The ancient Egyptian game
In ancient Egyptian archaeological sites gaming boards with 3x10 squares have been discovered expansively. In this era the game was known to the people as the ‘Game of Thirty Squares or Senet/Senat – the rules of which are not known comprehensively. Senet is one of the main contenders for being the oldest board games in the world with an earliest confirmed date at 3000BC.
Boards of 3x12 squares, 3x6 squares and other patterns have also been unearthed which could be completely different games or variants on Senet. Another well-liked Egyptian game is the ‘Game of Twenty Sqaures’ and a number of boards have been found which this game on one side and Senet on the other. Historians that specialize in games say Backgammon originates from Senet.
Backgammon is played in hundreds of countries, making it still one of the most popular games today, with people playing competitively to an international level or just for fun. Now Backgammon can be played against other lovers of the game all over the world in the comfort of your lounge via your computer with online gaming. What would the ancient Egyptians make of that?
The irregular Iranian game
Another theory as to the history of Backgammon came when Archeologists made a great gaming discovery in 2004 in the 5000-year-old ancient Iranian city of Shahr-e Sukhteh. Many now believe this to be the oldest version of Backgammon ever found instead of Senet, and this anomalous Iranian game also has a date of 3000BC. The ebony rectangular board that was found had pieces made from turquoise and agate, and dice, with an engraved serpent coiling around itself 20 times – making the 20 slots for the game rather than the 24 slots used today.
There could also have been many different rules as they used 60 pieces instead of today’s 30. The Iranian board now holds the record for the oldest complete board game ever found – taking the top spot from the Royal Game of Ur.
The Roman game
The Romans played Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, the game of the twelve lines, which also shows evidence for the history of Backgammon. It possibly originated from the Egyptian Senet game, which strengthens this historical theory.
The Roman game has a set of 3x12 points and is played with 3x6 sided dice. But the rules have not been fully established. Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum, was possibly replaced by a version of the game that had only 2 rows of 12 points, which by the 6th century was called 'Alea'. ‘Tabula’ was the term used for both these games and others – a generic name for 'boardgame'.
The Asian game
The game Nard was seen in Asia sometime before 800 AD, thought to be in South West Asia or Persia. Versions of the game are now played widely across the continent. The Chinese name for Nard is t'shu-p'u, and it is believed that it was invented in Western India. It is thought that the game arrived during the Wei dynasty in China (220-265 AD) and became a favorite of the people from 479 to 1000AD. The game became illegal in Japan during the reign of Empress Jito (690-697AD). Here the people called it Sugoroko.
It is likely Nard was brought to Europe via Italy or Spain after the Arab occupation of Sicily (902 AD). The first evidence in print that the game had been started in England was much later in The Codex Exoniensis published in 1025 and here it was called Tables. It is thought by many historians that the game was introduced to the country by men coming home from the Crusades.
The game was played across Europe in the middle ages and was especially popular in English pubs. But it was beaten in the popularity stakes in the 15th century when chess was pioneered. Tables then became the commonplace word for any game played on a flat surface by the end of the 16th century. Authorities frowned upon the game, like so many others played for cash, and laws were put into place prohibiting playing Tables in licensed buildings until the reign of Elizabeth I.
Backgammon: a modern revival
After a dwindling popularity, Backgammon saw a revival across Europe in the early 17th century, after the rules were modified, using an assortment of names that are still mostly used today. For example in England it is obviously called Backgammon, but the Scottish only call it Gammon. The French name is Tric-Trac, in Germany it is Puff, the Italians use the phrase Tavole Reale and in Israel and Arabic it is Shesh Besh.
It has been a widely debated topic by gaming historians as to where the term Backgammon originated from, whether it be from the Welsh 'back' (little) and 'gammon' (battle) or from the Saxon 'bac' (back) 'gamen' (game).
A second resurgence in popularity came prior to WW1, this then tapered off again in the middle of the 20th century only to see another revival in the 1970s and as they say, the rest is history from the popular game, which is still played in its many forms across the world. Some of the variants include Chouette, a 3 or 4 player version, Sixey-Acey and Acey Deucey.
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