Nardshir: The Roots of Modern Backgammon

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.

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A traditional backgammon board is a hinged box that also provides storage for the disc-shaped playing pieces and dice.

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.


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


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.

PlayingNardAccording 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!

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Cats, Persia, Egypt, and Ancient Warfare

Whatever the real reason for the war, the Battle of Pelusium is noteworthy for being an excellent example of psychological warfare in ancient times—housecats figured prominently in the Persians’ victory. Yep, domesticated felines were on the front lines of battle.

Battle of Pelusium

It’s impossible to say no animals were harmed in the Battle of Pelusium, 525 BC. But isn’t flinging felines at the enemy a tactic worthy of Monty Python?


Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin KeySet in the third century, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key is a historical sword-and-science fantasy adventure. A Persian warrior’s curiosity is ignited when he leads an invasion into Dodrazeb, a strange isolated kingdom that possesses incredible technology. Ancient Dodrazeb’s puzzling choice to hide from the world draws the warrior deeper into layers of mysteries as its princess does everything she can to expel the invaders. What are the Dodrazebbians so desperate to keep hidden? Get your copy on Amazon.com! Available in both e-book and paperback.


In 525 BC, Cambyses II (son of the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great) successfully conquered Egypt and annexed it into the Persian Empire. Though Egypt was an obvious target for an invasion as it posed a threat to Persian control of Palestine and Syria, the widely accepted story for the reason Cambyses decided to invade goes like this: Cambyses asked for the Egyptian ruler’s daughter, saying he would make her his wife. Pharaoh Ahmose was sure his daughter would be reduced to the status of concubine. To spare her from such humiliation, Ahmose sent an imposter in his daughter’s place. When the imposter revealed the truth about Ahmose’s deception, Cambyses was infuriated and decided to attack.

BastetGoddess

Bastet, Ancient Egyptian Cat Goddess

So how did cats become involved? Bastet originated as the goddess of warfare in Lower Egypt. Long before the Battle of Pelusium, she had evolved from a lioness warrior deity into a major protector deity represented as a cat. She is the Egyptian goddess of the home, fire, sunrise, music, dance, pleasure as well as sexuality, fertility, family, pregnant women and children. Her priests mummified cats when they died. Bastet’s gentle side was displayed in her duties as a protector of the home and pregnant women. Her aggressive and vicious nature was celebrated in her abilities as a huntress and an eliminator of vermin. Bastet is depicted either as a woman with the head of a domesticated cat, a lioness, or as a desert sand-cat.

Cambyses knew how the Egyptians felt about cats and used that knowledge to his advantage. He had his troops paint images of cats on their shields and place various animals sacred to the Egyptians such as cats, dogs, ibises, and sheep in his front lines. The punishment for killing a cat in Egypt was death, so the Egyptian army stopped fighting and were routed, allowing Pelusium to fall to Cambyses. “It is said that Cambyses, after the battle, hurled cats into the faces of the defeated Egyptians in scorn that they would surrender their country and their freedom fearing for the safety of common animals.”

Isabel

Isabel, the feline overlord of my domicile.

If not for the Egyptians’ love of Bastet, the battle might not have been won by the Persians. For the science-fiction minded, there are probably a few parallel universes where housecats have taken over the earth and humans are their willing slaves. In our reality, the cats are conquering us one household at a time.

How do you feel about cats? Love ’em? Worship them like the ancient Egyptians? Enjoy their funny videos on Facebook but avoid them in person? Leave a comment!

Surprising Facts About Ancient Persia

Map_of_the_Achaemenid_EmpireIn my sword-and-science fantasy novel The Origin Key, a third-century Persian prince discovers an incredibly ancient society with surprisingly modern science and technology. The prince is not amused when he is told that the revered Persian ruler Cyrus the Great created the Persian Empire with help and advice from Dodrazeb. In the story, Dodrazeb is a fictional kingdom that originated virtually every scientific advancement known to 21st century mankind—plus some still unknown to us.

Just as my fictional Prince Rasteem was shocked to learn that his beloved empire might owe its existence to an even more ancient culture, a lot of us today are unaware of the true origins of many ideas and technological achievements. This is due, in part, to the heavy influence of Greek and Roman history on our western culture. The truth is, Greece, Rome, and the rest of the modern world owe a huge debt to the Persians.

