Backgammon History

Thu, 29 May 2008 16:55

Backgammon History

A look at backgammon history online.


Backgammon remains as a favorite board game worldwide. As historical records go, backgammon was popular even then. Throughout history, it was enjoyed by leaders and autocrats of ancient civilizations -- by the ancient Greeks, Romans,  Egyptians, Persians, and Sumerians.

Backgammon history and related questions traces its origins to ancient Egypt, to a game bearing a striking resemblance to the backgammon we have today. They called it Senet ("Game of Thirty Squares"), a game with a 3 x 10 square board and stones for markers. The game is still anyone's guess, but it was surmised that Senet was a speculative game of motion and removal of rival pieces. Movement was determined by rolling a dice made of bone. Similar boards comprised of 3 x 6 and 3 x 12 squares were also unearthed in other Egyptian archaeological sites. These boards were produced at around 3000-1788 B.C.

Backgammon history continued with the Romans, who had games that are notably similar to Senet dating back to 600 A.D. "Ludus duodecim scriptorum" used a 3 x 12 leather board. It has a 30-marker set with 15 markers made of ivory and ebony. The game also depended on rolling a dice. A row was dropped around 500 A.D. while an identical game with 2 x 12 lines became known as Tabula ("Table") sprouted during the latter years of the first millennium. This is the forerunner of the modern backgammon.

Tabula was carried to England when the Romans conquered it during the 1st century A.D. It became a favorite pastime of the Emperor Claudius. The game was said to be such a favorite that the emperor had his carriage fitted with a board so he can also play while traveling. Emperor Claudius liking for the game led him to write a history about it which was unfortunately lost. Even so, the emperor still influenced the development of backgammon history a lot.

Table was a popular gambling and for money pastime of the aristocracy and of the wealthy during the Medieval Ages.  However, the game was banned in England up to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. Table was often the amusement in taverns, but it was later overtaken by chess in popularity between the 15th and 16th centuries. The name of the game was changed to "Backgammon" in the year 1645. The term was considered to be an amalgam of the words "back" and "gam" which mean "game" in Middle English.

The earliest official rulebook of backgammon, written by Edmund Hoyle, was published in 1743. In New York, where backgammon was enjoyed by high society, the doubling cube came about; it was brought in by an anonymous gambler in 1920 to enhance backgammon's factor of skill. In 1931 backgammon history changed when the game rules were changed into the general form that governs all play today.

The ventures of Prince Alexis Obelensky pushed and helped backgammon achieve its worldwide popularity. The prince introduced a first in backgammon history in 1960s when he organized the first-ever "Official" World Championships held in Bermuda. Presently, it remains as the highest honor in the backgammon-playing community. Backgammon's successful combination of skill and chance made it appealing to the general public, and added to its popularity.

Backgammon tournaments are held in USA and Europe every year, with the Bermuda championships as the annual culmination event. Backgammon history is continuously evolving and with the help of computers, backgammon has broken into the online gambling arena.