hist-games: Greek and Roman 'draughts/checkers'

Alex R. Kraaijeveld a.kraayeveld at ic.ac.uk
Tue Dec 2 09:09:53 PST 1997

At 11:12 02/12/97 -0500, you wrote:
>David Salley wrote:
>> [quoting the Brittanica]
>>         "That checkers was played in the days of the earlier Pharoahs is
>>         well authenticated by Egyptian history and the British Museum
>>         specimens of primitive boards quite similar to modern ones. ...
>>         Plato and Homer mentioned the game in their works and the Romans
>>         are believed to have imported it from the Greeks.   ... [T]he
>>         earliest publications on record manifest the 12 men on each side
>>         and our conventional board.
>Okay, now I'm intrigued -- this is quite different from the conventional
>wisdom I've heard. I've never seen Checkers listed as a game of ancient
>Egypt, and the received wisdom I've always heard is that it's a
>middle-of-period descendent of Alquerques, altered to fit a chessboard.
>Does anyone know more about this? While I'm willing to believe that it's
>considerably more ancient, I'm not going to accept it on the word of a
>single non-specialty secondary source. Are there other references that
>folks know about? Do we know what these references in Plato and Homer
>actually say?

As far as I know, all these claims of the Romans and Greek already playing
draughts/checkers comes from a rather 'loose' translation of the Greek
'petteia' or 'poleis' and the Roman 'ludus latrunculorum'. Although the
exact details of these games are not known, they were surely no form of

References for petteia / poleis / latrunculus:

Austin RG, 1934. Roman board games I. Greece and Rome 4: 24-34.
Austin RG, 1935. Roman board games II. Greece and Rome 4: 76-82.
Austin RG, 1940. Greek board games. Antiquity 14: 257-271.

There is a recent publication on latrunculus which I haven't been able to
get my hands on as yet (anyone who has?):

Schadler, U., 1994. Latrunculi - ein verlorenes strategisches Brettspiel
der Romer.
published in: Homo ludens IV

I'm not sure what Egyptian game is referred to; 'senet' and 'tau' etc seem
to have been race-games rather then war-games .....

Cheers, Lex

Dr A.R. Kraaijeveld
NERC Centre for Population Biology
Imperial College, Silwood Park
Ascot, Berks. SL5 7PY
England, UK

tel: +44-1344-294470 / 294359
fax: +44-1344-873173
E-mail: a.kraayeveld at ic.ac.uk

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