The Online Guide to Traditional Games

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A History of Games from the Ages

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On this page, I have tried to categorise traditional games from a different perspective - time.  Having received numerous emails over the years, asking me which games were played in the middle ages or by the Romans or Egyptians and so forth, it was clear that many would find this method of accessing the site useful. The particular ages of interest seem to be:- Roman, Medieval, Middle ages, Renaissance, Victorian and Egyptian. The definition of Medieval and 'Middle Ages' turn out to be ambiguous - you can see how I dealt with this below.

These terms imply an unspoken geographical specification as well.  When people say Medieval, they tend to mean European medieval, Renaissance tends to mean Western Europe, Victorian means British only, pretty much.   I apologise to people from other parts of the world for this European bias but that's where I'm from and I'm open to further suggestions.

Period / Civilisation / Era Region concerned Invented in this period (or probably invented) Also known to have been popular during this time
The Sumerians (3500 BC to 2300BC) Sumeria (in modern day Iraq) The Royal game of Ur (The Sumerian Game)  

Ancient Egypt (3000BC to 525BC when conquered by the Persians).


Tau (Game of 20 squares, or Aseb)
Double Tau
Senet (Senat),
Mehen (The snake game)
Dogs and Jackals (Game of 58 holes)

The Romans (c.525BC - c.475)

Rome became a republic in 510 BC.  The end of the Roman Empire is generally dated by the deposition of the last emperor in AD 476.

Europe Duodecim Scriptorum / 12 Philosophers (Bgmon anc.)
Alea /Tabula (Backgammon ancestor)
Latrunculi (Probable Tafl ancestor)
The Dark Ages (c.475 - c.1050)

This is an unfashionable term for the period following the fall of the Roman Empire in which Europe was settled by pagan Germanic tribes who adopted the vestiges of Roman institutions and traditions, were converted to Christianity by the church, and who then founded feudal kingdoms.  The period is termed "dark" because it is characterised by a lack of clear historical information about the period.  The end of the Dark Ages is defined variously as anywhere from 800 to 1050.  This definition includes the Viking Era from 800 - 1050.


Tafl /Hneftafl,
Alea Evangelii
Nard / Tables

The Middle Ages; The Medieval period.  (c.1000 - c.1450

European period from around 1000 to the Renaissance around the 15th century.  (This is the old definition of Middle Ages - modern historians tend to regard the term "Dark Ages" as politically incorrect and have tried to replace it by redefining the Middle Ages to start at the end of the Roman Empire instead.  This author prefers clarity to political correctness).

Europe Fox and Geese
Draughts / Checkers (all variants)
Ground Billiards
Merels / Nine Mens Morris
Renaissance (c.1450 - c.1650)

European intellectual movement that started in Italy in the 14th century and lasted around the rest of Europe until some time in the 17th century.   The renaissance period is traditionally seen as the time when the feudal way of life of the middle ages was transformed into the modern age featuring centralised state politics, high art and science.

Europe Modern European Chess
Shovelboard, forerunner to Shuffleboard and Sjoelbak   (UK)
Shove Ha'penny, another descendant of Shovelboard (UK)
Backgammon (& European variants)
Cribbage (UK, 1620s)
Port & King Billiards
Pall Mall
Real Tennis
Nine Mens Morris (as quoted by Shakespeare)
Fox and Geese
Bowls (as played by Drake before the battle with the Spanish Armada)

Solitaire (France pre-1697)
Carambole (France, 1700s)
Bagatelle (pre 1770, location unknown)

Tablut (Finland seen in 1732)
Victorian period

Queen Victoria, born in 1819, was Queen of England from 1837 -1901 when the British Empire was the leading force in the world. During her reignthe British were potty about games, inventing and codifying hundreds of new games each year, many of which such as Lawn Tennis, Croquet and Snooker went on to become some of the most popular games in the world by the end of the twentieth century.

Britain Halma (US/UK)
Snakes & Ladders
Lawn Tennis (UK)
Squails (UK)
Crokinole (Canada)
Deck Shuffleboard (USA/UK)  1870s
Sjoelbak (Holland)
English Billiards (early 1800s, UK)
Life Pool
Parlour Bagatelle
Lawn Billiards
Mah Jong (China) c.1880
Edwardian period (roughly 1900 - 1919) Britain Outdoor Shuffleboard (early 1900s)
Indoor Shuffleboard ?
Mah Jong was particularly popular in Europe and North America in the 1920s

I realise that this list is not complete and would appreciate any suggestions or feedback you may have.





Email to jm at tradgames.org.uk

Copyright 1997 - now by James Masters.