tavli history


 For a long time I try to gather the names of the relevant board games that were played in the ancient Greek world and when I think that I have gathered them all, I find something new. The Greek literature is, at its biggest part, lost. The researchers are trying to revive the historical truth, piece by piece, in a puzzle and unfortunately we will never be able to have the whole of it. A game in Knossos that Evans calls it “Mega Zatrikion”. A game board in the excavations of ancient Troy. Reports about board games in the Homer’s circle.

Board games that were played by the ancients Greeks were the “poleis” or “polis’, “tilia”, “chora pezin”, “zatrikion”, “gramme”, “pente gramme”, “diagrammismos” and all of them can be put under the general name “pettia”, which means all the board games. Games with dices or with knuckle-bones that were played by the ancient Greeks are the “astragalismos”, “kyvia”, “pessi”. “cotta”.
Here, I will remind you the three basic things that are needed in order to play tavli: 1. Dices with six sides 2. Board with a system of six or twelve 3. Two players that are facing each other.
These three basic things are a historical confirmed fact in ancient Greece. We have the classic dices of six sides in archeological founding, some of them have on them the painted figure of the inventor Palamides (National Archeological Museum). We have also lots of painted images of the classic game between Achilles and Aeantas, of different technique and of different times. In all of them, it is clear that they play something. They may play tavli, they may play chess, they may play “pettia”. I believe that the differences in the decoration of the game are owned in the different artists and the knowledge that they had in their time about the board games.
The picture with Achilles and Aeantas to play, either they have spectators or not, is the same like the one we can see in a Greek yard or a Greek café, 3000 years later. It is six of one and half a dozen of the other. I refer it with an emphasis because in the oldest Egyptian images that most writers use in order to support the assumption of the Egyptian origin of tavli , in most of them we can see only one person with a board (how this now means a game between two persons only them are the ones who know it).
So what we have until now. Games in board are played in the whole east Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. The king game of Our, the senet and seega in Egypt, in Troy, in Minoan Crete. But Greece and Ionia are the areas where this tradition creates a big number of variations of board games. With the extension of the Greek civilization during the Macedonian conquest and the descendants of the Great Alexander, the perfectible Greek board games came in touch with the Persian and Indian tradition. With the removal of the factor luck (dices) was created chess, which was brought in Europe of dark ages by Arabs, either through the crusaders or through Spain and Cicely, which were their European conquests. Tavli continues to be played in the same way that was played by the ancient Greeks. Regardless to which empire owns this area, the tradition continues in all levels. We have a big number of games in the Greek area that are played 3000 years later, with exactly the same way. The “kotsi”, the “agalmata”, the “pentavola, why not and the tavli?

“Tilia” was the name of the forerunner of the today’s tavli. Which became ‘tabula” in the ancient Rome and “tavlion” in Byzantium. "Tables" were the name of all board games in the Anglo-Saxonic world and "talf" for the Scandinavians.
The games that are played by the Romans under the general title of Tabula and are the continuity of the Greek ones are : the Duodecim, the Scriptorum, the game of the 12 philosophers*, the Latrunculi, the Terni Lapilli. The Romans are also passionate craps players and we do not need to remind the tradition with the robe of Christ, which was played in craps or the phrase of Julius Cesar “the die is cast”.
With the fall of the Roman empire and the entrance in the Dark age, every evolution of the games stops, except for the craps , which are continued to be played. Tavli continues its evolution in Byzantium and in Arabic world. Europe starts to “learn it again” from Arabs, knowledge that drives to the board games and to backgammon. In Othman Empire are created two from the today’s Greek variations of the game and this is the reason why they have Arabic names, moultezim and gioul. And they pass as tradition to all the people who were part of the Othman Empire (tavli is called gioul mpara in Bulgaria).

In conclusion, I believe that today’s “plakoto” and “portes” (doors) along with the childish “eureka”, are come directly from the ancient Greece. Backgammon is the Greek “portes” with the rule of double, which was added in the 20th century. “Feyga” (go) (multezim) is a variation, which was developed by the people of the Othman Empire, mostly of the area of Asia Minor. This explains why is the basic game in Turkish tavli. Beloved to the Greek people of Ionia , took the name “feyga” (go) along with their entrance to greece, us refuges after their persecution from Asia Minor.

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