Did the Ancient Greeks Play Board Games?

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By Ralph Torres

If you think board games are a modern invention, think again! Board games have been around for thousands of years and were enjoyed by many ancient civilizations, including the Greeks. Although not much is known about the specific board games played by the ancient Greeks, there is evidence to suggest that they did indeed play them.

The Evidence

One of the pieces of evidence that suggests that the ancient Greeks played board games is a set of game pieces found in a tomb in Turkey. The game pieces date back to around 500 BC and are similar to pieces used in a game called “Petteia,” which was a popular Greek game.

Another piece of evidence comes from Greek literature. In “The Odyssey,” Homer describes a game called “Knucklebones” which was played with sheep anklebones. Although this game was not a board game per se, it does suggest that the ancient Greeks enjoyed playing games.

The Games

Although we don’t know exactly which board games were played by the ancient Greeks, we do have some idea of what they may have looked like. One popular theory is that they played a game called “Polybius,” which was similar to modern-day Backgammon.

Another theory is that they played a game called “Petteia,” which was mentioned earlier. This game involved moving pieces around on a board and capturing your opponent’s pieces.

Polybius

  • Polybius was played on a board with two sets of 15 markers each.
  • The object of the game was to move all your markers off the board before your opponent did.
  • The markers were moved based on rolls of dice or knucklebones, similar to Backgammon.

Petteia

  • Petteia was played on a board with 64 squares, similar to a chessboard.
  • Each player had a set of pieces that they moved around the board.
  • The object of the game was to capture all of your opponent’s pieces.

Conclusion

While we may never know exactly which board games the ancient Greeks played, there is evidence to suggest that they did enjoy playing games. Whether it was Polybius or Petteia, it’s clear that the ancient Greeks were just as competitive and playful as we are today!