Backgammon is one of the world’s oldest games and has a worldwide history. The earliest known record of the first game originated from the Persian Empire, in Mesopotamia (this is Syria, Iran, and Iraq in the present day), and was the first ever board game in existence to be recorded; it’s even older than chess!
The very early models of the game were played on wooden surfaces. Instead of checkers, stone markers were used, and instead of a dice made from plastic as we’d know it, and ancient dice would have been made from wood, stone, pottery, or even bone. Very early players include the Persians, Egyptians, Romans, and Sumerians.
However, not everyone was privileged enough to play this game. As history tells it, Backgammon was very much a part of the lives of the aristocracy and leaders of these many ancient nations. Archaeological digs have excavated original relics as well as references in literature from years past, including areas such as Rome, Greece, even the Far East. In Egypt, gaming boards were found measuring 3 x 10, 3 x 12, and 3 x 15 squares. Here it was known as ‘Senat’, or the Game of Thirty Squares. These particular relics were carbon dated to between 3000 and 1788 BC; however, the exact rules, and whether or not a dice was used, remains unknown. It is speculated that these were the beginnings of Backgammon as we know it today. The first set of rules was found in Sumer in the tomb of Ur al Chaldees, dated to around 177 BC. Along with wooden boards, dice were also discovered, both of which were dated to about 2600 BC.
The Roman evidence for the existence of the game was found dating back to 600 AD, but was here known as The Game of 12 Lines, or Ludos Duodesim Scriptorum. The evidence showed boards made of leather and thirty checkers, fifteen of which were made from ivory and the other fifteen from ebony. But the game soon evolved, and in the First century, it began to take the shape of what we would now recognise as ‘our’ Backgammon: the 3 x 12 lines soon became 2 x 12. This is likely to be the version that came to Britain when the Romans conquered most of the British Isles in the First Century.
Skip ahead a few centuries and Backgammon began to make an appearance in private clubs in New York in the 1920s. But as its popularity grew, businessmen jumped on the bandwagon, and the game was soon mass produced. Publications on the rules of backgammon also became available, and in 1931, the rules were customised for a final time. Throughout the depression and World War Two, Backgammon suffered a blow to its popularity, but as the 1960s came along, so did its resurgence. Prince Alexis Obelensky founded the first official World Championships, which were held in the Bahamas. This competition is still an annual event to this day. Soon enough, more and more books were published on how to play. The 1970s are still considered to be the Backgammon glory days, as more and more tournaments occurred and books were published as its popularity increased. Rather than a game only for the aristocracy and upper classes, Backgammon had crossed the social and cultural boundaries, and was soon popular with middle and working classes, and even the youth of the day.