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Knattleikr (English. Ball game) is an ancient ball game played by the Vikings of Iceland.

How the game was played

Today no one knows the game's exact rules but there is some information.[1]

We know that:

  • Players were divided into teams.
  • A hard ball was hit by a stick.
  • The players could also use their hands.
  • Body contact was allowed in the fight for the ball where the strongest had the best chance to win.
  • It was a spectator game, with tournaments drawing huge crowds from all over Iceland.
  • Intimidation was a vital ingredient, several wars of words have been recorded in the old sagas.
  • The game demanded so much time that it was played from morning to night.
  • There was a captain on each team.
  • There were penalties and a penalty box.

It is conjectured by some that:

  • The playing field was lined, usually played on a flat ice‐covered surface. (Though bumpy land‐based ice, svell, is mentioned too.)
  • The Vikings may have used tar and sand under the soles of their boots for traction.

The game was probably similar to the Irish sport of hurling.

Knattleikr today


Today, knattleikr is often reenacted at medieval fairs and by Norse culture enthusiasts. It is also played on some college campuses. Brandeis University, Clark University, Providence College, and Yale University in particular are known for their teams. The first annual New England intercollegiate knattleikr competition (right) was played in April, 2007[2] at Clark University between Clark's team and Brandeis.

The New England Viking reenactment group cautions that the game is dangerous and refers to the Icelandic Gragas laws that a player may leave the game at any time.[2]

Historical references

The most complete descriptions of the game are to be found in the following Icelandic sagas:

See also

  • La Soule, played by the Norsemen of Normandy and Brittany.
  • Broomball, a modern Canadian version.
  • Harpastum a Roman ball game, a word probably derived from harpago, to snatch or take by violence.
  • Cuju, a Chinese ball game originally used to prepare soldiers for battle.

Hurling or GAA


  2. 2.0 2.1 Hurstwic: Knattleikr - The Viking Ball Game William R. Short,, 2007

External links