Tracing the Roots of Backgammon

As its legions of followers would attest, there are few board games that can equal Backgammon in terms of pace and strategic planning. While the game is endlessly fascinating, no less so is the history of Backgammon, and its evolution.

While the origin of other board and card games are difficult to establish, the same, fortunately, cannot be said of Backgammon. The reason is that its concept is basic; although the regulations have evolved, the fundamental rule (moving pieces on a board with a dice or similar object) has remained constant.

This makes it easy to determine which games are derived from it and which played a role in shaping the history of Backgammon.

When speaking of the archaeological evidence, the earliest evidence for a game of this kind dates back to c.3,500 BC, with the remains of am Egyptian board game called Senat (Game of Thirty Squares). However, while the artifacts recovered with the board suggest a game with checker like pieces, it is still unclear how the game was played, so its role in Backgammon history cannot be ascertained.

In the Sestan province in southern Iran, archaeologists have unearthed in the royal palaces a board game similar to Backgammon. Along with the board were 60 pieces and a cube shaped object, strongly reminiscent of the modern game. Dated c.2,600, it is almost from the same period as that of Leonard Woosley's discovery of a similar kind in the royal homes of Ur.

That these games were played by royalty can also be proven by the fact that the tomb of Tutankhamen was filled with similar artifacts. However, some later Egyptian paintings depicted the common people playing the game, suggesting that as time went by, these precursors or variants of Backgammon became commonplace.

During Roman times, the development of Backgammon can be traced back to a game called Ludus Duodecim. It was played on a board with 15 pieces, and a space (the bar) separated it. Later on, the game was replaced with the Tabulae. It was very popular and spread throughout Rome and the conquered lands, including Britain.

In Britain the game became known as Tables, and with it the modern history of backgammon is said to begin. The Crusades helped further spread the game throughout Europe and elsewhere.

While the game has undergone numerous rule changes and innovations, the basic concepts that have endeared it to players for thousands of years still, and always swill remain.