People have been playing games in some form since the earliest civilizations first arose over 5,000 years ago.
In the old times, people have entertained themselves by playing board games for millennia. Tons of these board games have been found at archaeological sites and referenced in ancient works, many of which we no longer know how to play. Others have managed to survive into modern times, and it’s likely that you’ve played an ancient game without even realizing it.
It’s now time to discover some of the popular games that are actually much older than what you may expect.
Here are 5 ancient board games that are still played today.
While the exact origins of Chess are unknown, most historians agree that the game originated in India during the Gupta Empire around the 6th century AD – some historians believe it originated in China.
The early form of the game from India was called chaturanga, which featured “four divisions of the military”: infantry, cavalry, elephantry, and charity – these game pieces eventually evolved into the modern-day pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively. Like many early games, the rules of Chess evolved as it spread throughout the world, and the modern rules of the game were formed around the 15th century in Europe.
Go, a strategy game in which two players each try to surround a larger area of the game board using colored stones originated in China over 2,500 years ago. The earliest reference to Go has been found in the Zuo Zhuan, one of the earliest examples of Chinese narrative history, in 548 BCE. Go was one of the Four Arts that the Chinese scholar gentleman was expected to learn (the other three Arts were calligraphy, painting, and playing the qin, a musical instrument).
- Snakes and Ladders
The classic board game of Snakes and Ladders is also called Chutes and Ladders. It is derived from an ancient Indian board game known as Moksha Patam. This was more than just a race climbing the ladder. In fact, Moksha Patam was an intricate morality lesson with the aim of teaching people about evil and good. The snakes represented vices, while the ladders represented virtues. But when the game was adopted in England, the Victorians replaced them with their own ideas and indulgences. Plus, the numbers of snakes and ladder were made to be equal on the board.
It is pretty amazing when you think that a game played around the world today may have in fact been around for over 5,000 years. From Shahr-e Sukhteh in Iran, backgammon artifacts have been excavated. It is estimated that these artifacts are about 3,000 BC, making it one of the oldest games played by two players. Currently, a few persons are credited with the invention of backgammon, however its exact origin still remains a mystery.
Senet is most likely the oldest known board game in the world. It was played in Ancient Egypt and game boards have been found in Predynastic and First Dynasty burials dating as far back as 3500 BCE. Senet boards were rectangular slabs made of wood, limestone, or faience (ceramic earthenware made from ground quartz and coated with a brightly colored glaze and featured carved squares and symbols.
Although historians aren’t quite sure how exactly the game was played, Timothy Kendall and R.C. Bell have made their own reconstructions of the game. Kendall and Bell’s rules are based on pieces of texts mentioning Senet and these rules have been adopted by modern senet players.