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Object Highlight: Backgammon

Researched and written by Rachel Rabinowitz, Collections Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator, Claire Goode, Living History Specialist, and Teresa Marcus, Community Engagement Coordinator

Let's talk about our backgammon set in this object highlight video. Who knew backgammon could be so dangerous? Watch the whole series.

Backgammon Set
Backgammon Set

Backgammon with dice (2008.02) Gift of Judy Van Lunen.

Backgammon is an ancient board game, which can be traced back to Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) nearly 5,000 years ago.

Backgammon means “back play”, the Middle English word “gammon” means play. The name refers to players ability to go forward or back as the game progresses. It uses dice, pieces, and a game board.

In 1743, Edmond Hoyle produced a treatise on the rules and regulations of the game.

Backgammon is a two-player game where the winning goal is for one of the players to collect all pieces onto their home board and then are the first to “bear” the pieces all off. Still played today, backgammon originated in what is now Iraq and made popular by the ancient Romans and bears many similarities to parcheesi.

The set is made of wood, with the points and other decorative elements inlaid into the wood.

Much like many of the games popular in the 18th century, the outcome was often bet upon. Backgammon is notoriously synonymous with games that drew gamblers, or ‘gamesters’, with its promise of many a coin to be won. With coin, however, comes those who will lie, steal, and cheat for it resulting in violent feuds and tavern brawls like the one depicted in Jan Steen’s appropriately tilted Argument Over a Card Game where a backgammon board can be seen lying open on the ground.

Argument Over a Card Game
Argument Over a Card Game

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