Origins of Backgammon in History

It is always mentioned that backgammon is an ancient game. Just how ancient is it?

The earliest board game found related to backgammon and, therefore, thought to be its precursor was Senet. Also called Thirty Squares, it was a board game played in Egypt in 3500 BC. Several types of Senet boards have been unearthed, with 18, 30 or 36 squares arranged in three rows.

The oldest backgammon set, however, including a rectangular ebony board, 60 checker-like pieces and dice, were found near present-day Iran. They date back to 3000 BC, in what was then called Shahr-I Sokhta or the Burnt City.

In 2600 BC, the Sumerians of Ur in Mesopotamia played what is now dubbed the Royal Game of Ur after its discovery in the Sumerian Royal Tombs. Even more interesting is that some double-sided game boards were found with the Royal Game of Ur on one side and Senet on the other. This not unlike the multi-game boards we have today, with backgammon on one side and a chess/checkers board on the other.

In 1500 BC, the Egyptians and the Persians played a board game also very similar to backgammon. Board games and paintings of people playing the game have been found, dating back to that age.

In 8 AD, the Romans played a game called Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum or The Game of Twelve Lines, with many similarities to both Senet and backgammon. Its leather board had three rows with twelve points each. There were six points on each side of the bisecting bar. There were 15 ebony and 15 ivory markers and three dice.

Around 54 AD, the Romans were already enamored with Tabulae, an evolution of Ludus that brought the game even closer to backgammon. The board was reduced to 24 points, the checkers were moved in opposing directions and the goal was to be the first player to bear off all checkers. Both Tabulae and Ludus were spread by the Romans across Europe.

Around 300-500 AD, the Babylonian Talmud began mentioning a game called Nardschir or Takhteh Nard, meaning Battle on Wood. It would become known as Nard. Its board was similar to Tabulae but the pieces were already arranged in the same starting pattern as today's backgammon and two dice were used. Solo pieces were open to be hit and also had to re-enter the game.

It seems that versions of Ludus, Tabulae and Nard spread far and wide across Europe and the Orient. Italy had Tavola Reale and Spain had Tablas Reales, meaning Royal Tables. France had Jeux de Tables then Le Trictrac, and Germany had Puff. China had T'Shu-p'u and Japan had Sugoroku, both using round boards.

Finally, in 1645, the word backgammon was first recorded by James Howell in his Familiar Letters. It is believed to have been coined from the word "back" and "gamen" which was an English word of the time that meant play.

In the 1700s, backgammon reached America.In 1967, the first ever World Championship of Backgammon was held in Las Vegas, USA.

With contributions from various cultures and countries throughout the ages, the backgammon game we play today is truly a global heritage.