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Backgammon History

Backgammon history is long and complicated with many ancestors and contenders. Even today, new archeological findings keep raising questions on the primary origin of the backgammon game, and even the derivation of the term “backgammon” has not been settled yet. Either way, it is agreed that backgammon is the oldest board game in history.

Backgammon history begins about 5000 years ago in Mesopotamia (today’s Iran, Iraq and Syria) with a game called the Royal Game of Ur. Archeological digs in the Iranian city Shahr-e Sokhteh (Burnt City in Persian) brought a board, two sets of checkers and couple of dice. Echoes to backgammon game mechanics are also found in the ancient Egypt game Senate.

The Roman Game of twelve lines (Ludus duodecim scriptorium) is probably the ancient game most similar to modern backgammon. The game used to be played on a board with three rows and twelve lines, and three dice conducted the movement of the players’ checkers across the board. The game’s later Byzantine version called Tabula (table), also required the players to bear off their checkers to win the game. The game was described in the Byzantine Emperor Zeno’s writing, making it the earliest written reference in backgammon history, around the 5th century AD.

Backgammon History in Asia

Backgammon is also mentioned in the 6-7th century Sanskrit poet Bhartṛhari. Backgammon rules have first appeared in a Middle Persian book from the 6th century called Explanation of Chess and Invention of Backgammon. The book credits the invention of the backgammon game to Buzarjumihr (sometimes spelled Buzorgmihrthe, some other times Burzoe or Bozorgmehr), a state minister, a physician and a chess master who served the Persian Empire during the reign of the Sasanian king Khousro I. Buzarjumihr is referred to as backgammon (Nard in Iranian) creator in a later 11th century text by the Persian poet Ferdowsi.

Modern Backgammon History

Backgammon has rolled from the Middle East to Western Europe in mysterious ways around the 11th century. Evidence to backgammon’s presence can be found in a decree by French royal Louis IX, calling to forbid his employees from practicing the game. About 500 years later, the Queen Elizabeth I prohibited backgammon completely. Nevertheless, the habit of playing backgammon did not expire.

! In the middle of the 16th century, a definition of the term backgammon appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary. By the time renowned game expert Edmond Hoyle had published A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon, the first English backgammon guidebook including backgammon official rules and strategies, backgammon was an acknowledged fact.

Backgammon in the 20th Century

Backgammon history continued to evolve throughout the 20th century as the backgammon game underwent two stirring changes at the beginning of the 20th century and toward its end. First, the doubling cube was invented, apparently by socialite Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia, adding new elements of strategy and strengthening backgammon tie with backgammon gambling. And finally, for now, the expanding accessibility of fast internet introduced free online backgammon servers, enabling real-time, multi-player backgammon games between opponents of opposite sides of the globe.

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