While games like backgammon have existed since ancient times, today's backgammon is only several decades old. The doubling cube became part of backgammon games this century. Earlier versions of backgammon were found in the ruins of Pompeii. Backgammon boards were buried with the ancient Pharaohs, and the game is mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Some sources claim that the Roman emperor Domitian was a backgammon expert, and that the infamous emperor Caligula was a cheater.
Even before that, a game called "Senet," with similar rules to today's backgammon, was played in ancient Mesopotamia
In England, in 1526, Cardinal Wolsey banned all games involving dice and cards and had them all burned. A flourishing business in contraband backgammon games developed, the boards disguised as books, hollowed out to hold the backgammon pieces, dice boxes, and dice. Under Queen Elizabeth I, backgammon was allowed again, and became one of the most popular games in the realm. King James I, who commissioned the best known English version of the Bible in 1611, allowed the game, even though he was considered a proponent of high morality.
The word “tables” was used to describe the game until 1645, when “Backgammon” was used for the first time, according to the Oxford Universal Dictionary. The exact origin of the name is unknown but there is speculation that the “back” comes from the fact that the backgammon board was drawn on the back of the chess board. Another conjecture is that “baec” from Middle English is the root for the word in Modern English for “back,” and that “gamen” means game; suggesting a game in which you “go back.”
In the 18th century, backgammon was popular among the wealthy and among clergymen, as it was no longer branded an immoral pastime. In 1743, Edmond Hoyle wrote 'A Short Treatise on the Game of Back-Gammon,' which is the first known printed set of official backgammon rules.
In the New World, such political figures as Thomas Jefferson were avid backgammon players. His personal journal sports notes of his earnings and his losses at backgammon. Over the years, backgammon has always been played, whether in Arab markets in the middle east or at professional tournaments in the United Kingdom, France, or the United States.
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If you'd like to learn more about backgammon, be sure to click on our Backgammon Terminology page.