2. Viking sports and competitions were, unsurprisingly, incredibly violent and dangerous, with the likelihood of injury of death extremely high
Sports have been a fundamental aspect of human civilizations throughout history, with the Vikings no exception to this cultural pastime. One such known game took place in water, and can be best described as a “drowning competition”. The goal of this sport was to hold the opponent underwater for as long as possible; the Laxdæla saga details a drowning contest between Kjartan Ólafsson and King Ólafur Tryggvason, as well as between King Eysteinn and King Sigurd. Another, known as toga hönk or “tug-of-war”, involved two men facing each other and pulling on a length of rope; it is likely this competition, using similar movements and muscles to rowing, served as test of capability and strength for prospective crew. Ball games were also played by the early Vikings, of particular note Knattleikr. Described in the Gísla saga Súrssonar, Knattleikr was played every autumn at Miðfjarðarvatn and involved two teams of evenly matched players fairly ordered by strength; these teams engaged one another in full-contact, attempting to gain possession of the ball for an unknown purpose.
Even wrestling, a recurrent contest of strength in many early civilizations, was more brutal in Viking society. The sport of “Glíma” was fought in a wrestling field which contained a “fanghella“: a flat stone upon which one could break opponents back; the Kjalnesinga saga details a match between King Búi and an unknown opponent, wherein Búi wore a special jacket – fangastakkur – which protected him from having his spine shattered on the rock and allowed him to win. Similarly, the aftermath of eating a meal was, inexplicably, turned into a violent sport: hnútukast. In hnútukast participants threw bones from the meal at each other with the goal of causing injury; the Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss details a game of hnútukast in which Gestur threw a bone at Glámur, hitting him in the eye and causing it to fall out of the socket onto his cheek.