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What the Vikings did for fun?

Sports and
pastimes in medieval northern Europe
Leszek Gardea
Abstract
Although the Viking Age has been studied for many years and from diverse interdisciplinary
perspectives, still very little attention is given to the various pastimes of the Norsemen. This article
seeks to explore what the Vikings did for fun both inside and outside their homes and in dierent
regions in their diaspora. Attention is paid to games and pastimes of both children and adults and
these matters are examined in the context of textual and archaeological evidence.
Keywords
Vikings; sports; games; pastimes; leisure; toys.
Introduction
The Viking Age has often been imagined as a turbulent and violent period in history.
Armed with their razor-sharp weapons, the Norsemen are portrayed in popular culture as
people you would not want to meet on a dark night. In contemporary academic works on
this period considerations regarding diverse forms and places of settlement, expeditions,
war activities and ritual practices are dominant. In contrast to these matters, much less
space is usually devoted to the daily lives of the Norse population and what happened at
their farms when they were not engaged in hard manual labor, bloody feuds or overseas
expeditions (but cf. Batey et al. 1994: 645; Foote and Wilson 1970: 18790; O

dman 1992:
143; Simpson 1967; Wolf 2004).
Although life in the late Iron Age was full of tensions and dangers, it appears that
people still found time to have moments of cheerfulness and pleasure. As the textual and
archaeological evidence suggests, at peaceful times the Norsemen did engage in a wide
range of pastimes. This article examines how and where the Viking Age Scandinavians
spent their free time, what kind of games they played and with whom. Were there dierent
World Archaeology Vol. 44(2): 234247 The Archaeology of Sport and Pastimes
2012 Taylor & Francis ISSN 0043-8243 print/1470-1375 online
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2012.669640
pastimes for men and women? How did children spend their free time? Did their games
imitate the everyday lives of their parents and were they violent or peaceful?
Answers to these questions are not easy to provide due to the nature of the source
material that we have at hand. The Old Norse sagas, which are frequently employed in the
discussions on the Viking Age, were written down predominantly in the thirteenth century
and the degree to which they reect Viking Age realities may be questionable. In order to
verify which information may be authentic and which reects the cultural and intellectual
milieu of the Middle Ages, these textual sources are often confronted with archaeological
evidence. However, in the case of Viking Age pastimes, the archaeological sources are
likewise scarce, problematic and often found in contexts that are far from being
straightforward. Nonetheless, some conclusions can still be reached and it is the aim of this
paper to shed more light on the matters listed above. Our study of the various forms of
leisure activities in the Viking diaspora will therefore begin with considerations of the
space and time in which these took place.
Inside and out
The saga accounts suggest that many games were strictly outdoor activities, while only
some were associated with indoor spaces. This is easy to understand the limited space of
Viking Age houses would usually not allow for organizing a ball game, a wrestling match
or a horse ght. Large games involving participants and observers from dierent districts
were played on solemn occasions, for example during assemblies (ing) or ceremonies.
It is vital to observe that in certain cases the locations for these seem to have been rather
unusual (cf. Ellis 1943: 1067). In Gongu-Hrolfs saga (5), for example, there is a mention of
games being played for Jarl orgny in the vicinity of a grave mound which stood near the
town. When the weather was good the Jarl would often sit there and hold meetings or
watch the games played for him.
Some outdoor activities could be undertaken only at particular times of the year, either
winter or summer (the Scandinavians of the late Iron Age distinguished only two seasons:
Wolf 2004: 613). All kinds of natural conditions could also have a strong eect on the
selection of particular locations. Most of the games described in the sagas are set in
Iceland, which for several months each year is covered in darkness. This would surely
aect the participants of the games and limit their vision unless some form of articial
lighting was used (of which nothing is mentioned in the sources, however). In addition, we
might also think about the frequent, strong winds which could further impede the players.
Since nature itself might have strongly aected the results of tournaments, perhaps this
was one of the reasons why most of the outdoor games required full contact. The balls and
bats that are occasionally mentioned in the sagas also seem to be rather hard and heavy
perhaps due to the requirements of the games themselves or because of the unpredictable
weather conditions and especially strong winds which could have blown the ball away had
it been too light. In one such instance hitting a man on the head with a ball caused
bleeding (Grettis saga A

