Looking into the past

Backgammon is a popular board game especially meant for two players. It derived its name from the word “back” and a Middle English term “gamen” which means “game” or “play.” The earliest use of the word was in 1650 as documented by the Oxford English Dictionary.

The game is played by moving pieces or checkers according to the roll of a dice and the winner gets to remove all his pieces from the board. A member of the tables family of games, backgammon is actually a race and a player must come up with his own tactic to win. A player can choose from numerous options for moving his or her checkers at each roll of the dice and must be aware of possible counter-moves by his opponent. Computer scientists have conducted a lot of research on backgammon just like chess and have, in fact, come up with a software that can beat even the best human players.

The origin of backgammon can be traced to several table games that were played in like manner using a dice. There was the ancient Egyptian game called senet with moves controlled by the roll of a dice. A similar game was also found to have existed in Iran around 3000 B.C. Recent excavations there revealed two dice and 60 pieces believed to be 100 to 200 years older than those found earlier in ancient Mesopotamia.

In ancient Rome, several games similar to backgammon were also played. One of them was the “game of twelve lines” (ludus duodecim scriptorum) that made use of a board with three rows of 12 points each and the pieces were moved according to the roll of a dice.

In France, the jeux de tables first appeared during the 11th century and became a favorite pastime of gamblers. However, King Louis IX banned the playing of the game by his court officials and subjects in 1254.

By the 12th century, table games were played in Germany, reaching Iceland by the 13th century. The games then spread to Sweden by the 17th century as evident in the wooden board and checkers recovered from the ruins of the ship Vasa which were believed to be part of a ship officer’s belongings.

By the 18th century, backgammon attracted the English clergy. A book titled “A Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon” was published by Edmund Hoyle in 1743 and detailed the rules of the game. Hoyle’s game is, in most part, the same as the backgammon being played today.


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