Making a glass Alea Evangelii set, as based on finds in Continental Europe

Alea Evangelii is an Anglo-Saxon variant of Hneftal and is believed by some to be the only board game played by the Anglo-Saxons.

The core information for this varient comes from the manuscript is C.C.C. Oxon. 122 which is a Gospel Book in an Irish hand, with a few notes in Irish, listed to the 12th Century , although some scolars claim a 11th century date for it.

The manuscript is thus described in H.O. Coxe, Catalogus Codicum MSS. qui in
Collegiis Aulisque Oxoniensibus hodie adservantur (Oxford, 1852)

This sources uses an Alea Evangelii board as a concordance to the Gospels.
The text relating to Alea Evangelii reads:

Incipit Alea Evangelii, quam Dubensi episcopus Bennchorensis detulit a rege
Angelorum, id est a domu Adalstani regis Angelorum, depicta a quodam
Francone et a Romano sapiente, id est Israel.

Si quis voluerit scire hanc aleam plene, illi ante omnia hujus discipline
documenta hec .VII. scire animo necesse est: duces scilicet et comites,
propugnatores et impugnatores, civitatem et civitatulam, et .IX. gradus bis.

(Alea Evangelii, the game of the Gospel, which Dubensi bishop of Bangor
brought away from the King of the Anglish, that is, from the house of
Athelstan king of the English; depicted by a certain Frank and a Roman
sage, that is, Israel. If anyone would know this game fully, before all the lessons of this
teaching he must thoroughly know these seven: to wit, dukes and counts,
defenders and attackers, city and citadel, and nine steps twice over.)

It is clear from the manuscript that the game as recorded has been Christianised for the purposes or explaining a complex interlectual point and unfortunatly as such the playing rules of they games are lost to us.

However scholars of Tafl type games, recognise this as one of the family. And have extrapolated rules for it, which are briefly summarised below:

1. This game is played on the points of the board

2. All pieces move like chess rooks.

3. You capture by moving a men, so that the captured piece is trapped between two of yours on a line.

4. The king is captured by surrounding him with four men.

5. The king wins if he breaks the siege (ie by reaching the lighthouses or citadels- of which there are 4 , four at each corner). This is usually achieved by surrounding him with his men.

6. The game is played on a board with 18 x 18 squares, the pieces are placed on the intersections, effectively giving a board 19 x 19.

7. There are 20 defenders and 52 attackers

Like all Tafl games Alea Evangelii is weighted in favour of the attackers, and from historical writings of these games it is quite clear that the intention of such games was to increase the awareness of strategy within a warrior cast, to the extent that it was expected that one learn such games from childhood and by adulthood one was extremely proficient in strategic planning. That is not to say women did not play such games. Clearly they did ,and are recorded doing so. This falls quite neatly into the postulation of a third, non sex related gender as envisaged in particular when reading the Icelandic sagas.

With the Christianisation and literary recording of Tafl games much or the original symbolism is lost, but in general the pieces on another level represent good against evil, either expressed in a pre Christianised format or under Christian lore.

Alea Evangelii is believed to represent a Sea battle, and is one of the more difficult Tafl games and the weighting is heavily biassed. Never-the-less for anyone keen on games for strategy this is one of the most enjoyable in it's challenge.

C.C.C. Oxon. 122 suggest there may have been further uncaputurable pieces.

The set constructed is with pieces made from lampworked glass, and shape and design of which is based on various European finds of similar pieces, the most notable and the basis for this set is the King pieces and others from Birka

This shows a strong likelihood of Tafl games being played with glass pieces. The board includes a grid for Alea Evangelii and on the reverse is a Byzantine chess board.

Few boards are recovered and the author is not aware of any extant Alea Evangelii boards. This in the main is due to the material of construction, which is most often wood and thus has a low survivability.

The board, is constructed of wood.

The grid is pained onto the wood and the citadels and other pieces marked to defined pattern. Due to the authors wish that other can play the game and the difficulty in remembering how to set up complex games, the board has been created to show 19 squares rather than 19 lines, in order that the start positions can easily be seen.

For the pieces I chose amber and white coloured glass and colbolt blue and white, these are colours often seen together in Anglo-Saxon Pagan bead forms.

The equipment required was a gas lampworking torch, mandrels, beads release and a graphite paddle.

The pieces were made by first making stringers in white. This is done by puling heated glass rods to the desired thickness ready to decorate the pieces. The base colour rod , either blue or amber is then heated and wound onto the end of a pre coated mandrel, the glass is built up to the desired amount and is continually heated whilst being twirled in the flame until it is well rounded. The piece is then cooled slightly and the while stringer applied in a spiral pattern. The whole is placed back in the flame until the pattern is flush with the surface and then the bas of the piece is flattened with the graphite mandrel. The piece is cool to lose of glow point and then placed in vermiculite for 24 hours to cool.

After cooling the piece is soaked in hot water for half an hour until it can be released from the mandrel and then removed. The base of the piece is then sanded completely flat. This was repeated for all the pieces except the King piece which was made at a longer variant. After the pattern was flush with the surface the head was formed by rolling the piece along the sharp edge of the graphite paddle, cooling was the fairly rapid in order that definition was not lost with further flow.

In period this method would be followed except that a charcoal furnace would have been utilised and the mandrels would most likely to have been salt coated as a release in which case it is normal practice to remove the pieces from the mandrel whilst still hot.

Unfortunately no information on the bases of the extant pieces has been forthcoming. It is therefore debatable as to whether pieces were formed on a mandrel. The alternative method would be to work the glass on a glass rod. The methodology of construction would be easy to deduce on sight and handling of the pieces, if a small hole on the base was either present or not.

The next challenge is to become familiar with the strategy of the game, which is undoubtedly complex and a good training field for warfare !


Bell, R. C., Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations, Dover, New York (NY), (1979)

Carlson, Dan, Viking Beads from Fojel Port of Trade, ArkoDok; Visby, Sweden, )2002),

Carlson, Dan per comm (2003)

Kaplan, Margaret L.. The History of Beads,

from 30,000 B.C. to the Present. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, New York, (1987)

Kervin, James More than You Ever Wanted to Know About Glass Beadmaking, Glasswear Studios, Livermore, CA, (1999)

Murray, H. .J. .R., A History of Boardgames Other than Chess, Hacker, New York (NY), 1978

Sibylle Jargstorf, Glass Beads from Europe, Lchiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen PA (1995).

The World of the Vikings, York Archaeological Trust and the National Museum of Denmark, Past and Forward Limited.

Helmfrid, Sten, Hnefatafl - the Strategic Board Game of the Vikings, Web site by Sten Helmfrid.

Gram-Campbell, The Cultural Atlas of the Viking World, Andromeda Oxford Limited, Oxfordshire, England (1994)

Robinson, J. Armitage. The Times of St. Dunstan. Oxford: Clarendon. (1923). (accessed 10-10-2003) (accessed 10-10-2003) (accessed 10-10-2003)