smundarsonar 15).
After this brief introduction, let us turn to the particular pastimes of the Norsemen and
examine their dierent variants in further detail.
What the Vikings did for fun? 235
Children and toys
Although increasingly popular in North America and Western Europe (cf. Orme 2001;
Sofaer Derevenski 2000), the archaeology and anthropology of childhood and childrens
activities are still among the under-represented elds in Viking Age scholarship (but cf.
Callow 2006; Gra slund 1973; Jakobsson 2003; Jakobsson and Tulinius 2005; Welinder
1998; Wolf 2004: 1416; see also articles in the journal Childhood in the Past).
Only limited information can be found about childrens lives from the Old Norse written
accounts, where children are usually overshadowed by, predominantly male, adult
individuals. Likewise, not much is known about childrens afterlife and there were no
runestones raised in their memory (Wolf 2004: 15). Furthermore, apart from occasional
nds of alleged toys, little can be said about what children did and how they spent their
free time.
Toys, or at least items interpreted as such, were found both at settlement sites and at
cemeteries in association with childrens graves, for example at Birka (Uppland, Sweden)
and Barshalder (Gotland) (Callow 2006: 66; Gra slund 1973; Rundqvist 2003: 70) or
Lindholm Hje (Lerche Trolle 1996: 85). Among other objects such as jewelry, childrens
graves tend to include small bronze rattles or bells. Interestingly, the Viking Age child
graves do not appear in numbers which one would expect. This leads to the supposition
that children may have been buried away from the adults or in a manner that is dicult to
identify today (Callow 2006: 589). Some scholars have also argued that the lack of child
graves could be interpreted as a product of infanticide (Clover 1988; but see also critical
comments in Callow 2006: 5960).
Viking Age toys, found in funerary and settlement contexts, appear to have been made
from dierent kinds of materials including wood, bark, bone and occasionally metals. The
sagas rarely mention items that could be regarded as childrens toys. Among the
exceptional instances is a passage from Vga-Glums saga (12) where a small bronze horse
(messingahestr) was given by one child to another to play with (cf. Callow 2006: 66 who
mentions that a similar object was apparently once found at ingvellir, but is now lost).
Miniature horses and other animals occur sporadically among Viking Age archae-
ological material. While in some instances they probably had ritualistic overtones or were
employed as weights (cf. Jensen 2010: 37), in others it is plausible to think that they were
actually used as childrens toys. It seems that wooden horses were most frequently
intended as toys (Jensen 2010: 37), but it is not impossible to conceive that children reused
various zoomorphic or anthropomorphic items originally intended for other purposes.
Wooden horses have been found, for example, in Viking Age Dublin, Trondheim, Staraja
Ladoga and the Faeroe Islands (Arge 2000: 163). The miniature wooden horse from
Fishamble Street in Dublin had a realistically incised human mask on each side and some
spirals on the joints and belly in addition to a barely visible eye (Lang 1988: 79). The rather
primitive style of the ornaments might imply that they were incised by an amateur,
perhaps even a child. Another wooden horse, very realistically carved, is known from
Trondheim and dated between 1100 and 1125. The nd is usually interpreted as a toy, but
it must be noted that the artist, in addition to carving the head and tail, also paid close
attention to the animals sexual organ (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 231). The realistic
representation of the latter could imply that the object may have been used for some other
236 Leszek Gardea
purposes. The wooden horse from Staraja Ladoga is more schematic than the others
discussed above and it appears to be missing its legs, though the head and mane are carved
in some detail (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 301). Small horses made from bronze and
wood are also known from West Slavic sites dated to the late Iron Age and their functions
may have been manifold (ukaszyk 2010).
Childrens toys could also appear in the form of small wooden boats, about 30cm in
length, known from the excavations at Dublin (Lang 1988: 91) and Trondheim (Roesdahl
and Wilson 1992: 231). The boat found in Dublin had diagonal lines incised, which may
represent serpents (Lang 1988: 91). The boat from Trondheim, dated to c. 110025 is
believed to be a toy, but its appearance suggests that it had been carved by a skilled
woodworker. Interestingly the shape of the item has an anity with the Viking Age
merchant vessels known as knorr. While it is likely that these objects were used as toys, it is
also possible that some of them may have functioned as models for larger vessels. Similarly
to the miniature animals, there is a certain ambivalence in the way we can perceive these
nds. It is worth adding that dierent types of miniature boats are also known from early
medieval Poland, for example from Gdan sk, Opole and Szczecin (cf. Gomuka 2010;
Kowalska 2011).
Figure 1 A miniature horse made from wood found in Fishamble Street, Dublin, Ireland. The
miniature has an anthropomorphic face/mask incised on each side as well as spirals on the joints and
belly. After Lang (1988: 34). Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland.
What the Vikings did for fun? 237
Alleged toys that are known from archaeological contexts also include weapons and
tools both miniature ones (Jensen 2010: 4258) and those of larger sizes, but made from
wood (Khoroshev 2007). The excavations in Dublin, Novgorod and Staraja Ladoga have
yielded a number of such nds. The wooden swords from Dublin were very realistically
made. On the basis of their features it is even possible to distinguish to which sword type
they belonged. A wooden sword 23.7cm long with a sub-triangular pommel and a straight
guard was fully functional rather than decorative (Lang 1988: 33, 79, g. 51). The wooden
swords from Staraja Ladoga, dated to the eighth and ninth centuries are reminiscent of
their full-size Frankish counterparts (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 301). Although the
wooden swords are frequently perceived as toys, it is also possible that some of them
served other purposes such as weaving or as training swords for adults (Kotowicz 2008).
Alternatively, some weaving swords may have been used as toys by children who would
borrow or steal them from other members of the household.
Some children, however, were given real weapons of iron, albeit proportional to their
stature. As we read in Grettis saga A

