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Royal Game of Ur (2600 BC; British Museum)

Royal Game of Ur (2600 BC; British Museum)

Backgammon’s from older board games

Backgammon is descended from much older board games from Africa and West Asia like Senet and Tabula and Nard.

History of board games
More West Asian games
All our West Asia articles

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.

Sumer and Sumerians
When were dice invented?

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)

Backgammon in Iran

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. They were playing the same game in Egypt, too.

More about the Sassanians
Roman Egypt
Iron Age timeline

About the same time, the Roman Emperor Zeno played a very similar game in Constantinople. That’s the first evidence we have for backgammon in Europe.

Backgammon in the Middle Ages

By the Middle Ages (about 1050 AD), people were playing backgammon all across Islamic North Africa and as far as Europe. They were still playing backgammon in West Asia and Central Asia, too. Islam brought backgammon to India, and to East Africa, and across the Sahara to Chad and Mali.

Medieval Islamic games
Early African games
Medieval European games
Games in India

Backgammon and gambling

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 when he got back from his Crusade, and in the 1500s backgammon was banned in England too.

Louis IX (Saint Louis)
The Seventh Crusade

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)
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