[Page 56] The research on Minoan games and game boards under­taken during the first half of the century is totally dominated by the work of Sir Arthur Evans. There were scholars analysing games from other Eastern Mediterranean cultures, to whom we shall return, but the material from Bronze Age Crete was not considered by any other than Evans, 37 with the exception of a few short presentations of possibly related material from the archaeological excavations on the island.

EvansAn observer summarising the field in 1950 could also have noticed how well Evans' research corresponds in time with the period and covers the major part of it; the first years of the 20th century were devoted to the excavations at Knossos, often with digging seasons lasting for six months and involving hundreds of workers, and to extensive reports in The Annual of the British School at Athens describing and commenting on the major finds

(Figure 2. Arthur Evans, with notebook, and Duncan Mackenzie, watching the diggers at Knossos. Reproduced courtesy of the Visitors of the Ashmolean, University of Oxford).

Then followed a period of organising and analysing the material for the comprehensive The Palace of Minos at Knossos. The first volume appeared in 1921 and the fourth in 1935, which, together with the index volume the following year, completed the work. To my knowledge, no articles or other publications [Page 57] on Minoan games appeared in the forties. Evans' work will be examined below but we shall first take a look at how the immediate reception, when the Knossos game board was found, is related to the situation described at the end of the previous section.

When the game board was discovered at Knossos at the turn of the century, it was at once considered a very import­ant find. In the daybooks from the excavation, the artefact is immediately recognised as a game board, Evans calls it "the Royal Draughtboard" in his first notes of the find, written at the latest a few days after the discovery. 38 Duncan Mackenzie, Evans' assistant, taking more extensive day-to-day notes, referred to it on the evening of the discovery as "a casket of some kind". The next day he described the object without commenting on its function, but already on the third day he called this part of the palace "the area of the chessboard". 39 The magnificent object was even described in the newspapers just a few weeks later as "undoubtedly the royal draughtboard". 40

The identification was also clearly stated in the annual report, and Evans drew analogies with Egyptian game boards in general but also with the recent find from Enkomi mentioned above. 41 Finds made in previous seasons of excavating at Knossos once again came into focus and were given new interpretations. Glazed roundels found on the pavement of the Throne Room were no longer seen as a probable "part of enameled design let into the beams of the ceiling", 42 but as inlaid medallions of a similar game board. 43  This discussion also opened up analogies with the mainland, where inlays of an almost identical design and colour had been found in the fourth shaft grave at Mycenae. 44  The presence of game boards both in the Minoan and the Mycenaean worlds was quickly established and Evans, for instance, stated that "a gaming table was such an indispensable possession of Mycenaean kings that it followed them to another world".45 Furthermore, close to the "Town Mosaic", excavated in the Loomweight basement, four conical ivory pieces were found which from the beginning were described as draughtsmen. 46

All these finds and their interpretation, considering both their physical construction and their presumed functions, fitted well into the picture of ancient games established in the late 19th century. They also suited Evans' opinion that many features of the Bronze Age Aegean were due to influ­ences from the ancient Near East, a view he had developed already before he started excavating at Knossos.47 Just as the whole Minoan civilisation itself filled a gap and became a link in time and space, so did the games and game boards on a much smaller scale.

Knossos GameboardSince Evans' discoveries and conclusions are so fundamental, it is necessary to examine them in more detail. "The Royal Gaming Board", which was later renamed "The Royal Draughtboard", will hereinafter, for the sake of simplicity, be referred to as the Knossos game board or Kgb (Figure 3). It was found in Knossos in 1901, close to the wall of a corridor, north of the Loomweight basement, which after the discovery was named the "Corridor of the draughtboard".48 Pieces of the inlay-gold-plated ivory, glass paste, silver plaques, rock crystal and other precious materials ­ were found scattered around and were also broken off by the picks of the workmen. The greater part of the board, except the fragmentary borders, was, however, found with the inlaid design in position and could after a very difficult operation be raised. The report concentrates on the physical description of the board, with all the different circles and bars. By analogy to Egyptian boards, it is suggested that the Kgb served as the top of a gaming-box containing the pieces of the game49 and the design of some of the medallions is seen as influence from the same direction.50 There is a brief comment that the small number of rosettes/circles on the surface of the board, where the pieces were placed, suggests that a dice was used to increase the variation and possible moves. Apart from that, however, discussions about how the game was played and other conclusions did not emerge until twenty-five years later, in The Palace of Minos at Knossos to which I now turn.