smundarsonar (48), a 16-year-old boy named A

rno rr
was said to be armed with a small axe. It is clear that the weapon was real since it was later
used in a ght against Grettir, the main protagonist of the saga. Real weapons of small
sizes were also found in some Viking Age childrens graves. A child buried at Gr msstair
(Iceland) was accompanied by a small spearhead (Callow 2006: 63; Eldja rn 2000: 211) and
another one buried at Straumur (Iceland) was accompanied by a small axe and knife
Figure 2 A miniature boat made from wood found in Fishamble Street, Dublin, Ireland. On the prow
of the boat there are incisions which may perhaps represent serpents. After Lang (1988: 80).
Courtesy of the National Museum of Ireland.
238 Leszek Gardea
(Callow 2006: 63, 67; Eldja rn 2000: 2213). In a grave at Laufahvammur (Iceland) a child
had a small axe and a spearhead (Callow 2006: 67; Eldja rn 2000: 58).
In addition to the dierent toy types mentioned above, children also may have played
with small pebbles (these are occasionally identied in a funerary context cf. Callow
2006: 67; Lerche Trolle 1996: 85), beads, pieces of wood or other organic materials which
were available in the household and its vicinity. The nds of miniature clay pots in
dierent areas of Scandinavia may further indicate that some children played with clay. In
winter they would certainly throw snowballs and, as Foote and Wilson observed (1970:
189), in one instance a twelfth-century nobleman mistook the whiz of an axe for that of a
boys snowball. The results of this mistake are easy to deduce.
Viking Age children may have also used animal bones in the way children from
twentieth-century Iceland did. Callow (2006: 67) observed that in modern times
children played with bones of cattle and sheep and regarded them not as parts of
animals, but as their actual representations. It may be argued, therefore, that perhaps
some of the unusual arrangements of animal bones found during excavations of late
Iron Age sites may at times result simply from childrens games and not necessarily
reect pagan ritual practices.
Ball and scraper games
Among games played outdoors by both children and adults were ball games, known as
knattleikr. The rules of these games are not known in detail, but on the basis of the
saga accounts it may be inferred that they involved full contact and at times a bat may
have been used (cf. Gsla saga Surussonar 15, 18; Grettis saga A