Full article: 8 Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About The Persians

PersianCarving

  1. Cyrus_CylinderThe Cyrus Cylinder dates to 539 BC. Engraved with Akkadian language, it contains the oldest known, and possibly the very first, human rights charter. Inscriptions on the cylindrical tablet include statements of equality for all races, religions, and languages. It also defines opportunities for slaves and displaced people to return to their homelands.
  2. Nashtifan-WindmillsThe earliest known vertical axis windmills were built by Persians. Inspired by the sails of sea-going vessels, windmills were constructed to capture the energy of strong winds on land and used to grind grain or pump water. The ancient Persian windmills consisted of bundled reeds or timber forming a vertical sail. These sails were attached to a central vertical shaft by horizontal struts.
  3. YakhchalAncient Persians developed ingenious refrigeration systems, dating from circa 400 BC. The large underground storage areas were ice pits called Yakhchals and could be as large as 1.8 million cubic ft. The subterranean spaces were covered by stepped dome-like structures made of heat-resistant mud bricks and rising as high as 60 ft. high. The Yakhchals stored ice and food items year-round, providing chilled delicacies for Persian royalty.
  4. Paradise GardenPersians invented “Paradise Gardens.” In Old Iranian, the word for a breathtaking, well-tended, man-made garden is ‘pairi-daeza.’ The word became ‘paradeisos’ in Greek, and then ‘paradis’ in Old French. So the English term ‘paradise’ originated from a Persian idea of a heavenly retreat of exceptional beauty on earth. As today, the countryside of ancient Persia consisted of extremes in both topography and climate, from blizzards in severe winters to blinding dust storms in blazing summers. The terrain includes barren mountains and hostile deserts as well as fertile valleys and thick forests. Admirers of God’s sacred creation, the Persians recognized its wild beauty and determined to help make it blossom amid human habitation.
  5. AncientPersianTrousersTrousers were a Persian innovation. Until the Persians invented trousers and seamed, fitted coats, inhabitants of the Mediterranean region wore woven rectangles of cloth. The tailored garments provided superior protection in cold climates and spread to Asia and Europe. Trousers, valued especially by people who rode horses, spread quickly to China, India, and the Celtic tribes of northern Europe.

The next time you read about how advanced the Greeks and/or Romans were at the height of their civilizations, don’t forget that they benefitted from many cultures that came before. That’s how history really works.

Do you have a favorite period of history that fascinates you? What’s your favorite ancient culture? Leave a comment!

Announcing: The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

I’ve always been fascinated by ancient cultures. Give me a good documentary on the ancient Hittites or the Egyptian Sphynx or an article about the latest theories regarding the Olmecs in Mesoamerica, and I’m in heaven. I’m a die-hard Indiana Jones fan, and not just for handsome Harrison Ford.

RasteemCat
A brown-haired, blue-eyed Persian, like the warrior-prince Rasteem in The Origin Key.

So no one should be surprised that my first novel is about a third-century Persian warrior-prince who discovers a mysterious hidden kingdom that appears to be some kind of Shangri-La. In this place, everyone is healthy, content, and well-educated—NOT the reality of our world in the third century. So how did they achieve this ideal? Do they have magical abilities? That got me thinking about Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

What if, I thought, this place kept itself isolated from the rest of the comparatively barbaric world because they had developed and routinely used advanced technology that we take for granted in the 21st century? Technology that in the hands of savages could be used to destroy on an apocalyptic scale? Technology that looks like magic to outsiders?

That’s the premise of my story, an adult fantasy that blends elements of science fiction to deliver an adventure grounded in actual human history.

The book didn’t happen overnight. On the contrary, it took over a year of hard work, research, bouts of furious pounding away at the keyboard interspersed with wordless dry spells to produce a first draft. Then there was feedback from readers, innumerable editorial redlines, new and improved ideas to strengthen the story, and heartless murdering of beloved darlings.* It seemed to take forever.

When I thought I had a publishable product, I started looking for ways to turn my story into an actual book. Fortunately for me, I made the acquaintance of Russell Newquist, the owner of Silver Empire Publishing. I had attended a panel discussion at a local literary festival where Russell addressed many of the pros and cons of self-publishing, traditional publishing, and indie publishing. Afterward, I approached him and (metaphorically) threw my manuscript at him. Luckily, he (metaphorically) caught it and, to my astonishment, did not fling it back at me in disgust.

So now my bucket list needs editing, too. I’m going to be a published author! I signed a contract to publish my book with Silver Empire! Since then, there has been more feedback, more redlines, and more refinement of the story.

It is with infinite joy that I make this announcement: My debut novel The Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key will be available this summer! I’m thrilled to be working with Russell Newquist and everyone at Silver Empire to make this happen. Stay tuned to this blog and social media for further announcements about a release date. Until then, get a taste of the treasures to be found in Dodrazeb in the anthology Between the Wall and the Fire. Two of my short stories are in it and you can pre-order it now directly from Silver Empire.

Oh, and one other thing. The Origin Key is the first in a series of novels detailing the adventures of my Persian warrior-prince in the mysterious kingdom of Dodrazeb. There will be more!

*In writing, “to kill your darlings” means to ruthlessly eliminate any sentence, paragraph, chapter, or piece of writing that does nothing for the story you are trying to tell, no matter how well it is written.