From Dróttinn to King

The Role of Hnefatafl as a Descriptor of Late Iron Age Scandinavian Culture


  • Justin Kimball


Nothing invigorates nor expresses a culture quite like a national sport or game. These events could be viewed as outlets functioning not only as a means of entertainment, but as a manner through which competitors strive to sculpt their minds and bodies with the mentality, prowess, and raw strength that epitomise the ideals of the associated culture(s). The sports and games of a culture can lead to the creation and reinforcement of generalisations – thereby ultimately leading to a fabrication and proliferation of stereotypes. However, through careful observation of the rules, cultural ideas, and messages contained within these games, one may be able to see past the stereotypes and gain a glimpse of the true character of the associated culture. Using the relationship between the game of chess and medieval European culture as a comparison, this paper will examine the Iron Age Scandinavian board game of hnefatafl in order to dispel misconceptions and suggest an alternative, more constructive, means of describing Late Iron Age Scandinavian culture.