smundarsonar 15; Egils


saga Skalla-Grmssonar 40; Eyrbyggja saga 43). Knattleikr involved throwing the ball,
chasing and running, but further particulars remain unknown. It may be deduced from
the saga evidence (Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar 40) that at least four participants were
on the pitch at the same time and that opposing players were lined up facing each
other. Sometimes the ball games could evoke conicts and end in real ghts with fatal
consequences.
Egill Skallagr msson, one of the (in)famous heroes, was said to be particularly fond of
playing all kinds of games and a memorable event in his biography is associated with a ball
game of the kind described above. According to Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar (40) the
game was arranged early in the winter and people from all over the district came to the
plain where it was taking place. Egill, who must have been under 12 years old, was
competing against an 11-year-old boy named Gr mr, 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 o rr Granason, Egill took an axe and drove it into Gr mrs head.
From the saga evidence it appears that knattleikr was only a mans game and women
never actively participated. Women could have observed the games from a distance, but it
seems that even such a passive participation could lead to dangerous consequences.
In another ball game, also organized in winter, Egill and o rr Granason were
competing against Egills father the berserker and blacksmith Skalla-Gr mr. The game
What the Vikings did for fun? 239
had a very dramatic ending and the enraged Skalla-Gr mr killed two people o rr
Granason and also a female observer.
In addition to ball games, Harar saga (23) mentions some kind of scraper game
(skofuleikr) played during Yuletide with horn scrapers. Unfortunately their appearance
was not described and nothing like this has ever been found or identied by archaeologists.
It seems, however, that making this kind of equipment was not very time consuming,
because Ho rr managed to make his own scrapers in one night (Harar saga 23). The rules
of skofuleikr are not described in the sagas, except for noting that the players were divided
into teams and each had a chosen opponent. Similarly to knattleikr, skofuleikr was very
rough and physically exhausting. The game mentioned in Harar saga (23) even resulted in
the deaths of some of its participants.
Although ball games were usually played outdoors Halfdanar saga Eysteinssonar (8)
mentions a game which involved a ball and a bat that took place inside a hall (in fact
before the king and queen) (Pa lsson and Edwards 1985: 178). The peculiar location made
it more dicult to play due to the presence of furniture at one point the ball rolled under
the queens stool. This saga description is exceptional, but, because of its late date, it must
be approached with some caution. It is not impossible, however, that ball games were
played inside large-size buildings, yet probably mostly in situations when severe weather
conditions would not allow for organizing them outside.
Tests of strength: wrestling and stone lifting
As we have already seen, a lot of games served as tests of strength (Foote and Wilson 1970:
189) and also as an important way of demonstrating masculine qualities. In addition to the
aforementioned ball games, wrestling competitions (glma) were also popular. The sagas
imply that wrestling although brutal in itself could also end in a real ght and even in
someones death. One such competition, described in detail in Grettis saga A

smundarsonar
(72), took place during the spring assembly at Hegraness in Iceland, where people came
both for lawsuits and for entertainment:
Some young men were saying that in such ne weather it would be good to have some
wrestling and other sports. There was loud approval of this, and men started gathering
and sitting down below the booths. Hjalti and his brother Thorbjorn Ongul were the
leaders in the games; Thorbjorn was a boisterous man, and organized the games with
great vigour. Everyone had to do what Thorbjorn wanted; he grabbed each man by the
shoulder and pushed him on to the eld. First the weakest men wrestled, then the less
weak, and so on.
(translation after Fox and Pa lsson 1974: 148)
Among activities that could relate to sports or leisure activities was also stone-lifting. The
saga hero Grettir was famous for lifting all kinds of heavy rocks or stones (Grettis saga
A

smundarsonar 16, 61). Another man named Bjo rn was, however, considered as almost his
equal in sports and along with Grettir he swam down Hitar River all the way from the lake
to the sea (58).
240 Leszek Gardea
Swimming, drowning and bathing
Laxdla saga (40) contains a mention of a swimming competition taking place in the
autumn in the River Nid in Norway. The aim was to wrestle with the opponent and keep
him under the water for as long as possible. This is how the saga describes a tournament
between Kjartan and a local man who turned out to be King O

la fr Tryggvason himself:
Kjartan then dived out into the river and swam over to the man who was such a strong
swimmer, pushed him underwater and held him down for some time, before letting him
come up again. The other had not been above water long before he grasped Kjartan
and forced him underwater and held him under so long that Kjartan felt enough was
enough. They both emerged once more, but neither spoke to the other. On the third try
both of them went underwater and were under much longer. Kjartan was far from
certain what the outcome would be and realized that he had never before been in such a
tight situation. Finally both of them came up and swam ashore.
(translation after Kunz 2000: 347)
Aside from the swimming or rather drowning competition, one other activity could also
be regarded as a pastime bathing. Especially in Iceland this was done for purely practical
reasons, but we can assume that people relaxed in the hot waters and spent a long time
there. In Grettis saga A

