Linné statue
Linné statue in Skansen, Stockholm. Photo: Sandra Simpson.
Tablut 9x9 board
Tablut drawn by Linné 1732.

Summary on the Saami Tablut.

The ancient board game Hnefatafl was invented in Scandinavia in the Iron Age and played by Iron Age people and later by the Vikings and people everywhere in Europe where Vikings came. From about 400 AD till about 1000 AD, where chess arrived to Europe and to Scandinavia and many switched over to chess. But in outer corners of Europe such as Ireland, Wales and Lapland, the hnefatafl game survived for hundreds of years more, then died out.

For hundreds of years the rules were believed lost and forgotten, until the botanist Carl von Linné 1732 saw Saamis in Lapland play an unknown board game and wrote down the rules in his diary. The game turned out to be Hnefatafl, by Saamis called Tablut. The game was never seen live again. Fragmented and deficient descriptions of tafl have also been found in Ireland, Wales and Iceland, but the best documented tafl game is, thanks to Linné's diary, "Tablut".

Many attempts have been done, based on the Linné diary, to reconstruct the Hnefatafl rules. The diary is in Latin mixed with a few Swedish words, and since of course Latin was a foreign language to young Linné (25 years old), it has not been quite a simple task to interpret the text.

Pages from the Linné diary (sent by Jonas Lööf "conanlibrarian", Germany):
Linné diary.
and sent by Olli Salmi:
Linné diary 1.
Linné diary 2.
Linné diary 3.

1972 Swedish historians attempted a reconstruction of Tablut for the Riksutstälningar, it became the version which is now used in the Foteviken Museum. Our test tournaments found the game balance to be 16 defenders' wins per 10 attackers' wins.
More about the Foteviken version here.

1992 a Danish archaeologist attempted a reconstruction for his book "Board and Piece, Games in the Iron Age". Unfortunately it does not work so well, our test tournaments showed 38 attackers' wins per 10 defenders' wins.
The king must in this version go to a corner, in contradiction to the Linné rules, perhaps inspired by the Ockelbo runestone, and the board size is increased to 11x11.
We call this version "Skalk Hnefatafl 11x11", because the book was published by the Danish Skalk publishing house Wormianum, the hnefatafl chapter from the book was also published in the archaeological magazine Skalk, and Skalk sells a Hnefatafl game with these rules enclosed.
See more here.
The Swedish company Expomedia for its educational PC program turned the board size back into Linné's 9x9 but kept the win in corner. The balance improved but was still not good, our test tournaments showed 18 attackers' wins per 10 defenders' wins.

August 2010 John C. Ashton, Chicago, USA, published a paper about reconstruction attempts done since 1913. Ashton also attempted a reconstruction of his own, which unfortunately does not work too well.
But the paper is thorough work and can be read here.

November 2011 Nicolas Cartier, France, inspired from the Ashton paper, did a reconstruction which turned out to work very well. Except for a couple of very small details it is a Skalk Hnefatafl edge 9x9.
Read Cartier's paper here (in French).
And the Cartier rules here (in English).
And a forum note here.

December 2011 Jonas Lööf ("conanlibrarian"), a Swede in Germany, reached a result very nearly the same as Cartier's.
Read Lööf's translation of the Linné rules here.

December 2013 the Finnish linguist Olli Salmi did a very thorough translation of the Linné rules:
Aage Nielsen, Denmark, placed the four translations of Salmi, Ashton, Cartier and Troilius side by side for comparing:
This work confirmed the "Skalk Hnefatafl edge 9x9" to be the Saami game Tablut. Cartier and Lööf had come to the exact same result except for a couple of very small and unimportant details, and they've agreed to the following interpretation and reconstructed rules also:

See the Historical Hnefatafl rules here.

This reconstruction works very well; our test tournaments show 121 attackers' wins per 100 defenders' wins.

Saami Tablut
Saami Tablut game pieces drawn by Mikkel Berg-Nordlie, Sápmi / Norway.

More about the Saami Tablut in our forum.
Test tournament.

Update Aug. 4, 2021:
If in Saami Tablut 9x9 white begins, then the game balance becomes +1.09, which is better.
When black begins, the game balance is -1.21.

Papers on Saami Tablut.

John C. Ashton in USA did an interesting analysis directly from one of the historical sources, the Latin diary of Carl von Linné from his excursion to Lapland in Sweden, 1732, where Linné found and described the Lappish board game called Tablut, a descendant of the at that time lost Viking game Hnefatafl. Ashton suspected the Hnefatafl game rules in Anglo-American countries to be erroneous due to a chain of translation errors and misunderstandings. Therefore Ashton started over again with a fresh translation of the Latin text of Linné.
The research paper and findings of John C. Ashton were published in the journal The Heroic Age,
read the paper, Linnaeus's Game of Tablut and its Relationship to the Ancient Viking Game Hnefatafl, here.
John C. Ashton's paper was demanded reduced to half length before publication in the games magazine. The original, full paper is much more informative and can be found here, with Ashton's kind permission.

Nicolas Cartier, France, wrote this paper on Tablut in French and permitted it to be published here.
The tablut rules deducted by Nicolas Cartier, translated into English.

Jonas Lööf ("conanlibrarian"), a Swede in Germany, translated the Linné tablut rules from Latin here.

The Finnish linguist Olli Salmi translated the Linné tablut rules from Latin here.

Aage Nielsen, Denmark, placed the four translations of Salmi, Ashton, Cartier and Troilius side by side for comparing:

Since Nicolas Cartier is the first I know of, who asserted these rules to be the historical Saami Tablut by November 2011, I asked him to tell a bit about his background:
Je suis professeur des écoles et titulaire d'une maîtrise d'histoire médiévale.
Quand j'ai rédigé cet article, je pensais juste partager mes réflexions sur les règles du tablut.
En effet, je me suis intéressé très jeune aux sagas islandaises et aux eddas. Le jeu du tafl y était souvent mentionné. Je me suis documenté sur ce jeu et sur le tablut. En jouant à ce dernier, je remarquais des défauts et des points à éclaircir dans les règles.
En cherchant sur internet, je découvrais votre site et les articles de Helmfrid, Bayless et Ashton . En lisant ce dernier, j'appris que la traduction issue du livre de Murray était incomplète. C'est ainsi je fis ma propre traduction du texte.
J'ai ensuite rédigé mon article et je vous l'ai transmis. Cet article n'a jamais été publié dans une revue, mon objectif était de partager avec des passionnés de tablut.
Depuis ces dix dernières années, j'ai observé que la recherche avait progressé sur le tablut et je suis fier d'avoir apporté ma pierre à l'édifice.
Je travaille près de Limoges au centre de la France.
February 2019 I was made aware of an article in the Belgian magazine Histoire et Images Medievales from February-March-April 2012, "La Famille du Hnefatafl", which also champions these Tablut rules based on information from this website, which at that time presented the works of Ashton, Cartier (and Lööf).
The Belgian article is on the internet here: La Famille du Hnefatafl

Updated 14.2.2024
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