Early board games in ancient europe and asia

What historical narrative are you trying to express?

I am looking at some of the earliest examples of board games to get a sense for how and when board games developed in ancient Europe and Asia.

One particularly interesting aspect of this historical narrative is looking at how board games in different locations arose for different purposes. In an analogous manner to how writing arose or was popularized in different ancient cultures for specific uses such as religion or accounting, many early board games were developed with specific non-entertainment goals in mind. I hope to be able to show both the existence of the motives as well as illustrate how aspects of the board game such as when it was created and the type of game were influenced by these motives and ultimately by the inventing society’s culture.

Another interesting part of the narrative to look at is how ideas and games spread between cultures. Many modern games have origins in older games, and we may be able to trace pathways by which these game ideas spread to get from the original older games to their new modern versions. One example of such a path comes from the modern game of Chess. The game was originally ‘Chaturanga’, a game that was played in India starting some time before 625 ACE (likely a few hundred years prior). This game very much had roots in military practice as the name itself “come from a battle formation mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabhrata, referring to four divisions of an army” ( wikiwand ), and the game setup closely resembled an ancient battle formation. After the Islamic Sassanid empire conquered parts of Persia where Chaturanga was played, the game was adopted by Arabs as ‘Shatranj’ (the name arose from phonetic differences in the languages). Shatranj was closely studied and gave rise to many strategy manuals and even an official ranking system. Additionally, the game was spread to Spain through Islamic conquest, after which point it spread slowly northwards into Europe where it became modern day Chess. ^(I didn’t include all of this on the story map since there was not enough info about any one game to use one story map tracing its history while focusing on ancient sources, but it would have been confusing to trace multiple histories on the same map)

Which sources did you choose to use and why?

After choosing to look at primarily very Ancient games, only looking at the first one or two board games mentioned from any one area, I found very limited sources for each game. I was able to find one or two sources (from asianacircus,and wikiwand ) that described a variety of the earliest ancient board games and for most games I was able to go to linked sources from these sites and from wikipedia entries for the games to find articles or images of original games in various collections. Additionally, for the Japanese E-Sugoroku game, I already had found the Digital PUL collection with nearly 100 such games (interestingly, though, these were relatively modern game board and I was unable to find examples of older ones).

What dates and places are essential to your narrative and spreadsheet?

The dates and locations of the first examples of each board game are essential to my narrative, and as such those are what I put on my map. I felt a little bit constrained by having to choose a single location for each slide, since many games did not have a clear origin and were widely played across a large area (the Royal Game of Ur, for example, was played across Egypt and Mesopotamia). The way I resolved this issue was to simply use the location to indicate the place where the artifact I pictured in the slide was found, which were often the oldest discovered game boards and thus fairly accurately marked the origin of the game.

What do we learn by seeing this historical narrative unfold in space and time simultaneously?

I think both space and time must be seen simultaneously in order to get the full picture of how board game development varied across different locations and cultures. I think the spacial aspect is necessary to get an idea for which game was produced in which location, and thereby see how the creation of different types of board games was very spread out and varied based on location. However, without the time aspect, we would lose an understanding of the paths of idea dissemination and game evolution as well as of the actual culture that produced each game (since culture is time-dependent and well as location-depended. For example, a location in central Europe might be occupied by a roman culture at one time, but later by germanic tribe).

What text or images will be helpful to supplement the results in order to create an engaging visual narrative?

In my story map, I used images of original game boards to show readers what these games looked like. This not only is an engaging, interesting visual, but it also serves to help readers understand the purpose of the game by looking at factors such as the board layout, its imagery/writing, or the material and condition of the game, which may give hints to the game’s intended purpose and audience.

I also included text descriptions of the history and development of the games as well as some historical analysis/theory about the game. This included information such as whether the game was used in religious contexts and what common themes for game boards were. This is an area where I think more information would be helpful, and possible avenues for improvement on the current story map would likely focus on including more scholarly evidence and theory regarding who used the game, what contexts the game was used in, where it originated from and/or how it influenced other games or culture, and whether it served entertainment, religious, educational, propogandistic, or other purposes.