smundarsonar (75) it is said that Grettir bathed in a hot pool at


Reykir in Iceland during the night to get warmer after his long and exhausting journey.
Oar-walking
We have already mentioned how King O

la fr Tryggvason was said to have participated in a


drowning competition in Norway. The King was also famous for other skills and perhaps
the most spectacular one was walking forward and aft on his great warship outboard by
stepping from oar to oar as his men rowed (Foote and Wilson 1970: 189, emphasis in
original). In this context we may recall the scene from the movie The Vikings, where Kirk
Douglas is jumping from one oar to another. Both the movie scene and attempts by
modern-day Viking re-enactors have proved that this was indeed possible.
Skiing and skating
Skiing and skating are sports that could be performed only during cold periods. The Old
Norse written accounts do not mention skiing very frequently and it is usually associated
more with the indigenous Sa mi population than with the Norse. The earliest nd of skis
from the Scandinavian territory (Sweden) is about 5,200 years old and the oldest pair of
skis found in Norway comes from Vosseskavlen in Hordaland and dates to the twelfth
century (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 233). Interestingly, even one of the Norse gods, Ullr,
was associated with skiing. Furthermore, Ullr is represented in the written sources as an
archer and skater (Simek 1993: 339). The latter activity may also be alluded to in Saxo
What the Vikings did for fun? 241
Grammaticus (Gesta Danorum III), who wrote that Ollerus (i.e. Ullr) could travel over the
sea on a bone (Simek 1993: 339).
The archaeological evidence suggests that the Viking Age people also skated on bone
skates. These skates may have been employed simply for fun both by children and
adults or for practical reasons, especially in short- or long-distance travels. Bone skates
were identied in large numbers at Birka (Wolf 2004: 33), but also in Lund (Roesdahl and
Wilson 1992: 233) and in their appearance they are similar to the nds from the West
Slavic lands (Kurnatowska 2008: 360). The early medieval bone skates, unlike the ones we
use today, did not have sharp edges and therefore the skater had to use a sharp stick
(sometimes with an iron tip) to propel himself forwards (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 233).
Horse ghts
Among pastimes involving the use of animals that are mentioned in the sagas are horse
ghts. These events were well attended by people from dierent regions of Iceland (cf.
Brennu-Njals saga 59; Grettis saga A

smundarsonar 29). Occasionally, as at the meeting in


Langat below Reykir, the contestants would hold their animals by the tail and use a stick
to drive the horse on (Grettis saga A

smundarsonar 29). In some parts of Norway horse


ghts were continued long after the Middle Ages (Foote and Wilson 1970: 189). Perhaps
the way Viking Age children played with miniature wooden horses was to imitate the ghts
of real, large animals.
Drinking and eating
It appears that in the Viking Age drinking and eating were among the favorite pastimes,
and took place both indoors and outside. Feasts were organized on dierent occasions
weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies or larger gatherings. During these meetings, both
men and women ate and drank, sometimes to excess. The sagas frequently mention feasts,
but usually little is said about what exactly was eaten or drunk. Alcoholic beverages at this
time included mostly beer or mead, though wine may have also been drunk. Several sagas
contain accounts about special drinking competitions conducted during the feasts (cf.
Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar 48; O

