Origin of Backgammon


Backgammon is one of the oldest games in existence, alongside Go and Chess. It is probably about 5,000 years old and may well have originated in what today is Iraq — previously Mesopotamia. Recent evidence supporting this was found when these very early dice (made of human bones) were discovered in the area.

The board with its twenty-four points and thirty checkers (or pieces or men) has been around for a long time but the game has not always been called backgammon. Other games which used the same board were Senet and Mancala. The Romans were the first to make it truly popular with their version called “Duodecum Scripta et Tabulae” or “Tables” for short.

The word backgammon first appeared in print in 1645. No one knows for sure where the name came from, but most scholars agree that in all likelihood it comes from the Middle English baec = back and gamen = game.

Backgammon appears consistently in art throughout the second millennium, most famously in “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch and “The Triumph of Death” by Pieter Brueghel. Quite frequently it appears in tavern scenes and often there is a brawl going on — I wonder why that could be? Here it is in Steen’s “Backgammon Fight”:

The game continued to be played throughout the latter stages of the last millennium but it had constant battles with authorities and the church who wanted to ban it because of the gambling element — not too dissimilar to some areas of the world today, particularly since America brought in its crass and ludicrous Internet gambling laws.

However by the early 1920’s the game was losing its appeal. In the Roaring Twenties in New York City the games were just taking too long to play and it was difficult to wager (and therefore win) large amounts of money.

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