Do you prefer games of pure wit and skill, or do you like an element of chance with some dice action thrown in? The ancient Persians apparently favored a game with a combination of both.
Backgammon is a board game for two persons, played with pieces whose moves are determined by throws of dice, with the object being to move all of one’s pieces to an end point where they are removed from the board. The first player to have no pieces on the board wins.
Modern backgammon and other similar games appear to be the direct descendants of a game played in ancient Persia known as nardshir. Excavations at Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran have shown that a board race game existed there around 3000 BC. The artifacts include two dice and 60 discs, and the set is believed to be 100 to 200 years older than the Royal Game of Ur. On the board found at Shahr-e Sukhteh, the fields are fashioned by the coils of a snake.
The name nardshir comes from the Persian words nard (“wooden block”) and shir (“lion”) referring to the two types of pieces used in play. A common legend associates the game with the founder of the Sassanian Dynasty, Ardashir.
In The Book of Games: Strategy, Tactics & History (2008), Jack Botermans reports that rich symbolism is part of the game’s design. The twelve spaces on each half of the board represent the twelve months in a year. The twenty-four spaces on the board symbolize the hours of the day and the thirty disc-shaped playing pieces are the days in a month.
According to Sports and Games of Medieval Cultures (2002) by Sally E. D. Wilkins, nardshir was the Persian version of a game that dates back to the time of the Pharaohs. Two players sat opposite each other and moved their pieces in opposite directions around the board. The board had four quadrants, each with six lines or points, usually long triangles. Each player had fifteen pieces, either light or dark colored disks. The object of the game was to remove the pieces from the board, known as “bearing off,” while preventing one’s opponent from doing the same. The first to remove all fifteen pieces was the winner. No pieces could be taken off the board until all of a player’s pieces were in the home quadrant.
Nardshir is one of the games mentioned in my novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. The boys who like to play it seem to be interrupted every time they settle in for a game.
What board games do you enjoy? Does your favorite game have its roots in ancient history? How has it evolved over time? Leave a comment!