rvar-Odds saga 27). Women also took part in these


games, drinking with men in pairs (Egils saga Skalla-Grmssonar 48).
Board games
Board games play a prominent part in the sagas and Old Norse poetry. In addition,
gaming boards and gaming pieces are well known from archaeological contexts (cf.
Rundqvist and Williams 2008 therein further references). The presence of gaming boards
in boat graves or as incisions on chests implies that they may have been played not only at
home, but also during longer expeditions (Batey et al. 1998: 64). One of the prerequisites
of a nobly born individual was being skilful in playing board games.
242 Leszek Gardea
Interestingly, the game known as hnefata also had ritualistic overtones (van Hammel
1934). These are clear in the Eddic poem Voluspa (8, 58), where the fate of the gods seems
to be somehow linked to the gaming pieces (Dronke 1997: 9).
As we learn from the sagas, some people thought that playing board games was a waste
of time. Such was the case of the stepmother of orbjo rn o ngul, who, upon seeing the
game being played, snatched one of the gaming pieces and stuck its point into orbjo rns
face which resulted in the eye coming out onto his cheek (Grettis saga A
`
smundarsonar 70).
In response, orbjo rn grabbed the woman and strangled her.
Music, poetry and performance
The Old Norse written sources mention dierent kinds of musical instruments, many of
which have not survived. Bone utes (Roesdahl and Wilson 1992: 236, g. 72), blowing horns
(cf. Harar saga 13) and blowing pipes are among those known from the archaeological
record. Other types of instruments may have included bells or rattles, which are usually
discovered in funerary contexts in dierent areas within the Viking diaspora (Rundqvist
2003: 70). Some instruments may have also been made fromanimal jawbones (Gardea 2011:
4951) and played by rubbing a wooden stick or bone against the teeth in the jawbone.
Music seems to have been played at dierent times in everyday life but also on very
solemn occasions, such as weddings, ocial feasts, funerals or religious ceremonies. Gongu-
Hrolfs saga (37) describes a wedding banquet during which all kinds of stringed instruments,
harps and ddles, pipes and psalter, were to be heard. There was beating of drums and a
blowing of horns, with every variety of pleasant play to cheer the body of man (translation
after Pa lsson and Edwards 1980: 1212). The Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan in his account of a
Rus funeral also wrote that the deceased chieftain was buried in an underground chamber
accompanied by a musical instrument (Montgomery 2000: 16). During the further stages of
the ceremony the warriors would beat their shields, which gave a drumming eect. So far,
however, no actual drums fromthe Viking Age are known, although these were used by their
northern neighbors the Sa mi. One passage from the Eddic poem Lokasenna (24) mentions
an object known as vett, which could have been a drum (Price 2002: 174).
Little is known about dancing, but some scholars have argued that dancing scenes with
ritualistic overtones could be seen on some of the Migration Period and Vendel period
iconographic nds (Holmqvist 1960).
In addition to music, the Norse also organized dierent kinds of dramatic performances
which involved reciting poetry and may have included miming and mummery (Foote and
Wilson 1970: 188; Gunnell 1995, 2007). Two masks made from felt which may have been
used in some form of drama or ritual activity were found in the harbor of the Viking town
of Hedeby (Price 2002: 1714).
Other pastimes and conclusions
This article merely scratches the surface of the complex subject of sports and leisure
activities in the Viking Age. Also forms of pastime other than those discussed above could
What the Vikings did for fun? 243
be encountered in the sagas, such as a skin-throwing game (hornaskinnleikr or skinnleikr)
described in Barar saga Snfellsass (13) or a turf-game from Eyrbyggja saga (41), but
very little is known about how they were played. Surely, carving in wood and decorating
objects with all kinds of complex designs but also simple grati could be regarded as a
pastime (Foote and Wilson 1970: 190) and some apparently unnished incisions on Viking
Age wooden objects may bear witness to this. Of course, sex would be considered as a
pastime too (cf. Price 2005), as well as hunting, falconry and shing.
Although the late Iron Age Scandinavians are often portrayed as representatives of a
culture of violence, the available textual and archaeological sources surveyed above
demonstrate that it was not always so. The Norse resorted to all kinds of pastimes or
games and, while a large amount of them involved roughness and violence (wrestling,
swimming, stone-lifting), there existed also those that did not (board games, poetry, music
or drama).
The harsh living conditions, the northern climate as well as worldviews in which war
played a prominent role surely had an eect on what Norsemen considered fun and
entertainment. An ideal man, at least according to the written accounts, had to be strong
and skilful, at times being able to resort to impressive trickery. These skills were trained
and developed from the early days of his childhood to the moment when he entered
adulthood. So far, we know very little about what pastimes the women engaged in, but the
sagas suggest that they were keen, though rather passive observers of the games taking
place in the open elds (Hallfrear saga 2). Nonetheless, like the men, some women were
also skilled in composing poetic verses and furthermore they could create beautifully
embroidered textiles. Although they did not take part in the violent games of men, we
might assume that they were one of the important reasons why these took place. Through
the display of physical strength and other masculine qualities men always wanted to
impress them.
Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen
leszekgardela@abdn.ac.uk
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Leszek Gardea is a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at the University of
Aberdeen. He specializes in the study of Viking and Slavic beliefs and their reection in
archaeological remains. He has excavated prehistoric, early medieval and early modern
sites in Poland and Iceland and published a number of works on dierent subjects related
to Viking and Slavic archaeology.
What the Vikings did for fun? 247
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