), a game of
skill resembling draughts, played in a variety of ways by both Greeks and
Romans. The invention of it was commonly ascribed to Palamedes, who,
according to some, was also the inventor of dice (Soph. fr.
380, 381, Dind.; Eurip. Iph. A.
196, πεσσῶν ἡδομένους μορφαῖσι πολυπλόκοις,
“combinations” of the game: a curious but perhaps
interpolated passage). Homer represents the suitors of Penelope amusing
themselves with it (Od. 1.107
assigns both πεττεία
with other more useful arts to Theuth,
the Egyptian Hermes (Phaedr.
p. 274 D); and it is at least
certain that such games were known to the Egyptians. Besides numerous
paintings representing the game, draught-men have been discovered in the
tombs. Among the recent acquisitions of the British Museum are some
beautiful specimens; a set, apparently of one type, carved as lions' heads;
others in glass (a favourite material with the Romans; see below) of two
sizes, as if for a game in which there were both “officers” and
The annexed cut, from a papyrus in the British Museum, represents a game of
draughts between a lion and an antelope; each plays with five men,
distinguished, not by colour, but by their shape: the lion has won, and
holds in his left paw a purse containing the stakes. In Wright's
Hist. of Caricature
(1865, p. 8), the vanquished animal
is described as “a unicorn” ; in Becker-Göll,
(ii. p. 373), as a hare (!). It is clearly
meant for an antelope, though only one horn is seen, owing to the absence of
Among the Greeks two kinds of πεττεία
least are clearly distinguishable, though
Egyptian Draughts. (From a papyrus in the British Museum.)
there were probably others. We may notice, in passing, the
explanation of the Homeric πεσσοὶ
from Apion by Athenaeus (i. p. 16 f, 17 a). According to a tradition which
Apion heard from a native of Ithaca, this was a game not of mental but of
bodily dexterity, a sort of bowls or nine-pins in which a mark was aimed at.
Too much has been made of this passage by Becq de Fouquières (pp.
405-407); Homer says simply πεσσοί,
the rest is fancy (cf. Becker-Göll, Charikles,
2.372). Of the two modes of play of which we have distinct accounts, the
simpler and doubtless the older was the game of the five lines, πέντε γραμμαί,
thus described by Pollux (9.97):
ἐπειδὴ δὲ ψῆφοι μέν εἰσιν οἱ πεττοί,
πέντε δ᾽ἑκάτερος τῶν παιζόντων εἶχεν ἐπὶ πέντε γραμμῶν,
εἰκότως εἴρηται Σοφοκλεῖ καὶ πεσσὰ πεντέγραμμα καὶ κύβαν
βολαί: τῶν δὲ πέντε τῶν ἑκατέρωθεν γραμμῶν μέση τις ἧν ἱερὰ
γραμμή: καὶ δ̔ τὸν ἐεῖθεν κινῶν ἐποίει παροιμίαν: κίνει τὸν
The natural inference is that in this game the
pieces moved along the lines, not the spaces between them; though a board of
36 squares, i. e. divided by five lines each way, has been suggested (L. and
S. s. v. πεσσοί
). Eustathius (on
vi. p. 633, 58) throws some further light on the
proverbial expression κινεῖν τὸν ἀφ᾽ ἱερᾶς,
“to try one's last chance:” it is well known through allusions
in literature (Alcae. fr.
77 Bergk; Theocr. 6.18;
and elsewhere); but why it was dangerous to move this piece, when it became
necessary to move it, or what was the effect upon the game, it is impossible
to say. The Greek idiom of course implies that the ἱερὰ γραμμὴ
was the original station of this piece; a
sufficient answer to the notion of Becq de Fouquières (p. 402)
that it was a part of the board which it was dangerous to approach, and from
which a player had to remove his man if possible. It is a matter of probable
conjecture, but not expressly stated, that in this game, as in the other
form of πεττεία,
the object was to hem in
the enemy's men, or to place one of them between two adversaries, in which
case it was taken off the board; and that the game was won, as in modern
draughts, either by the capture of all the opposing forces or by their
inability to move.
The accounts of the other kind of πεττεία
are a little more explicit: it was called πόλις
or [p. 2.12]
another name for the χῶραι
or squares. The leading passage is Pollux, 9.98: ἡ δὲ διὰ πολλῶν ψήφων παιδιὰ πλινθίον ἐστὶ χώρας
ἐν γραμμαῖς ἔχον διακειμένας: καὶ τὸ μὲν πλινθίον καλεῖται
πόλις, τῶν δὲ ψήφων ἑκάστη κύων: διῃρημένων δὲ ξἰς δύο τῶν
ψήφων κατὰ τὰς χρόας, ἡ τέχνη τῆς παιδιᾶς ἐοτι περιλήψει δύο
ψήφων ὁμοχρόων τὴν ἑτερόχρουν ἀνελεῖν.
