Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Oar walking, underwater wrestling and horse fighting – historian examines the sports and games of the Vikings

Playing ball games is an activity played by children around the world. While today’s parents might worry that their sons and daughters might get scrapes and bruises, in the Viking world such a game could end with an axe being driven into an opponent’s head.

This detail comes from a new article, ‘What the Vikings did for fun? Sports and pastimes in medieval northern Europe’, which was published last month in the journal World Archaeology. In it Leszek Gardeła of the University of Aberdeen uses saga accounts and archaeological evidence to see what men, women and children from Scandinavia and Iceland amused themselves with during the Viking-era, and found that their were several popular pastimes.

For example, a ball game called knattleikr was played, which involved at least four men throwing a ball, chasing and running, and sometimes also involved a bat. Gardeła relates that in the saga of Egill Skallagrimsson, a game was arranged that brought people from around the district to watch. The story goes that “Egill, who must have been under 12 years old, was competing against an 11-year-old boy named Grımr, who seems to have been much stronger. At some point Egill lost his temper and struck his opponent with a bat, but was immediately seized and dashed to the ground. After complaining about these events to his friend Þorðr Granason, Egill took an axe and drove it into Grimr’s head.”