History of Backgammon Link to heading

An overview of the ancestors of backgammon

Donate

Introduction Link to heading

The history of backgammon spans nearly 5,000 years. This article describes some of the ancestors of backgammon and the traits they share in common with backgammon as it is played today.

Royal Game of Ur (c. 2600 BC) Link to heading

Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur is a board game where two players race to the finish. The game was popular in its time, as boards have been found in countries far away from its home of Mesopotamia.

The game gets its name from its discovery at the Royal Cemetary at Ur around the 1920s-1930s. A Babylonian clay tablet from c. 200 BC provides an incomplete description of the gameplay.

Over time, the game took on a deeper meaning to some of the people who played it. The events and results of a game were believed by some to be messages or omens from the gods.

royalur.net allows playing this ancient game using a web browser.

Ludus duodecim scriptorum (c. 1 BC) Link to heading

Ludus duodecim scriptorum

Ludus duodecim scriptorum, or “game of 12 markings”, is a board game that was played during the Roman Empire. We don’t know much about this game other than it had three rows of spaces, three cubic dice were used and each player had 15 checkers.

Nard (c. AD 300) Link to heading

Nard

Nard is a Persian game remarkably similar to modern backgammon, although it has a different opening position. Similarities include the the layout of the board, hitting checkers and requiring hit checkers to be re-entered onto the board.

Tabula (c. AD 500) Link to heading

Tabula

Tabula originated in Greece, and the earliest known description of the game is from the Byzantine emperor Zeno. He describes a particularly unfortunate dice roll which resulted in greatly weakening his position. Tabula likely evolved from the removal of the middle row of spaces from ludus duodecim scriptorum.

Tabula is a supported bgammon.org variant, and a bot is always available to play against.

Irish (c. AD 1500) Link to heading

Irish

Irish is the nearest ancestor to backgammon, with only minor differences to the modern game. It is therefore easier to describe Irish in terms of its differences: the opening position varied slightly from the opening position of backgammon, rolling doubles did not grant a player extra moves and a win was always worth a single point.

-Trevor Slocum 2024/01/15