Royal Game of Ur

The Royal Game of Ur refers to two game boards found in Royal Tombs of Ur by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920s. The two boards date from the First Dynasty of Ur, before 2600 BC, thus making the Royal Game of Ur probably the oldest set of board gaming equipment ever found. One of the two boards is exhibited in the collections of the British Museum in London.

A board game known with some certainty to be older than The Royal Game of Ur is the ancient Egyptian game Senet, the existence of which possibly dates as early as the 33rd century BC. Also, recent excavations of a sixty piece set in the "Burnt City" located in Iran has shown that a very similar board game existed five thousand years ago, slightly edging out the age of the Ur set.

The Royal Game of Ur was played with two sets (one black and one white) of seven markers and three pyramidal dice. The rules of the game as it was played in Mesopotamia are not known but there is a reliable reconstruction of gameplay based on a cuneiform tablet of Babylonian origin dating from 177–176 BC. It is universally agreed that the Royal Game of Ur, like Senet, is a race game.

Both games may be predecessors to the present-day backgammon.

A graffito version of the game was recently discovered scratched by Assyrian guards onto one of the human-headed winged bull gate sentinels from the palace of Sargon II (721 - 705 BC) in the city of Khorsabad, now in the British Museum in London (see illustration). Similar games have since been discovered on other sculptures in other museums.


  • Jean-Marie Lhôte, Histoire des jeux de société, 1994 Flammarion
  • Jack Botermans, Tony Burrett, Peter Van Delft, Carla Van Splunteren, Le monde des Jeux, 1987 Cté Nlle des Editions du Chêne
  • Finkel Irving, La tablette des régles du jeu royal d'Ur, Jouer dans l'Antiquité, cat. exp., Marseille, musée d'Archéologie méditerranéenne, 1991.
  • "Iran's Burnt City Throws up World’s Oldest Backgammon", Persian Journal, December 4, 2004.

References In Popular Culture

The television series Lost references the game in its pilot episode, in a conversation between the characters of Walt Dawson and John Locke.

External links

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