The Völuspá, from my understanding, is where it mentions the aftermath of Ragnarök. In it, they talk of the chess game where they find golden pieces of the "dead" gods and then use them to play a game of chess.

Where did Snorri get this idea of Chess, and why did he think they would be playing a chess game after Ragnarok?

I'm asking this because the game of chess seems to be introduced rather late in Europe, maybe a century or so after eddas?

I just find this a bit confusing. To me, it seems a little out of context. Or could the chess game be a different game, similar to chess, that we don't have a translation for?


It's most certainly your translation that is a bit free.

In the original, the passage you are referring to talks about "gullnar tǫflur", 'golden tables' (stanza 58 in Codex Regius, 54 in Hauksbok; this line is the same in both, despite some other minor variations in the stanza). These are likely the same tables that are mentioned in stanza 8, where the idyllic life of the Aesir in the new creation is outlined.

While Chess seems to have reached Europe from the Middle east during the Viking age, and the Vikings are recorded as having direct contact with the Muslim world, there is a better candidate in a set of games the Norse played, known as Tafl or Hnefatafl, another two-player strategic game without any luck component. It could also be some other game that we do not know as much about.

Finally, while Snorri would almost certainly have known about chess, he had nothing to do with writing the Völuspá; his Edda is an instruction book in poetry and mythology, which sometimes quotes from older works. Völuspá is such an older work, included in the medieval compilations that later were standardised and given the same title that Snorri had used for his work.


Here is Sophus Bugges edition of the Völuspá, containing parallel text from three different sources. Blackwell's translation from 1906, from project Gutenberg, might be dated, but one can see that he uses "tables" as the translation.

  • Of the three translations I have, Andy Orchard says "board-games", Carolyne Larrington says "chequers". and Lee Hollander says "draughts". Tafl is the most likely contender, but as andejons says, we can't know for sure.
    – solsdottir
    Mar 27 '18 at 22:36

I just did some digging on the same, after listening to Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology which similarly to the text you read.

I came across an article by Sigurd Grieg in Norsk Sjakblad from 1936 which roughly translated is headed "Chess and other boardgames in Norway during the Viking and Middle Ages". I'm not going to recapitulate the entire thing here (though if you can read Norwegian I highly recommend it), but just summarize a couple of the main points which relate to question asked.

About the aftermath of Ragnarok it, like the other answer here, quotes Völuspá and only describe the playing pieces as golden without referencing a game. It also mentions two other poems where boardgames are mentioned, Rígsþula from the Poetic Edda, and a poem relating to Þorbjörn Hornklofi which I assume is either Glymdrápa or more likely Haraldskvæði. The latter is a composite poem, with parts written by Thorbjørn Hornklov and other parts attributed to Tjodolf from Kvine og Audunn Illskælda.

In Rigsthula board games are described as a pastime of nobles, while in the other poem the hirdmen of Harald Fairhair are playing dice outside his hall. As far as I can tell there is no mention of chess being played anywhere in the skaldic poetry.

With regards to knowledge of chess in the Viking Age the article states that chess came to Spain from North Africa in 1000s, from where it quickly spread to the rest of Europe, and that it was particularly popular among the nobility and clergy. It further states that one of the oldest chess sets discovered in Europe was found on the Hebridees in 1831 and is dated to the early 1200s. Based on the clothing depicted on the pieces it is clear that they were carved on either Iceland or in Norway, indicated that chess was well known in these regions by then. However this is ~150 years after the Viking Age, so it doesn't give any indication of whether the Vikings were playing it.

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