Okay, so I have an iPod Touch, and I’ve filled it with game apps, so it was only natural that when I found out there was an app for an ancient Mesopotamian board game I went straight to the app store and hit “install”.
Now, no form of amusement in antiquity is as fascinating (at least to me) as that of the board game. Board games are more fascinating to me than Gladiator games, because they prove further the intellectuality of a people who did amazing things with precious little in the way of resources and accessible technology.
The Royal Game of Ur on my iPod is a board game of chance and skill I’m still not sure how to play, and it dates as far back as 2600 BC. The game boards were unearthed in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Wooley, during his excavation of the Royal Tombs of Ur. One of the boards is housed at the British Museum today, and I strongly urge you to go stare at it, because it is simply beautiful. Other Mesopotamian board games were also found, but I’m focusing on the Royal Game of Ur, because it’s the one we know the most about, and it’s the one for which I can tell you with confidence “There’s an app for that!”
Mesopotamian game boards were generally made out of clay or stone, and bones of sheep or ox were used for the game pieces and dice. The rules of the game were found inscribed on a tablet of Babylonian origin years after the game boards was excavated, but there is still much about the way the game is played that remains a mystery. Even the app is a little vague on how to play the game.
Based on other game boards found that are crudely made, as opposed to the intricate Lapis Lazuli designs in the one at the British Museum, it seems that board games were not a strictly royal pastime. Palace guards, for instance, played board games when there was no drama at the palace. Can you imagine a travel version of a board game made out of clay or stone?
Anyway, here are some really cool links that provide more fascinating information about how Mesopotamians amused themselves when they weren’t busy shaping the future, along with where you can get The Royal Game of Ur onto your own device.