution for about 75 years.)

Games are a *lot* more stable historically than dance is, changing over 
decades or centuries where dance changes over mere years. But I still 
tend to assume that different sources that seem to contradict each other 
are probably talking about variant rulesets. So long as the individual 
source seems plausible in and of itself, and is a plausible evolution of 
what else we know, I'm pretty comfortable with the idea that it's a 
legitimate period variation.

This is why I wind up with, eg, a reconstruction of Tick-Tack that 
differs from Tric-Trac in critical ways -- I assume that the games are 
*related* to each other, but that the contradictions in the sources are 
literally talking about different games...

> Earlier players don't seem to have been as precious as we are about the 
> precise numbers of pieces in the game, although sometimes this can be 
> explained by missing pieces.  Some ratios that spring to mind are 1:4:11 
> (Gunnarshaug), 1:8:13 (Scar), 1:6:20 (Birka 624), 1:8:17 (Birka 750).

Fascinating -- I hadn't realized that! I'd always assumed that the 1:2 
ratio between defender and attacker was a constant. But I guess I'm not 
really surprised that there are counter-examples...

				-- Justin

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