We have here
distinct mention of squares instead of lines, of the different colours of
the men (here called κύνες
and not πεσσοί
), of the rule that a man caught between
two adversaries was lost. In the words καὶ τὸ μὲν
πλινθίον καλεῖται πόλις,
there seems to be a confusion
between the board (πλινθίον
) and the
) into which it was divided;
other passages, however, clear up this difficulty. Zenob.
5.67: πόλεις παίζειν: μέμνηται
ταύτης Κρατῖνος ἐν Δραπετίδι:
51 M. ap. Poll. l.c.
] ἡ δὲ πόλις εῖδος ἐστὶ παιδιᾶς πεττευτικῆς, καὶ
δοκεῖ μετενηνέχθαι ἀπὸ τῶν ταῖς ψήφοις παιζόντων, ταῖς
λεγομέναις νῦν μὲν χώραις, τότε δὲ πόλεσιϝ.
4.422 E: ἑάστη γὰρ αὐτῶν
πόλεις εἰσὶ πάμπολλαι, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πόλις, τὸ τῶν
: with the Scholia. These passages show that the game
was really called πόλεις παίζειν
: and Becq
de Fouquières is not happy in his conjecture that the πόλις
was a particular part of the board.
Compare Plat. Rep.
6.487 B, ὑπὸ τῶν
πεττεύειν δεινῶν οἱ μὴ τελευτῶντες ἀποκλείονται καὶ οὐκ
ἔχουσιν ὅ τι φέρωσιν,
where “hemming in” the
enemy is of the essence of the game and φέρειν
is a technical word for “to move,” another
ἀποτεμνόμενος καὶ συγκλείων ὥσπερ ἀγαθός πεττεντής.
The giving of odds (κρεῖσσον
) is alluded to
(Eur. Supp. 409
); and taking back a move
229 E). The number of ψῆφοι
in the developed form of this game seems to have been
thirty on each side: this rests on Phot. Lex.
p. 439, 1: παίζειν τὰς νῦν χαρὰς [χώρας
is an obvious correction] καλουμένας ἐν ταῖς
where Porson corrects ξ᾽.
Pollux (7.206), Eustathius (ad Il.
6.169), and Hesychius (s.
), perhaps by a confusion,
sixty men are also assigned to games with dice. The Greeks used simple
materials: the πεσσοὶ
were merely round or
oval stones (ψῆφοι.
) and, as with us, the same men might
be used for draughts and backgammon [DUODECIM SCRIPTA
In none of the Greek forms of draughts is there any mention of pieces more
powerful than the rest, like the crowned kings or dames
of the modern game. This distinction first appears in the Roman
which in other respects were
very like the πόλεις
just described. The
a name common to this with other
games, were here specially called latrones,
i.e. not robbers, but soldiers; the word comes from λάτρον,
“pay” (Varro, L. L.
p. 118 M.); more commonly the dim. latrunculi,
or in verse milites
(Ov. A. A.
2.207-8, 3.357; Trist.
2.477): for the game may be said to represent a
miniature combat between two armies. That they stood on the squares of the
board (tabula latruncularia,
117.30), not on the lines, is proved by another passage of Varro (L.
10.22): “Ad hunc quadruplicem fontem ordines diriguntur
bini, uni transversi, alteri directi, ut in tabula solet, in qua
latrunculis ludunt.” Neither the number of squares nor of men is
anywhere mentioned: the latter are conjectured to have been thirty a side as
in the Greek game. Glass was a common material (Ov. A.
2.208; Mart. 7.72
); when “gems” are mentioned,
imitation jewels of glass are probably meant (Mart.
); sometimes they were made of earthenware, ivory, or the
precious metals. The colours are distinguished (Ov. Trist.
l.c.; Paneg. Pis.
182; Mart. 14.17
); a set of stone calculi
of a hemispherical shape found in a tomb at Cumae are
curiously enough of three
and red (Bullett. Nap.
1852, p. 132).
The distinction between “officers” and “men,”
noticed above in Egyptian draughts, is also proved to have existed in the
Roman game; see Isid. Orig.
18.67: “Calculi partim
ordine moventur, partim vage. Ideo alios ordinarios, alios vagos
appellant. At vero, qui moveri omnino non possunt, incitos
dicunt;” and the passage quoted below from the Panegyric on
seems to mean
“one square at a time,”
“in any direction so far as the range was unobstructed;” though
a leaping movement has also been suggested (Marquardt, p. 833). The officers
probably stood on the first rank, the men as a “row of pawns”
) in front of them; but we must beware of
pursuing too far analogies derived from chess. The superior pieces were
the inferior very probably
the doubtful term mandra
comes in here for discussion. We find it in
, “Sic vincas Noviumque
Publiumque, Mandris et vitreo latrone clusos;” and in
191, “fracta prorumpat in agmina
mandra.” The sense of “sheepfold” or
“cattlepen” passes easily into that of “a drove of
cattle” (Juv. 3.227
) or “a
string of mules” (Mart. 5.22
applied to the game of latrunculi, mandra
mean a square of the board, and so it is usually explained in the line of
Martial: in Paneg. Pis.
it undoubtedly means the row of
pawns, which is broken through in order to afford scope to the more powerful
pieces; a sense which will equally suit the former passage. But even the
high authority of Becker (Gallus,
p. 471) and
833) will not convince us that mandra
could be applied to the single pawn. As in
the Greek game, the object was to get one of the adversary's men between two
of one's own, and then take it off the board (Ov. ll.