The Kgb is divided by Evans into different zones, such as the "citadel" or "bastions", and these areas, as part of the whole arrangement, are used to explain the principal goals of the game, for example, "one player starting on each wing [Page 58] and the successive occupation of the squares of the 'citadel' being dependent on the results obtained below".51 From this, the analysis is taken even further, including more detailed descriptions of how different points were calculated. The board is also compared with those used in Greek and Roman games, but Evans admits that no close parallels to the Kgb have yet been supplied by Egypt or the classical world.

The presentation in PM is not confined to the game board itself. From now on, the topic of gaming in general is considered and Evans uses many different types of archaeological artefacts to paint the picture. Some agate prisms from Papouda are mentioned as possible dice which could have been used in the game played on Kgb and other game boards.52 The draughts men mentioned above are closely investigated in the same part of the publication and their engraved bases are compared with Minoan fresco fragments. Inlays of faience and crystal from the Temple Repositories are restored and presented as another game board. The lid of an ivory-box with rosettes from Tylissos and the medallion inlays from the fourth shaft grave in Mycenae are also introduced into the same discussion.

Other kinds of evidence are for the first time on Crete considered in this wider topic of gaming. Evans focuses on the small cup-marks found on different stones at Knossos and other Minoan sites around the island and compares them under the heading "Pavement Games". 53 The round stone with cup-marks in a circle at Mallia is considered a game rather than a libation table, just like some smaller examples of a similar design. 54 Evans uses many analogies in his argumentation, both from ancient Greece, Egypt and Homer, 55 as well as modern examples from different areas. It is interesting to see how he now for the first time makes direct references to the late 19th century works by Falkener and Becq de Fouquieres mentioned above. 56 The rows of marks on the pavement in the "Theatral Areas" of Knossos and Phaistos are also, even if only very briefly, mentioned in the same context and their function as games is clearly stated. This may be compared with the situation in the report from the excavations of 1902: the very thorough description of the area, its construction and its finish does not mention the marks at all, even though they are drawn into the plan.57

In the chapter on pavement games in PM, Evans also in­troduces iconographical material in the discussion on Minoan games. A painted stucco fragment is interpreted with certainty as showing young boys in the middle of a pavement game. 58 Another group of evidence is the so-called "bone-fish" (or vesica piscis); small, fish-shaped bricks of bone which, together with broken pieces of bracelets, were incised with signs and scores. According to Evans, these pieces might belong to some kind of game, though he does not develop this idea much further. 59

As we can see, many different kinds of evidence are now being adduced. The last group consists of the seals. Evans presents two seals, from Kasteli Pedeada and Hagia Triada, the first showing a man playing some kind of board game and the second with the Egyptian "draughtboard sign" (men). The board is described as Minoan and the sign as being a Minoan "adoption" from Egypt. 60 It is also noted that the seal with the men-sign is situated on a six-faced ivory signet, but the fact that, judging from its appearance on later photographs, 61 it would function very well as a dice in itself, [Page 59] is not considered. Dice in general are mentioned by Evans as being a necessity in most of the games discussed, but, to my knowledge, the only particular objects that he took into consideration were the agate prisms from Papouda men­tioned above. 62

If we sum up Evans' large contribution to our knowledge of Minoan games and game boards, we have seen how he went from the descriptive information about the Kgb in the annual reports to a wider discussion on the whole topic of gaming in PM. This wide picture is, however, not a solid unit with overall conclusions on Minoan games, but rather many different pieces of evidence mentioned or analysed in different circumstances. Another characteristic of the presentation of gaming material in PM is the frequent analogies involving material from both ancient and contemporary environments, the land of the Pharaohs being the most important area of reference. This is true for game boards, pieces and signs, as well as for the phenomenon of gaming as such. In all of this, the Kgb is the hub and it seems as if the importance of the find was evaluated even more highly in the twenties than when it was found, for example, in statements such as "the inlaid Ivory Draughtboard - the most magnificent relic discovered in the whole course of the excavation". 63 In the light of this, it is even more surprising that, as we shall see, so little was said on the subject after Evans.

There was, however, plenty of scholarly activity involving games and game boards going on in other areas around the Eastern Mediterranean, the most spectacular discoveries being perhaps the magnificent game boards uncovered in the tomb of Tut'ankhamun and in the Royal Tombs of Ur. Also in the field of classical studies dealing with Greece and Rome, new efforts were being made on the topic.

