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Medieval Monday | The Vikings and Their Games

Welcome to a new Medieval Monday! Beginning today, I’ll be sharing my love for all things medieval—from books, recipes, music, clothing, castles, and research. Joining me on this new adventure are two lovely ladies, Barbara Bettis, and Anastasia Abboud! They will also share medieval posts on their blogs. You’ve met these talented authors before during our previous version of Medieval Monday.

To check out their Medieval Monday posts, click on the links below:


Grab a cup of mead, my friends, and let me take you back to the Viking era and their love of games…

In my vast research for my medieval romance series, The Wolves of Clan Sutherland, the Vikings enjoyed their games—from those played indoors to outdoors. It was common for these fierce warriors to drink a lot at feasts and celebrations. During these drinking events, many games were played, adding to the fun. A common drinking game was to consume beer or mead and then compose poetry. I’m curious if any stood on the table while spouting their poems for all to hear.

A popular board game played by the Vikings was called Hnefatafl. It was essentially a war game in which there were two groups of pieces—one group was centered in the middle of the board and was the defender. The other group’s pieces were placed at all four sides of the board which were the attackers.

Now another was a skin throwing game called Skinnleikr. This game was usually played indoors in large halls. The game involved a bearskin which was rolled up tight into a ball. A number of players tossed the bearskin towards each other while a single middleman tried to intercept the skin. As you can imagine, this game involved a lot of pushing, tripping, shoving, and shouting.

In my book, Magnar, I brought this particular skin throwing game outdoors. I’m sure the Vikings did the same.


Scene from Magnar ~ @Copyright 2020 Mary Morgan

Shifting his stance from the afternoon sunlight, Magnar studied the group of men wandering across the expanse of the meadow toward him. Rain had drenched the ground earlier in the morn, and he smiled. His keen observation detected those who would not remain standing after a few blows. Too much drink from the night before had many already stumbling over their feet.

“Again, what is the name of this game?” asked Elspeth in a guarded tone.

Giving her a quick glance, he replied, “’Tis called Skinnleikr—a skin throwing game. Usually we play indoors—inside the hall.” He gestured outward with his hand. “Many of my men suggested we take the game out in the open to show everyone how ’tis played. We judged it wiser outdoors since we do not want to cause further damage to Steinn.”

She tapped a finger against her chin. “And ’tis made from the skin of a bear?”

“Aye. You take the skin and roll it into a ball.”

“Procured from your home in Kirkjuvágr.”

He smiled. “You are correct. ’Tis a good game to test your balance and strength, along with swiftness of feet.”

Elspeth stepped in front of him. “I overheard Rorik mention that bones are often broken in this game. Are you sure Erik should be permitted to join this vigorous, rough sport? Are the king’s men aware they may become injured?”

Shrugging, he explained, “He is the chieftain, and he asked to join in the game. He seeks to gain knowledge of what we—Northmen—enjoy. He has boasted of learning certain board games, and I have challenged him later with one called hnefatafl. As for King William’s men, they have played this sport many a time.”

Narrowing her eyes, she protested, “Erik is a kindling stick compared to you…and your boulder sized men! He will be crushed!”

Magnar fought the smile forming on his mouth. As a rule, he would never jest with his wife in regard to her nephew. However, he enjoyed seeing his wife teem with fury. Her face took on a coloring to rival her locks. Reaching outward, he tugged on a curl that had escaped from her braid. “You have a healer, aye?”

She gave him a glare that would singe the skin from any hardened warrior.

Unable to contain himself, he belted out in laughter.

“You brute,” she scolded, shoving at his chest. “I honestly believed you would let him play the game.”

Recovering quickly, he added, “But we are. Erik is to toss out the skin, and then retreat.”

“You ken my meaning, Magnar.”

He swiftly reached for her before she could leave. Grasping her around the waist, he nuzzled the soft skin below her ear. “Forgive me, Elspeth. I could not resist the temptation to tease you.”

Turning her face toward his lips, she smiled fully. “You must now pay the price for causing me distress.”

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Until next Monday, may your dreams be filled with the Wolves of Clan Sutherland.


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