Games for your mind

Board games history: ancient Greeks played dice in the Parthenon

Posted on: November 8, 2009

Acropolis photo

Acropolis of Athens

Once, on the Acropolis of Athens ancient Greeks used to play board games. They used to roll the dice and play in the Parthenon, the great temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, protector of the city.

Ancient Greeks played Board games very similar to our checkers or chess, with game boards engraved on the floor.

The archaeologist Eleni Karakitsou reveals that during the work of restoration of the Parthenon were found about 50 boards carved on the stairways and the floor, but they used to be certainly more.

The famous image of Achilles and Ajax playing dice under the walls of Troy, painted on many Greek vases, prove that dices games were ancient Greeks favourite pastime .

Achilles and Ajax playing dices

Achilles and Ajax playing dices

Ancient Greeks dices were called Astragals and were made of little animal bones with four sides.

It’s not a coincidence that ancient Greeks attributed the invention of dices and game to the Homeric hero Palamedes, who used to spent in this way the idle days in Troy.
According to Sophocles, Palamedes invented the Tavli game, a board game similar to our backgammon which is still played in Greece today.

But we know that backgammon game boards are even older: there are finds from the third millennium BC in Mesopotamia and other even more older in Iran.

Another popular game in ancient Greece was the “Pentagram”, derived from the five pointed star famous symbol (misrepresented in history and movies for years), improperly called “Pentacle” in the bestseller “Davinci Code”. In ancient Geece the Pentagram, found engraved on the Parthenon floor, was a board game very similar to modern chess.

Many researchers doubt that the game boards on the Parthenon floor belong classic age, because was forbidden to play in the temples. Probably the game boards were engraved when the Parthenon was no longer a temple.

Unfortunately it is difficult if not impossible, to date the engravings. However the historian Plutarch says that in his time, (the first century AD) the floor of the Parthenon was still clean. But surely ancient Greeks were playing just outside the temple, on the hills, just like in the other ancient Hellenic city-states. Archaeologists have found several game boards engraved on the stone in various places of Greece, but unfortunately we know too little, because there is not a study or systematic collection and probably many other games have been lost with the time.

But the certain thing is that even in the past, ancients Greeks loved to spent their free time rolling the dices and playing board games.

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Parthenon scale model

Scale model of the Acropolis

3 Responses to "Board games history: ancient Greeks played dice in the Parthenon"

i think this website is very good for students that are doing the topic ancient greek games thank you for putting this website up

A picture would be nice. Of the board, I mean.

Other than that, it’s good.

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