A Game of Greek Philosophers and Ancient Pharaohs

The beautiful history of Backgammon.

By Jenny Adams 

Between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers is a fertile valley region was once called Mesopotamia. It is now modern-day Turkey, Syria and Iran, and what most people don’t know is––this is the origin of today’s backgammon.

It’s in this valley that archeologists unearthed dice, carved from animal bones and believed to be at least 5,000 years old. These six-sided gaming pieces were likely used in divination, but also in games of skill.

Could they point to the earliest existence of Backgammon?

Historians truly think so.

Backgammon is considered one of the world’s oldest games, alongside Checkers and Chess, and ancient boards have been found in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs, dating to 1,500 BC.

Passed from traveler to traveler, the game arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean, and historians and researchers again discovered a cousin-like board among the possessions of the ancient patrician Greeks. Plato mentions a tabletop pastime with similar rules in his writing, and Homer does as well, in The Odyssey.

Backgammon is easy to set up and to break down, easy to pack and to carry. It’s always been this way. Boards moved with soldiers during The Crusades and by 1645, the first print appearance of the word Backgammon arrives, with etymology indicating it’s a combination of Middle English baec (back) and gamen (game).

It angered The Church, who saw it as the Devil’s work, tempting players in the vice of gambling, but it rose to incredible popularity in grand parlors during Victorian times.

The modern play saw two significant changes in the 20th century. The doubling cube was added, creating a new means to deeper strategy. Then, the Internet arrived. Backgammon web portals online enabled fans to play each other, no matter where they lived, for free.

As online games have drawn legions and a love of retro flourishes in modern culture––there’s a deep appeal to backgammon and to its incredible history.

One of our favorite aspects of the game? That awesome portability.

Just as it originally moved with ancient traders traveling the spice routes, it still accompanies players, in mini boards like the one in our Vices collection. Mix up a Spritz or two, grab a few friends and delve into an afternoon activity, truly for the ages.

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