Artifact Corner: Episode 29 – Backgammon

Hi everyone and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a backgammon game from the early to mid 1800’s. This game board has an oriental motif on the exterior, and beautiful gold and red painted points on the interior. We still have the original checkers and dice for the game. Let’s explore the game of backgammon.

Backgammon is a two player game. Each player starts with fifteen playing pieces, which are small and round and look like checkers. The game pieces have many names, including draughts, stones, men, counters, pawns, discs, pips, chips, or nips. To win the game, a player must move all of their pieces off the board before their opposition. The average game of backgammon lasts for about an hour of play.

Backgammon is one of the oldest games in history. The first games of backgammon are believed to be played as far back as 3,000 BCE. The game likely originated in Mesopotamia, what is modern day Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, and Syria. In 2004, one of the oldest boards was discovered in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan (Ba-low-chis-tawn) in the South Eastern part of Iran. The board is made of ebony, with checker pieces made of agate and turquoise stones. The second oldest backgammon board was discovered during a dig at a royal tomb in the historic Mesopotamian city of Ur. The Sumerians built the city of Ur in 3,800 BCE and the city thrived for over 3,000 years. The Sumerians are also credited with the creation of the wheel, the first written language called cuneiform, and the first known system of math.

Backgammon quickly spread throughout the early civilizations. People throughout China, India, Greece, Egypt, and Rome started playing backgammon, and it became immensely popular. In certain societies it was only played by the aristocracy or nobility which lead to it being nicknamed “the game of kings.” In the Middle Ages, backgammon spread throughout Europe. The first use of the name “backgammon” appears in literature in the 1600’s, but the exact origin is unclear. It may have come from the Middle English words baec, spelled b a e c, meaning “back,” and the word gamen, spelled g a m e n, meaning “game.” The famous writer of games, Edmond Hoyle, published a treatise on backgammon in 1745 with a set of rules, and even some strategy tips, that are still used to this day.

Our backgammon board is in fantastic shape retaining all of it’s original game pieces. The intricate gold work on the sides of the board are also in beautiful condition. We are so lucky to have this piece in our collections. We hope you enjoyed this look back at one of the oldest board games. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,