Games of Chance
Folding backgammon board
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Folding backgammon board
Iran; early 19th century
Wood, painted and varnished
69 x 45 x 11.2 cm (open); 69 x 16.4 x 16.8 cm (closed)
Nasser D. Khalili Collection of Islamic Art, LAQ 284

Backgammon in Persia
and China
Backgammon in Persia

Backgammon, alongside chess and a handful of other board games, is played today in one incarnation or another virtually across the globe. Devotees prize its balance between chance and skill as being ideal, and it is, of all the world’s race games, perhaps the only important one in which such a balance exists. Persia had a major part to play in the early development of the game. Traditionally, the game’s first appearance on the world stage is intimately bound up with that of chess, as documented in Middle Persian literature that reflects the world of the Sasanian dynasty (224–651 C.E.).

Backgammon in China

Since at least as early as the sixth century, China has been home to a rich variety of games of the backgammon type. Their history and origins are still poorly understood; some were probably indigenous inventions, but there is strong evidence that others may have been imports transmitted along the Silk Road from the West. The earliest archaeological evidence of a backgammon-type of game in China comes from a Sui-period (581–618) tomb. The tomb yielded twenty-seven conical gaming pieces, thirteen made of green glass and fourteen of agate. The earliest evidence for backgammon-type boards in China comes in the form of small-scale ceramic replicas of boards discovered in early Tang-period (618–907) tombs. These boards are marked with a row of rectangles along either side that indicate the placement of the pieces.