); or else reduce him to a dead
block (ad incilas redigere
). In this phrase, so
often used figuratively (Plaut. Poen.
4.2, 85; Trin.
2.4, 136) the word to be supplied is calces,
an older form for calculos,
sometimes stated. To attack a man is usually alligare
117.30); but we shall find also
and the simple ligare.
The most important passage on the game of latrunculi
is in the Panegyricus ad
printed in old editions of Lucan, and subsequently
ascribed to Saleius Bassus, but now regarded as the work of an anonymous
young poet of the age of Claudius (Teuffel, Röm.
§ 296). The poem will be found in the Poetae Latini Minores
of Wernsdorf or
Bährens, or in the Corpus Poetarum
Weber (pp. 1411-1413). We reproduce this passage (vv.
180-196) with a few [p. 2.13]
comments: one phrase
in it, we think, has never yet been correctly explained.
Callidiore modo tabula variatur aperta
Calculus et vitreo peraguntur milite bella,
Ut niveus nigros, nunc et niger alliget albos.
Sed tibi quis non terga dedit? quis te duce cessit
Calculus? aut quis non periturus perdidit hostem?
Mille modis acies tua dimicat: ille petentem
Dum fugit, ipse rapit: longo venit ille recessu,
Qui stetit in speculis: hic se committere rixae
Audet et in praedam venientem decipit hostem.
Ancipites subit ille moras similisque ligato
Obligat ipse duos: hic ad majora movetur,
Ut citus et fracta prorumpat in agmina mandra
Clausaque deiecto populetur moenia vallo.
Interea sectis quamvis acerrima surgant
Proelia militibus, plena tamen ipse phalange,
Ant etiam pauco spoliata milite, vincis,
Et tibi captiva resonat manus utraque turba.
184, periturus perdidit
i.e. Piso sacrificed pieces which his opponent could not
take without suffering a greater loss; ἀνταναιρεσις
in Eustath. p. 1397, 45. V.
&c. This is a
“discovered check” from one of the superior pieces by
moving a pawn. But the officers all move alike in the Roman game, a
fundamental difference which must prevent its being confounded with chess.
189, Ancipites subit.
man exposes himself to a double attack or cross-fire, mora
being a technical word for attack. In the words which
follow, similis ligato
has always been
understood as if it were simply ligatus;
Becq de Fouquières gives a diagram (p. 449), any number of which
might be invented, to show how an attacked piece may move to the other end
of the board and attack two enemies. This, however, leaves ancipites moras
without a meaning; as we explain it,
he is not really en prise
of two pieces, but places
himself between them, so that he attacks both, while either could take him
if it were not for the other; he is similis
but not ligatus;
well-known manœuvre called the lunette
draughts, and a further point of resemblance with the modern game.
191. For et fracta
is now read; the verse has been explained above. It is clear
that if the pawns moved straight forward, they captured diagonally;
otherwise the line could not be broken through. V.
194 f. The
fewer pieces the winner had lost, the more glorious the victory: this is
illustrated by a story in Seneca (de Tranq. An.
furnishes an additional proof, as Becker has remarked, that the game was
more like draughts than chess, notwithstanding a superficial resemblance to
the latter. The winner was called rex
After all, it must be pronounced impossible to form an adequate conception of
the game; we must admit, with Becker, that many questions remain unanswered.
Becq de Fouquières has been decidedly less successful in
explaining this game than in the Duodecim Scripta.
treating of games of skill among the ancients, it may be as well to say
that, since the history of chess was written by the Englishman Thomas Hyde
at the end of the 17th century, no scholar has held that it was known to the
Greeks or Romans. Chess cannot be traced in the West before the time of
Charlemagne and Harun-al-Rashid (A.D. 800); the Greek words for it, ζατρίκιον
are found only in late Byzantine writers; both are
derived from the Arabic shatranj,
and that from the
(The older learning is collected, very copiously but without sufficient
discrimination between the different games, in a note of Salmasius on
Vopisc. l.c., Hist. Aug.
2.736-761, ed. 1671. Modern
authorities: Becq de Fouquières, Jeux des Anciens,
ed. 2, 1873, chaps. 18, 19; Becker-Göll, Charikles,
ii 371 ff.; Gallus,
508 ff.; Marquardt,