What Viking Game Amleth Plays In The Northman

Fjölnir and Thórir force Amleth to play a Viking game in Robert Eggers’ The Northman and there is a real story behind the ball game still played today.

Warning: this article contains spoilers for The man from the north.

Amleth is forced to play a bizarre and brutal sport in The man from the northand there is a real story behind the game. The man from the north is a Viking epic from visionary director Robert Eggers (The witch, Lighthouse) with a stellar cast that includes Alexander Skarsgård, Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke. Throughout his filmography, Robert Eggers crafts his stories with meticulous historical detail to immerse audiences in the worlds he creates – the game played in The man from the north is one of those details.

In the film, while Amleth poses as a slave on his uncle Fjölnir’s farm, he is forced to participate in a ball game. The game consists of two teams of five players, each player with their own stick. Sticks are used to fight opposing players and to hit a hard ball against the opposing post. It would appear that the objective is to kick the ball against the opponent’s post until either team reaches a winning score or time runs out. In The man from the northhowever, the game played by Alexander Skarsgård’s character does not reach a definite conclusion as Fjölnir’s youngest son breaks off to collect the ball and is kicked by Thorfinnr (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson of The iron Throne.) The game ends and Amleth comes to the boy’s rescue, beating Thorfinnr to a pulp.

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Like so many other aspects of Eggers’ films, the sport is based on historical evidence and is called knattleikr (resulting in “ball gameOriginally played by the Vikings of Iceland, the ball game has been referenced in many Icelandic sagas, such as the Grettis and Eglis sagas. Eggers and his co-author, the Icelandic poet and novelist Sjón, have done extensive research on the sagas. The man from the north the characters of the film and the construction of the world; the scene was probably included due to the many references to knattleikr in older sagas. Knattleikr shares similarities with other ancient ball games, such as the Roman game harpist and soul, a game played by the men of Normandy and Brittany, and therefore probably inspired by knattleikr. The recorded game rules generally match well with the version Eggers put on camera, and the game is even practiced to this day.



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Due to the incompleteness of many historical texts of Norse cultures, to this day, no one knows the exact rules of knattleikr. The fundamentals are that games are divided into teams, each with a captain. The ball can be picked up with the hands or hit with a player’s stick. The brutality of the knattleikr game in The man from the north is also historically correct, as violence and intimidation were key aspects of the game. In some sagas, the game was played on a doubled playing field; however, some say it was often played on an ice-covered surface, such as frozen ponds, which would add another layer of danger to the sport. Due to Eggers’ dedication to realism, having his actors perform on such a surface may have been deemed too risky.


Knattleikr is still performed today by reenactment groups and various American colleges, such as Yale University. Nowadays, the game is considered a spectator sport, as it was in Iceland in the 10th century and in The man from the north. In Iceland, the game was often played from dawn to dusk, and some re-enactment groups adopt these rules by ending the game either when all the beer has been drunk or when only one player remains standing. In The man from the north, after his fight with Thorfinnr, Amleth is the last man standing, which aligns with these modern rules. In the end, most of the Laws of the Game were lost over time, but Eggers put on a show of knattleikr nonetheless, and the scene was another demonstration of his concern for historical accuracy.


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