When was backgammon invented?

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Royal Game of Ur (2600 BC; British Museum)

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.

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

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

People in Iran seem to have been playing backgammon in more or less its modern form 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.

Backgammon from the 1300s AD (medieval Switzerland)

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
More about playing cards

Bibliography and further reading about the history of board games:

Kids Around the World Play!: The Best Fun and Games from Many Lands, by Arlette N. Braman (2002). Easy reading. 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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By |2018-04-20T15:22:48+00:00June 23rd, 2017|Central Asia, Games|1 Comment
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. When was backgammon invented?. Quatr.us Study Guides, June 23, 2017. Web. December 17, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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