Anglo-Saxon SportsThis is a featured page


Swimming was a popular sport, both to compete in and to watch, and it seems according to texts that it was considered quite fair to try and drown your opponent. Some of the heroes in the sagas are even said to have competed in swimming competitions whilst wearing their armour. (This is possible. We have tried it with the tunic, trousers and shoes, as well as wearing a mail shirt. The effect is to place your body in a more legs down position in the water. This makes for tiresome swimming, and we found that the Breast stroke was the only really viable way to swim.) Competitions of underwater endurance were also held - perhaps these were all the more dramatic for wearing a mail shirt?

Running, often carrying a load (particularly arms and armour), jumping, skiing, skating and horse racing were also popular sports. Tests of physical strength such as weight lifting (using boulders as the weights) were enjoyed. There are boulders in Iceland that have historical significance as having been the stones mentioned in the sagas. Rock climbing and other tests of agility and endurance were also popular.

Wrestling was widely participated in. The simplest form of this sport was for the wrestlers to take hold of each other's arms or waists as best they could, and using the strength of their arms to throw each other off their feet and onto their backs. The wrestlers often took off their tunics in order to be more free and agile, and to avoid getting their entire wardrobe ruined. Sometimes wrestling took place as a team event, with one member of each team fighting one member of the other team in turn. A more difficult form of wrestling was that of grappling, and attacking each other (sometimes fastened together by a belt at the waist) according to particular rules, and by systematic turnings and gripping movements, seeking to bring each other to the ground. These wrestling matches occasionally ended in fatalities and on lesser occasions, just the odd broken or dislocated limb.(1)


*(Pig's) knuckles
There were many different board games played, some of which are still played today in one form or another such as 'nine man's morris', 'backgammon' and 'fox and geese'. Other board games, called 'Hnaftafl' and the like, which are less well known today were also played. More details about 'Hnaftafl', dice and riddling can be found on or web page 'games'. Apart from the huge variety of dice games, there were many games of dextrous skill such as knucklebones. These Knucklebones were used we think in the same fashion as 'Jacks' are today. The rules are fairly simple. One knuckle is balanced on the back of your wrist. This is then flung up in the air, another is snatched off the floor, and with the same hand , the two are caught in the palm. Then two knuckles are placed on the back of the wrist and so on. The knuckles are in fact astragalus's from a pig, stripped of all the meat and fat.
One other game that was always thought to have arrived post the Anglo-Saxon and Viking period is Chess. The famous Isle of Lewis Chess set, which is in fact several incomplete chess sets made from Walrus Ivory, is dated to the 12th century AD due to the art style on some of the pieces. This not necessarily in dispute. However, chessmen and sets are now coming to light from Eastern Europe, that are firmly dated to the 10th century AD, that are made from similar materials. With the vast amount of trade and political movement, such as Edward the Confessors banishment to Hungary during the later medieval period, it would seem likely that the game was known in this country. It has yet to be proved in any way with finds though.[2]

More Pastimes/Games
Anglo Saxons would whittle wood or decorate bone and antlers. These were there ways of having fun. Wealthy women found embroidery entertaining and took great interest in embroiding wall hangings. These women would embroid "oprheys". They were clerical vestments that they claimed were "good for their souls". The Anglo Saxons were known for their sewing and it was known throughout Europe. Juggling was a pastime that many warriors took up. The warriors juggled knives. Another pastime was having dogs jump over poles, thier form of exercise. [3]


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