Knattleikr – Viking ”Field Hockey”

The Icelandic Sagas are a big source to our knowledge about the Viking cultures of the Scandinavian-speaking Nordic countries (Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway). Many different researching fields are having a significant use of them. Examples are religious studies and cultural history, but these are only two of many fields. What about sports for example? Did the Vikings performed any sporting activities?

The answer is yes, they had many sports. Ice skating, wrestling, board games, horse fights and knattleikr.

This article is going to focus on knattleikr. But you can read more about other Viking sports on this link:


In the Egill Skallagrimssons saga it is written about the game. It was played with a ball and a bat/stick but we do not know the rules of the game. The equipment they used are not know either, there are no archaeological findings of them.

In Egills saga we get the feeling that this was a violent game with huge passion. Disputes and blood spilling are mentioned. Egil himself killed a younger boy with an axe because he could not take losing repeated times.

The saga is one of the better looks in to this game. Some people are now trying to recreate it, for example Hurstwic (

Now, I have chosen to compare it to field hockey for fun. The problem is that we do not know what the best comparison is.  Different authors have done different comparisons with modern sports. These are ranging from cricket to lacrosse, rugby included.

There are sources after the Viking age who are describing and depicting ball games. According to Hurstwic, these are not deriving from Knattleikr. They have attempted to reconstruct the game, you can read about it here:

So what are then the sources for this ball game? Is it only the Egil Skallgrimssons saga? No, there are also mentions in the Grettis saga, Gisla saga and Eyrbryggja saga.


Hurstwic has from this concluded that (quotation):

“The bat was such that it could broken in anger, and that it could be mended on the spot (G.s. ch18). The word used in the stories is tré, meaning tree, but used for many wooden objects. However, in one instance (Gr.s. ch15), the word used is knattgildra, which has the sense of “ball catch” or “ball trap”. Perhaps the bat had some element or elements that allowed it to catch or hold or carry the ball.

The ball was hard enough that when thrown in anger at another player, it could cause a bleeding injury (Gr.s. ch15). And if thrown with enough force, it could knock over another player (G.s.ch15). Loose balls bounced a long way over the ice (Gr.s. ch15).

The playing field was usually near a pond. (The pond where Grettir played is shown to the left as it appears today.) Some modern scholars have suggested that the game was played on the surface of a frozen pond. Ice certainly figures prominently in the stories (G.s. ch18, Gr.s. ch15).  Gull-Þóris saga (chapter 2) specifically states the game was played on the ice at Berufjörður (á Berufjarðarísi), and Þórðar saga hreðu (ch.3) says that games were played on the ice at Miðfjörður (á Miðfjarðarísi) between the farms of Reykir and Óss because the fjord froze easily there. (That location might be more accurately described as the estuary where the river meets the fjord.)”



To round up, it is not surprising that Vikings had sports. Humans have always need physical activity and ways to entertain themselves. Some of the games where like what we have today, kind of most. We still have board games, ice skating and wrestling. Read more about these here:


Want to see the Vikings in Sweden?

Go on a Viking tour in Stockholm:



Angus Carlsson

Viking Tour Guide in Stockholm, Sweden.

Read more about Angus:



I’m a native of Stockholm County and dedicated to tell you about the history of my county. My trips are focused on the epochs of history and the people who lived back then. I will take you back in time!

I am very interested in history and service. I have worked as a guide before I started the company and been praised by both Swedish and international visitors. I grew up in Orkesta, a parish with a lot of history. From an early age, I have been interested in the past and how it lives on in today’s society. I will guide you in Swedish or English.

I became I guide because I’m passionate about history. I love to educate and entertain people about it. I have always been very interested in this subject and History was my number one subject in school.

Come join me as I guide you to the Viking age and other intriguing epochs of the history of Stockholm and Sweden! You are invited to travel back in time with me at Stockholm’s own time machine!

Want to find out more about the Viking tours:

Swedish Vikings and the Eastern World

Swedish Vikings and the Eastern World – Vikings in Russia

There are evidence for that a East Slavic empire was created by Vikings in Russia. A Viking called Oleg in Russian. This information comes from the “The Russian Primary Chronicle” that tells about Oleg and the foundation of Kievan Rus. Oleg took control of Kiev in around 882 and the city/town became the capital of the empire. It should be said though before I continue this text that there are a lot of speculation regarding this matter and controversy.  Some view the Swedish Vikings as the origin of the Russian nation, and you can imagine the controversy in that. And also some more background on this story.




It is known that even before the Viking age (650-800) Scandinavians established colonies at the shores of the Baltic sea at the Grobin (Latvia) and Libau (Latvia). Both these are right by the Lativan coast.



