Oxford 2005 Colloquium

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Board Game Studies Colloquium VIII


Ulrich Schadler and Anne Elizabeth Vaturi


Until recently the history of the family of backgammon games could be traced back to ancient Rome on the one hand and to ancient India on the other. The Romans played a game called 'Ludus duodecim scriptorum' ('game of 12 points') already in the 2nd century BC. About the same time the game of the 'Ļaras', different from the Roman game but seemingly presenting other affinities to the backgammon games, was known in India.

In 2000, the floodwaters of the Halil River in the southeastern iranian province of Kerman uncovered the gravesites of Jiroft. Thousands of offerings, mainly chlorite vessels, were removed from tombs dating to the end of the third millennium BC. Among the spectacular finds, are two types of board games.

One is identical in structure to the Roman ones: it consists of three rows of 12 cells divided in the middle into two groups of six. Although until today neither counters nor dice seem to have been found, it can be no doubt that with these boards dating to about 2000 BC the history of backgammon is twice as old as hitherto known. This group of games therefore becomes the oldest game board still living.

The other boards reported from Jiroft are different examples of the game of twenty squares, spread in Mesopotamia (Royal Game of Ur) and ancient Iran (Shar-i Sokhta, Susa) since the mid-third millennium B.C. The artefacts from Kerman, chlorite plaques in the shape of snakes, scorpions, and eagles, renew our knowledge of this ancient game, especially in terms of iconography.

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