Roman Rules? the Introduction of Board Games to Britain and Ireland

By Hall, Mark A.; Forsyth, Katherine | Antiquity, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Roman Rules? the Introduction of Board Games to Britain and Ireland


Hall, Mark A., Forsyth, Katherine, Antiquity


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Introduction

In recent years Antiquity has addressed the subject of Roman and indigenous or native interaction--a wider process than Romanisation--through board games in the context of the Eastern Empire (Mulvin & Sidebotham 2004; de Voogt 2010). With this paper we seek to move the debate to the Western Empire, particularly the frontier zone of Britain and Ireland and explore the question of the Roman introduction of board games and their subsequent development by Celtic-speaking peoples.

Literary and archaeological evidence combines to indicate that the playing of board games was a widespread, popular and culturally significant phenomenon among the Celtic-speaking peoples of Britain and Ireland in the first millennium AD. Yet little attention has been given to the origin of such games in these islands. Previous writers (e.g. Sterckx 1970; Schadler 2007 with circumspection) appear to have taken it for granted or at least allowed that it was possible, that board games were a feature of ancient Celtic society from earliest times. The view presented here, however, is that board games arrived in Britain and Ireland through contact with the Roman world and that they are part of the wider picture of cross-frontier material cultural interaction (Galestin 2010: 64-88).

Moving the pieces around: the role of Rome

Sterckx (1970) was mistaken in his assumption that the playing of board games is a human universal and that Celtic-speaking peoples are therefore likely to have played them since time immemorial. This idea is rooted in Huizinga's (1950) proposition that play was a universal human given. We root our proposition here in the ideas of Caillois (1958) and Dumazadier (1968) who argue for a culturally contextualised view of play. Board games then are not universal in origin but appear, as far as their Western history is principally concerned, to have a specific origin and dissemination from mid-fourth-millennium BC Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, around the Mediterranean and thence to temperate Europe (Murray 1951: 226-38). Cultural contacts with and within the Roman Empire were a particularly important means of diffusion and it was through contacts with Rome that board games entered the Germanic world, reaching far beyond the limes to Scandinavia (as Murray [1951: 230] long ago suggested). Were this not already clear from the archaeological evidence (Whittaker 2006; Sodberg 2007), it would be obvious from the names for such games in the Germanic languages. As Schadler explains (2007: 372) the Germanic name tafl, board game (hence, Anglo-Saxon tofl, Norse tafl and later hnefatafl), derives from Latin tabula (gaming) board or counter. The name travelled yet further north, into Saami culture where the playing of tablut, ultimately, it seems, an Iron Age loan via Norse, was noted by Linnaeus in 1732 and observed among the Saami as late as 1884 (Murray 1913: 445-46; Helmfrid 2000).

The process of dissemination was not one of wholesale borrowing or slavish imitation, but rather a creative indigenous response to stimulus in which games were adapted to local cultural and social contexts. The most recent analysis of tafl in Scandinavia suggests it was derived from Roman imports or gifts of ludus latrunculorum (Sodberg 2007; Whittaker 2006). The Scandinavian variant hnefatafl retained ludus latrunculorum's basic mode of capture--by flanking--but changed its two equally matched armies into a king protected by his warband from a larger opposing force of attackers, this innovation perhaps resonating better with the indigenous social and political institution of the comitatus.

The introduction and diffusion of board-gaming throughout temperate Europe is in many ways analogous to the introduction and spread of literacy throughout the same area at approximately the same time. Both followed similar trajectories, in similar social contexts--of elite emulation--and manifest a similar variety in responses to stimulus (see Woolf 1994; Williams 2002; de Hoz 2007). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Roman Rules? the Introduction of Board Games to Britain and Ireland
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.