Rurik established a Viking dynasty in the present-day Russian town of Novgorod. According to the far from accepted “Russian Primary Chronicle” Rurik was invited by the local Slavs to form a new and just government. Perhaps he was not invited but conquered the place.

I will continue by going back to Oleg because he was the inheritor of Rurik.

If we belive that the relationships was based on the Slavs being plundered/conquered we may have reached a conclusion on my question. It is not that easy. The Viking dynasty kept contacts with their ancestral lands but also showed signs of assimilation into Slavic culture. The signs of trade and political exchanges are many. This must be described as signs of good relations.

Finds from the two international Swedish Viking towns of Birka and Sigtuna in present-day Sweden, give a great idea of their connections. There are many objects that are Eastern in style and produced in the east. A lot of the graves are also having non-Viking burial traditions that points towards the east. For example the native areas of the Khazarian Turks and Volga Bulgarians.





We can see that they had a lot of contact at least in a political context. As an example I will use the Swedish-Russian saint Anna of Novgorod. She is known as Irina in Russia and Ingegärd in Sweden. She was the daughter of the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung that ruled Sweden from 995-1022. Ingegärd was married away in a politically arranged marriage to Jaroslavl I or Jaroslav the wise.




The Arab Travellers and writers who encountered Vikings did so in Bagdhad and in the Kiev and Novgorod areas.  One of them was IBN FADLAN. He and the other Arabs did NOT refer to the Vikings as “Vikings”. Instead they called them “Rus”. That might derive from Routsi that is a Finnish term for Sweden and Swedes. The origin of the word is though very much debated and there is little agreement on its origin.

So if not the Arabs called them Vikings, who did? That is of course another story that will be covered in a future post but I can tell you that it was the English (Anglo-Saxons).

Contrasting with the English accords of Vikings as pillaging barbarians, the Muslim accounts tell that they are well-armed but that their prime reason for going east was trade. Ibn Fadlans Risala contains a very detailed account of the Vikings he meet at the Volga river.


One of the biggest drivers of economic growth in the Viking age was the slave trade that was active by Vikings and other peoples across Europe and of course, the world. It was a part of daily life back then and not viewed with any disgrace by most peoples. However there existed a divide between Pagans and some Christians. Some Christians disliked the slavery and tried to free fellow Christians from the pagan Vikings.

Eastern European was one of the common origins of Slaves in Viking age Sweden. The Vikings had different words for referring to a slave, one was “Slave” itself, referring to a Slavic person and “est”, referring to a Estonian person. Exactly how many Eastern European Slaves that lived in Sweden during the Viking age and their ethnic origins are hard to say, but we know that the slave trade was very active. The Arab Caliphate are often viewed as the biggest slave owning nation/kingdom/empire of that time and therefore it should have been lucrative for Vikings to kidnap Slavic persons and sell them to Arab merchants.

Archaeologist Stefan Brink.


The Vikings wanted for example to have silk garments, luxury objects of gold, oriental spices, and silver coins. The brought furs, amber, skins, walrus ivory.


In closure, was the Viking age relationships better between Russia and Sweden? Well, Russia and Sweden as we know it did not exist, but the relationships seemed to have been better in general. However, the sources are few and does not give a enough detailed information for me or anyone else to be able to conclude this.

MORE Sources:

The Rune Kingdom – a viking age tourist destination north of Stockholm.

Our guided Viking tours take place in an area called the Rune Kingdom. Situated just north of Stockholm, this is an ideal excursion for any tourist coming over to experience Swedish culture and history.

It is called the Rune Kingdom because it has rune stones by the 9 sights in the area. Rune stones were commemoration monuments that the Vikings put up to honor a dead family member.

But you can see much more than just rune stones. The rune kingdom contains a Viking parliament, Viking bridge, two medieval churches and much more.

The idea of the Rune Kingdom.

Stockholm county museum wanted an area to where people could learn about and experience Viking culture and history. The Täby-Vallentuna area was a great choice because it is one of the world’s most Viking dense areas.

In the area we find more than 20 rune stones, tens of grave fields and unique sights. The Viking parliament is one of the best preserved in the world and the Viking bridge is reconstructed to its former glory.

To get more information about the Rune Kingdom, go to

Take a 3-hour excursion from Stockholm and immerse yourself in the Viking stories. Hear about the Jarlabanki family and their great men and women who ruled the area.

Lord Jarlabanki was a cocky guy who raised a rune stone to tell people that he owned the whole of the area. Jarlabanki’s grandmother Estrid was a powerful Viking woman, her skeleton was identified in an excavation in 1995. Hear her story as a powerful woman in what usually was a man’s world.