If you love watching Viking movies, or going to Viking historical re-enactments, then you might be wondering, “What did these fierce warriors do in their down time?” Between all the farming and raiding and killing, what did they do for fun, or did they even have fun? The answer is absolutely yes. The Vikings were a tough, hardy people, to be sure, but they enjoyed their leisure time as much as any other group in their era. Below, we’ll take a quick tour through Viking leisure. Bear in mind that some of the things the Vikings did for fun won’t sound like much fun to you!
Okay, so this one probably does sound like fun, and it’s nice to know that drinking games haven’t changed much over the centuries. The Vikings had chugging contests, and stamina contests to see who could hold their drink better (wine or beer, in the case of the Vikings). Note too, that women participated in Viking drinking games as often as not. In many other games, they were appreciative onlookers, but they took an active part in the drinking games.
It’s unclear what the rules of Kingy Bats were, but we do know that it was a game played mostly by small children. They would stand in a circle, and pass around a stick with a ball tied to it. As the stick was passed around, the next child to take the stick had to hit the ball with it before passing the stick on.
It is assumed that if a player missed the ball with the stick, that player was “out” and thus the circle shrunk until a winner was determined, but there’s no clear evidence of this either way. The rest of the particulars of the game are a mystery.
Another game for which we have incomplete information, but what we do know of it is both fascinating and terrifying. It appears to be an early, even more violent version of ice hockey. Players were armed with sticks, and there was a ball or puck involved. The two teams would vie for control of the puck on a lined and marked field, so we can assume that there was some sort of scoring mechanism, although we don’t know exactly what it might have been.
We do know that fights often broke out in the game, with the sticks being used as weapons of convenience at least as often as they were used to actually hit the ball/puck. Intimidation on the field was also highly prized and encouraged – basically anything that would help your team retain control of the puck. Finally, we know that these games were generally all day affairs, starting early in the morning and lasting well into the evening. Whether this is because the games were played to high scores to determine a winner, or the fact that the game was delayed so frequently due to the fighting is impossible to say, but given that these are Vikings we’re talking about here, one could easily hazard a guess.
Would it surprise you to know that the Vikings also played board games? They did. In fact, archaeologists have found a number of complete boards and pieces of this particular game, which pre-dated Chess in that part of the world by centuries. We know exactly what the initial game setup looked like, but unfortunately we do not know the rules, so we can’t exactly say how it was played.
Essentially though, it was a game of asymmetrical warfare. Two teams, red and white. White represented the King, and he was surrounded by his twelve soldiers (so thirteen pieces in all). Red had twenty-four pieces, six on each side, surrounding the King in his castle.
Red’s objective was to capture the King. White’s objective was simply to survive and avoid the capture of the King.
How white ever won a game against almost twice as many pieces is not known. Perhaps the white side had greater speed and flexibility of movement, but again, we don’t know the rules of the game, so we cannot say for certain. It is nonetheless a fascinating glimpse into one of the Vikings’ intellectual pursuit.
Finally, it almost goes without saying that the Vikings spent a lot of their free time practicing martial skills. Generally, this practice took one of three forms. Wrestling, or contests of arms using practice swords, or contests to first blood using live steel. Even children participated in such contests, though in the case of children, they almost exclusively used the wooden practice weapons.
Viking men were a hot tempered lot, and any contest of arms, using live steel, even one that was ostensibly just to first blood, could easily get out of hand. There are, in fact, numerous historical accounts of Viking “games” suddenly taking a turn for the bloody, or even deadly. Such were the times they lived in.