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Hnefatafl» Forums » General

Subject: Dating of the game rss

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Damian Walker
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I think I have to take issue with the dating of this game. Not just on this site, but beyond as well. Here, the game is recorded as having been invented in A.D. 350. This is the only place I have seen this date, most sources saying the game was played by A.D. 400 but not speculating on how much earlier it was invented.

But the date of A.D. 400 is far from certain, too. The usual argument is something like this. We know that the game was played by A.D. 400, as this is the date of the small fragment of a hnefatafl gaming board found in the Vimose bog, in Denmark. We know that this was a hnefatafl board, because hnefatafl was played around this time. That sounds like circular reasoning to me!

In fact, there are other things that the Vimose board could be. The Roman game Ludus Petteia was played at this time, as it is mentioned in A.D. 400. Other finds in the Vimose bog were Roman in origin, being owned by Romanised Germans. The Vimose bog finds were actually a war booty offering, so they tell us more about the Danes' enemies than the Danes themselves. So it's possible that this was actually a Latrunculi board, telling us nothing about hnefatafl.

People also point to the fifth- or sixth-century golden drinking horn from Gallehus, a replica of which is found in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen (the original was stolen and melted down by a counterfeiter in 1802). But the game depicted on there has too little detail to be anything certain. There may be counters lined up around the edge, or these may be board decoration. Either way, the board isn't a precise depiction of hnefatafl.

The earliest evidence of the game that can be taken as anything like certain is a set of glass pieces found in Gunnarshaug in Norway. This date from about A.D. 800, and consist of one big dark blue piece, four smaller yellow pieces and eleven even smaller light blue ones. The dark blue and yellow pieces have brown tops, hinting at a possibly incomplete distribution of forces of a king and four defenders, versus eleven attackers.

So, that out of the way, here is the point. I think a correction ought to be submitted for the date above. But should it be A.D. 400 to fit in line with "conventional" thinking? Or should it be A.D. 800, since conventional thinking appears in this case not to be very deep thinking? What do you think?

Edits are in red.
 
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Damian Walker
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In the absence of any comments since I last posted on this thread, I'll submit a correction for A.D. 400. I still believe A.D. 800 would be more appropriate, but I don't suppose that view will become accepted any time soon.
 
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Damian Walker
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That was my thinking. There is some information I've unearthed since I came to this opinion, which make me a little less certain. I can't remember where I read this, but there were three gaming board fragments found at Vimose. One is presumably the one in Murray's and Bell's books, that's found its way onto everybody's web site (including mine). I don't know anything about the others as yet.

Another point is that Murray dated the game to A.D. 400. While his research isn't considered as perfect nowadays, he was still a very good scholar, and I can't help feeling that his assessment was based on some sounder knowledge that wasn't explicitly stated in his book. He mentions pieces found in the "Ultuna Mound", which as yet I've not been able to find more about.

So until I tie up these loose ends, I'm being a bit reserved about my A.D. 800 theory.
 
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Well, I have nothing to add to this discussion about the dating of Hnefatafl, except to say "thanks" to Demian, because I think this kind of information is fascinating. I hope, Demian, you continue your research and post any new information here. Also, do any of our Scandinavian BGGers have more data based on recent archaeology or other scholarship that is not available in English?
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