When was backgammon invented?

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History of Backgammon

Royal Game of Ur
Royal Game of Ur (2600 BC; British Museum)

Backgammon is descended from much older board games from Africa and West Asia like Senet and Tabula and Nard. It's probably most closely related to the Royal Game of Ur, played in Sumer and in Shahr-i Sokhta (in modern Iran) about 3000 BC.

men play backgammon while women play checkers
Central Asian men play backgammon while
the women play checkers (?)
(Timurid, ca. 1400 AD)

Backgammon in more or less its modern form seems to have been played in Iran by the time of the Sassanid Empire, about 500 AD. About the same time, the Roman Emperor Zeno played a very similar game in Constantinople. By the Middle Ages (about 1050 AD), people were playing backgammon in Europe as well as in West Asia and Central Asia.

Medieval backgammon
Backgammon from the 1300s AD (medieval Switzerland)

From Afghanistan to England, people used backgammon as a gambling game, betting money on rolls of the dice. To Europeans, this gambling seemed like a bad idea. King Louis IX banned backgammon in France for a while, and in the 1500s backgammon was banned in England too. In the Middle Ages, many Europeans thought playing this new foreign game of backgammon was a waste of time and would lead you to a bad life, just the way some people think of video games today.

A project making a backgammon board
More about Chess

Bibliography and further reading about the history of board games:

Kids play
Kids Around the World Play!: The Best Fun and Games from Many Lands, by Arlette N. Braman (2002). For kids. There are lots of ancient games in here too, even though the title doesn't say so.

Chinese games (Go)
Indian games (Chutes and Ladders)
Egyptian games (Dice)
Islamic games (Polo and Chess)
North American games
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Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated September 2015.

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