Through Backgammon History

The game spread to the Levant; an area bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the west, the Arabian desert in the north, and Mesopotamia to the east. The game also spread to the islands of Crete and Cyprus, although these cultures, as well as Levant, considered Senet a game rather than something divine or spiritual.

Square #15, showing a symbol of life and known as the “House of Rebirth” was probably the starting square. Square #26 was a “good” square, while square # 27, water, was a “bad” square to land on.

Pawns were also found with the games. The earliest games had seven pawns per player; later paintings of the game show five, seven, or, occasionally, ten markers for each player.

Although the exact rules of Senet remain a mystery, some conjectures have been made. Players moved their pawns according to a throw of sticks; each stick had two sides, and there were four of these sticks. Later, knucklebones, small pyramid shapes, were introduced. Knucklebones were the predecessors of modern-day dice.

Archeologist Timothy Kendall formulated the following rules for Senet, and, assuming he is correct, one can see the similarity to our modern-day backgammon. The arrows in figure 3 below show the order of progression for the pawns. The white men belong to the first player and the black men belong to the second player, each sitting on opposite sides of the board. The object of the game is to remove all your men from the board, as in modern backgammon. Each player moved his pieces according to the throw of the sticks or knucklebones. If your man landed on your opponent’s piece, the two pieces exchanged places on the board. Two men in adjacent squares were protected from being “hit.” A man could not land on a house occupied by the player’s own piece.

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