ParseDbData($SCRIPT_FILENAME, $create_mode, "", 0); exit; ?> The History of Tabula Letum

The History of Tabula Letum

    The Viking Game, or Tablut, is a very old game.  It got it's origins in northern Europe and was played by the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Icelanders, and the Russians.  The first known reference of it is in 400 AD.  It is believed that the Vikings carried it with them as far as the British Isles, India and Persia, and Baghdad, Iraq.  The rules of the game from this era are not known because all that anybody has been able to find are various boards, pieces, and cryptic comments in old literature.  It is known, however, that the game was most commonly referred to as tafl, meaning "table".
    In 1732 Carl von Linnaeus visited Lapland and found the Lapps still playing it.  This was the first time the rules were known and is the version we know today.  The board is made up of squares with a shaded square in the middle and four shaded squares in each corner.  The king sits in the middle of the board surrounded by his defenders, and attackers are aligned on each edge of the board.  The king has to make it from his throne to one of the four shaded corners without being killed by his attackers.

     Tafl was known to be played by both men and women, and various versions of it existed in the various different countries.  Most of these versions were with just the two opposing forces, but some versions included the use of dice.  They are as follows:

Scottish:  played on a 7x7 board called Ard-Ri or "High King".  This board had a white king with eight defenders, and sixteen black attackers. 
   
Irish: also played on a 7x7 board known as Fidchell, Fitchneal, Fithcheall, and Brandubh which was played using dice. 
   
Finnish: used a 9x9 board known as Tablut, also using a white king with eight defenders, and sixteen dark attackers. 
   
Lapps: had a 9x9 board with a blond Swedish king and his eight defenders being attacked by sixteen dark Muscovites. 
   
Welsh: had an 11x11 board called Tawl Bwrdd ("Throw Board") or Tawlbyund.  This board had three shaded rows, the fourth, sixth, and eight, and a knucklebone (four sided die) was used to decide who got to move.  If you rolled an odd number you moved, if you rolled an even number you had to skip your turn.
The Welsh also had a 7x7 board known as Gwyddbwyll
   
Norse: played on both an 11x11 board and a 13x13 board.  The dark king and his twelve defenders battled against the twenty-four white attackers.  This game was known as Hnefatafl of hnefa-tafl (meaning "king’s table"). 
   
Saxons: used a 19x19 board with a white king and his twenty-four defenders and forty-eight dark attackers.  Known as Alea Evangelii, this game was influenced by a German Tafl-game.  It was set up a little differently and played with modified rules because of the board size. 
   
French: played a version called Quatre

Tafl was also played in Greenland and the Ukraine.
 

The Romans had a game that was similar, known as Ludas Latrunculorum ("The Game of Soldiers"), or Latrunculi for short.  This game was also played on various sized boards between two opposing forces.  It was first documented in 116-24 BC and played up until approximately 400 AD.  The Romans carried it to Ancient Egypt and Persia, where it was known as Nard.  (Not to be confused with an entirely different game of Nard played in the medieval times which is similar to backgammon.)  Seega, a version of this game, is still played in Persia.  It is possible that this game is a descendant of the Ancient Greek game Penta Grammai or Petteia.  There is a theory that the Celts picked up Latrunculi at Hadrian’s Wall and carried it north in approximately 200 - 300 AD.


     Earlier version of Tafl were played on intersecting lines, while later versions were played in squares like today.  In some versions dice were used to decide either if you got to move one of your pieces or how many places you could move a piece.  On the smaller boards any piece could pass over the king’s throne but only the king could sit on his throne.  On larger boards only the king could pass over or sit on his throne; also on the larger boards the king could be killed by being pinned up against the side of the board by attackers.  In some games the king could help kill pieces and in others he could not.  Usually, if the king could break through to a corner square in one move the player yells Raichi, and if it can be done in two moves the player yells Tuichi.

     Tafl was played predominantly up until approximately the eleventh century, when it was slowly replaced by Chess (skak-tafl).  By the late sixteenth century it was no longer played in Wales, and was gone from Lapland in the early eighteenth century.  It is believed that Tablut and the Persian game Shatranj were combined to create Chess.
 

Vocabulary
     Various parts of the game had their own names.  The throne, or the central shaded square, was konakis.  The king was Hnefi, Cyningstan, or Swedish King.  The smaller attacking and defending men were Hunns ("knobs"), and Taeflor or Taefelstanas ("table-men").
    Tabula Letum means "The Board Of Death".

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