Tabula Ancient Roman Backgammon

We picked up a new event out side of Chicago this weekend, so I’m unexpectedly having to have re-stock some of our games earlier than normal, and a  little behind on the the blog/podcast. I’ll be back next week with a new audio episode, until then here is a look at version of Backgammon that dates to Ancient Rome.

Backgammon games traveled to the Near East from India, and may have been imported to Europe by the Romans. Emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54) was fond of an early version of Backgammon called Tabula. Emperor Zeno (A.D. 475-81) once had such bad luck playing Tabula that the positions of his men on the board were described a century later by Agathias, a scholastic of Myrine, in Asia. This 6th century record has enabled scholars to recreate the game of Tabula with what is believed a fair degree of accuracy. We have included the rules for Tabula as well as 31 other national and historic variations on Backgammon, which can be played on a standard board.


Three dice are used in Tabula, and the roll can be used to move, 1, 2, or 3 pieces during the turn. For example, a roll of 2-4-5 can be used to move a single piece the total of 11 spaces, or two pieces could be moved: 1 moving two spaces, and the other nine spaces (4+5). Any similar combination could also be used. Or three men could be moved 2, 4, and 5 spaces each.

All the pieces start off of the board, and both players start in the same corner of the board, and unlike the modern game both travel counter clock-wise around the board to bear off. A player may not advance his men until all of them are on the board. Blots are hit as in modern Backgammon, and hit men must re-enter the board before any other men can move. A player must use all of his roll of the dice even if it endangers his men. Any part of a throw is lost if it is blocked by the other player’s pieces.

An optional rule is that no piece may be borne off of the board until all of the player’s pieces are in the home table. If a blot is hit, no more pieces may be borne off until that man has re-entered the home.

Remember, you can submit an audio question about the history of games to be used on an audio episode using the button in the upper left, or use the Submit a Question form if you’re bashful.

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