Tut's TombAbout the same time as Evans made his discoveries at Knossos, Petrie published new draughtsmen, throwing sticks and iconographic material of people playing games from the royal tombs of the earliest dynasties. 64 The knowledge of gaming in the oldest periods accumulated further in 1909, when even earlier evidence of gaming was exhibited by the Egyptian Exploration Fund at King's College in London. The artefacts on display came from a predynastic cemetery north of Abydos and included a game board of clay with accompanying pieces of two different sizes.65 Thirteen years later, when Carter entered the grave of Tut'ankhamun, there were among the Pharaoh's other treasures some magnificent game boards (Figure 4). They range in size from a large, impressive board on a stand to a pocket-size game. The common design is a box of ivory and wood with one type of game on each side and with a drawer containing different kinds of playing-pieces. 66 In addition to the new discoveries, more analysing work was done on the gaming of ancient Egypt. From the very beginning of the century, we have both studies that classify and compare a certain group of material 67 and studies that use all kinds of evidence, including many hieroglyphic texts, to create an overarching presentation. 68

In Southwest Asia, there were also many new finds during the period. In Mesopotamia, the most important find was made in 1926, when Sir Leonard Woolley opened the royal graves of the First Dynasty of Ur. No less than four complete boards of the same type were found, all designed as boxes. They were accompanied by black and white gaming-pieces and in some cases also by tetrahedral dice.69 About five years later, Woolley found another type of board similar to the Egyptian "dog and jackal" type. 70 Many fragments from games of this kind had also been discovered in Assyria and they were now put together and compared by C.J. Gadd. 71 Other sites in the Near East area, such as Susa, Tall Bait Mirsim, Tepe Gawra and Tall Halaf, also contributed whole or broken game boards, mostly made of stone. 72

Most texts on the subject concentrate on presenting the material or giving brief conclusions about the relationship with other games and how they were played. The archaeological artefacts themselves and their construction are often [Page 60] the only basis on which the rest of the discussion is established. A different approach during the period can be found in 'Babylonian chess?' by C.J. Gadd, in which he uses a Babylonian text from the Seleucid period as the prime source. According to Gadd, a reference in an augural text from 213 BC, together with an Assyrian textual fragment, recapitulates an older game with some likeness to chess. 73

Among the scholars who have studied the games of ancient Greece and Rome, H. Lamer stands out as the first one to collect, organise and analyse the material in a systematic way. His extensive article from 1927, in RE, uses both archaeological and literary evidence in a critical way. 74 The most important contributions on games during the thirties and forties came from R.G. Austin. His studies summarise the material and knowledge mainly by using the ancient authors. Earlier generalisations are criticised and he uses modern examples to show all the difficulties in correctly describing and understanding games and gaming. Analogies are sometimes drawn between the Roman and Greek spheres, seldom to ancient Egypt or the Orient and never to the Aegean Bronze Age. 75 To my knowledge, there are no other major works on Greek or Roman games from these decades.

As we have seen, the areas around the Eastern Mediterranean show many differences when it comes to the available information on games and game boards in the middle of the 20th century. The situation was timely summarised in 1952 by H.J.R Murray in a monograph entitled A history of board games other than chess. This was the first major effort since the late 19th century to exhibit and compare all kinds of games, and one chapter is devoted to "Games in the ancient world". Each region or cultural area is presented and its various games are listed with a short description, but when it comes to the Kgb, Murray is sceptical of its being a game board at all. 76 Even though the focus is on explaining how the games were played and on presenting the artefacts themselves, one can also learn about game materials, different game types and their evolution and their connection with comparable games. All sorts of sources are used and analogies across time and space are frequent. The spreading of games between cultures and periods is considered briefly and he states that "the board-games of Greece and Rome are affiliated to the older games of Egypt, Ur and Palestine, and... they reached Greece by way of the Mediterranean islands". 77

Apart from this statement, and a few others of a similar character, the cultural areas were still mostly treated separately. My survey of the research during the first half of the century has, I hope, illuminated these differences; in Egypt and Southwest Asia, many new and spectacular finds were made and commented upon, while the Greek and Roman games were given some attention by studying the ancient authors. In the middle, on Crete, Evans alone created a concept of Minoan games and gaming from various archaeological artefacts. The stepping-stone had been constructed. But the steps of influence were still hard to trace.

Last update January 6, 2010