Backgammon History

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The History of Backgammon

Backgammon as we know it today can trace its roots back to the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  This area is arguably sometimes called the "cradle of civilization".  It is the land of Ur where Abraham lived.  It is also called Chaldea. Whether civilization really was born there is a moot point.  What is clear is that a archeaological digs have found evidence of a board game that was the forerunner of our modern backgammon.  Backgammon is only one of many inventions of significance to come from the Summerian civilization of that area.  Other notable achievements by the Summerians were the invention of the wheel, a math system including the early roots of algebra and geometry, and the world's first written language.

The Egyptians had their own version of backgammon called, "Senat".  There was another popular game in Egypt called, "Twenty Squares" and game boards have been found with Senat on one side and Twenty Squares on the other.  Apparently the Ancient Egyptians liked variety and diversions as much as modern day players.  Other boards with variations of patterns suggest that there may have been different forms of the game, but since we have as yet to find the written rules in any Egyptian digs, we can only speculate on that.  One thing is certain, it was popular and continued to spread and be played by more cultures.

The Ancient Romans had their own versions of backgammon called, "Tabula" and "Duodecim Scriptorum".  Tabula was a generic term applied to any board game while Duodecim Scriptorum was a game very similar to Senat with a set of 3x12 points and the use of 3 or 6 sided dice.  It evolved into another game called, "Alea" around the Sixth Century.  If you had used any of these terms in early days of the Greek, Egyptian, or Roman empires, people would have known what you were talking about, and also probably would have invited you to sit down and play.

Despite the picture that some people today have of the world being a collection of isolated cultures with very little contact in ancient times, the civilizations did trade and share their inventions and discoveries, including games.  The Persians seem to have enjoyed a game called, "Takhteh Nard" or just "Nard" as early as 800 A.D. The name literaly means "a battle on wood".

The game also found its way to the Orient and the Chinese and Japanese both have their own variations.  Not to be outdone by the innovations of the early inventors of the game, the japanese and Chinese play it on round tables!  It is interesting to note that the game was often played by royalty and commoners alike, though it was sometimes in disfavor with the more narrow minded.  The Chinese believed the game was invented in India and called it, "T'shu-p'u" (please don't ask how that is pronounced) and the Japanese called it, "Sugoroku".

The game finally found its way to Europe, probably by way of Spain and Italy since they were the first  and busiest stops on the trading routes from the Orient that found their ways to Europe.  The Europeans, always hungry for sport and diversion, quickly embraced the game.  In the Middle Ages it was known as the game of "Tables" in England.  Other names for early backgammon and the backgammon of today from around the world are...
in Italy backgammon is called, "Tavola Reale", in Spain "'Tablas Reales", each of these terms means "Royal Tables". The Greeks call it "Tavli".  The Germans call it "Puff" and the French "Le Trictrac".
The actual name Backgammon first surfaced around the mid-seventeenth century.  At that time the Saxons called it the "bac" (back) "gamen" (game). They were referring to the fact that  the checkers when hit go "back" and have to re-enter the "game".

The game has evolved and gone through many changes and yet it can be traced back to the early games found in tombs from those many thousands of years ago.  In 1745 that master of games, Edmond Hoyle, wrote rules for Backgammon and his treatise, "A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon" remained the standard for almost two hundred years.  The next big change occured in 1931 when the rules were modified in the United States.  Just prior to the change the infamous Doubling Cube was introduced by an anonymous gamestaer. With the introduction of the doubling cube a new dimension was added to backgammon and its reputation as the "cruelest game" was forever affixed to the board game that offers so many strategies that may go eithr way, either for or against depending upon the ever fickle dice.

The game experienced another surge in popularity and in the 70's and 90's found many new backgammon enthusiasts and clubs throughout the world.  Infact, with the invention of the internet, people from all over the world sit down every day to play against other players from all corners of the globe and many thousands of miles away.