5 Bat-and-ball Games That Predate Baseball


Sure, the Vikings are known for pillaging and plundering, but did you realize they could also be responsible for the invention of the passed ball? Admittedly, it's unlikely. But the Vikings did invent and play a bat and ball game that echoes some rules of America's pastime while still keeping the bloody, violent Viking reputation firmly in place.

Most of the mentions of Knattleikr come from Icelandic sagas and a few reports of games. Unfortunately, a lot of details aren't known. But what we do know is that Knattleikr was played with a hard ball that was hit by a stick and that using your hands was also allowed. Two opposing sides fought for the ball (which was probably hit back and forth), and the fights were often gory messes. Beleaguered Viking parents complained about their sons coming home bloody and bruised.

Just like pitchers who dread facing Josh Hamilton, players also relied on their status to daunt the opposition. They even resorted to some trash talk to puff up their game. And while it seems like baseball can sometimes last an eternity, Knattleikr could go on for days -- even when someone got so angry with an opponent they resorted to killing them, which is mentioned in the sagas. From what is told, it appears that games ended when everyone got tired -- or only one man was left standing.

Related Articles


  • BBC Bradford and Yorkshire. "Yorkshire game of 'knurr and spell' rediscovered for TV." Jan. 28, 2011. (June 28, 2012) http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/bradford/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_9379000/9379408.stm
  • Block, David and Tim Wiles. "Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game." University of Nebraska Press. 2006.
  • Broomball Sales and Development. "Knattleikr."2008. (June 28, 2012) http://www.broomball.com.au/ancienthistory.shtml
  • Dunlap, Wendi. "Stool Ball: A medieval baseball game." Slumberland.org. May 2006. (June 28, 2012) http://slumberland.org/sca/articles/stoolball.html
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Rounders." 2012. (June 28, 2012) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/510872/rounders>.
  • ESPNCricInfo.com. "A brief history of cricket." (June 28, 2012) http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/content/story/239757.html
  • Hosking, Anthony. "An Explanation of Cricket." Purdue University. Dec. 1, 2009. (June 28, 2012) http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/hosking/cricket/explanation.htm#basics
  • Hurstwic. "Knattleikr." Hurstwic.org. 2012. (June 28, 2012) http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/knattleikr.htm
  • Leodis. "A Photographic Record of Leeds." (June 28, 2012) http://www.leodis.org/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=%20Knurr%20and%20Spell&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1
  • Lidz, Franz. "Balk Like an Egyptian." Sports Illustrated. April 30, 2003. (June 28, 2012) http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/si_online/news/2003/04/30/sc/
  • Muhlberger, Steve. "Knattleikr (Viking Ball) and pre-modern games." Muhlberger's World History. Aug. 27, 2006. (June 28, 2012) http://smuhlberger.blogspot.com/2006/08/knattleikr-viking-ball-and-other-pre.htm
  • Piccione, Peter A. "Batting the Ball." University of Charleston, South Carolina. 2004. (June 28, 2012) http://piccionep.people.cofc.edu/sekerhemat.html
  • Piccione, Peter A. "Pharaoh at the Bat." College of Charleston Magazine. Spring/Summer 2003. (June 28, 2012) http://piccionep.people.cofc.edu/pharaoh_at_bat.pdf
  • Stoolball.org. "What is Stoolball?" 2012. (June 28, 2012) http://www.stoolball.org.uk/rules/what-is-stoolball/


Who Pays if You Get Smacked by a Foul Ball?

Who Pays if You Get Smacked by a Foul Ball?

Foul balls rocket into the stands, hitting fans on the way. Are MLB teams liable for injuries they might cause to fans? HowStuffWorks investigates.

More to Explore