The History Of Backgammon Game

Learn the history of ancient backgammon.

Backgammon has always been my favorite of board games but it was surprising for me to discover that the game had been around for almost five thousand years. Rather than backgammon being a recent invention, it began appearing in the Mesopotamian culture of Ur around 3,000 B.C. and archaeological digs continue to turn up board games very similar to today's fast paced and challenging game of backgammon. Backgammon in its early form is the oldest known board game in history surpassing even the game of Chess.

The travels of this gaming idea show up in both ancient India culture as well as Egyptian culture where a variation on the game called "Senat" was popular among both Egyptian aristocracy and the slave population. By the time backgammon reached early Greece, the Greeks decided to lay claim to inventing the game but it was only an adoption of their culture from earlier civilizations. In the Roman version, three dice were employed for the moves and the game was referred to as "Bac gamen" or "back game".

From Greece and Rome, the game grew in popularity finding it's way finally to Persia where it was known as "Takhteh Nard" which, roughly translated, means "Battle on Wood" and the three dice method was reduced to two by the Persian players. Then the game concept traveled into the Anglo Saxon culture by the early 7th century and, during the medieval Crusades, the game once again gained influence as a gaming activity for soldiers and traders under the name "Tables" or "Tabula". The Church attempted to outlaw the game a few times but was always unsuccessful. One did not even need a standard board to play as the board could be scratched out in dirt or sand and played with small stones. A pair of dice could also be hastily carved or painted and then abandoned or secreted in a player's home or on their person. The last attempt to outlaw what we now know as backgammon came in the early part of the 16th century from a cardinal named Woolsey. The cardinal ordered all boards burnt and declared the game "the devil's folly" but English craftsman quickly came up with the idea to fold the boards in half in a book-type arrangement to creatively disguise the board. This folded design is the standard way in which backgammon sets are made to this day proving, once again, that necessity is the mother of invention.

Known to medieval culture as "Bac gamen" or "back game", the name backgammon finally found its way into the English language in the mid 1600's and is still the name used today. The actual term "backgammon" is actually from the Welsh and translates as "wee battle". Edmund Hoyle, the famous writer and gamesman, published a work on backgammon in the mid 1700's in which he outlined the rules and documented the game's history. As backgammon found its way to America with the new settlers, it became a solid a fixture in early American homes alongside the game of Chess and other popular board games of the day. While backgammon fell from popularity during the Victorian age, it returned with a vengence in America in the early part of the 20th century and this is when the doubling cube finally appeared. The originator's name is, unfortunately, lost to history, but the doubling cube added a fresh challenge to the game and increased stakes for the victor. From there, tournament play was organized among backgammon players and strategy was enhanced and studied.

Today, backgammon continues to hold its spell over all lovers of gaming. The simple set-up of the board and stones is easier to learn than Chess yet takes more attention than Checkers. It's a fast-paced game of skill mixed with chance and a backgammon set is always a big hit as a gift item. If you haven't experienced this game, wait no longer: you'll find yourself happily addicted to playing in a very short while.

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