Have you ever wondered why virtually all Hnefatafl setups are shaped in a form of a four-direction pointing cross surrounded by attackers? The answer has been proposed by the Henfatafl grandmaster, Adam Bartley, in 2015 in a post on the Aage Nielsen Hnefatafl Forum. He proposed that Hnefatafl represents a siege of the Viking Ring Fortress, where the king and his defenders are trying to escape from the fortress and the attackers are trying to capture the king.
Viking Trelleborg Fortress at Slagelse, Denmark. Note the circular rampart, ditch, and buildings. Photo: Anne-Christine Larsen.
There are 7 known Viking Ring Fortresses that have been identified to date, located in Denmark and Sweden. The most famous one being The Trelleborg Fortress at Slagelse, Denmark. All ring fortresses are circular in shape with roads and gates pointing in the four cardinal directions, north, south, east, and west. When the fortress is surrounded all attackers have to block all of the four gates to prevent escape from the inside the fortress.
Viking Fyrkat Fortress at Hobro, Denmark. Note the circular rampart, ditch, and buildings. Photo: Esben Schlosser Mauritsen.
Adam Bartley overlayed Hnefatafl setups over the photo of the Trelleborg Fortress and the layout matches perfectly.
Overlay of Hnefatafl – Alea Evangelii Setup onto the Viking Trelleborg Fortress Aerial View Photo by Adam Bartley.
Overlay of Hnefatafl – Tawlbwrdd Setup onto the Viking Trelleborg Fortress Aerial View Photo by Adam Bartley.
So next time you play Hnefatafl remember that it is not just an abstract game, it is a reenactment of a Viking siege of a Ring Fortress.