Session 2: Ancient Games – University of Copenhagen

Board Game Studies Colloquium XX > Program > Session 2: Ancient Games

Session 2: Ancient Games

Divining Love Games in Ancient Greece

Wed 17 May, 13:30 - 14:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Jennifer Genovese
Archaeologist, Swiss Museum of Games, La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland

Julius Pollux in his work Onomasticon mentioned several games including Kὀttabos, Krina or Telephilon. Athenaus of Naucratis, Agathias or Theocritus also refer to certain of these games which have been little documented. What do they all share? They are divining love games. Sure enough, in Ancient Greece, young people often relied on fate in order to acquaint themselves with their future beloved. The games played sometimes held an important role. To date, however there isn't a complete study that analyses the phenomenon.

This presentation will start by looking at the well known Kὀttabos, the best described amongst the three. Very popular at banquets during the fifth century BC, this game of dexterity takes on a highly symbolic dimension on Greek vases of the same era. It will then try to understand Krina and Telephilon, two games that involve the use of Poppy flowers.

An analysis of the texts of the Ancients in order to describe and possibly understand these games is also proposed. Greek iconography has been used to reinforce findings.
Lastly, the fact that maybe some of these games or variations of them are still played today will be considered. The objective is not to offer a definitive study, the research accomplished into the subject being in early stages but rather to arouse remarks and comments on the subject.

Jennifer Genovese (1984) is an archaeologist (Greek and Roman archaeology – MAS) graduated from the University of Lausanne (Switzerland). She is also completing a diploma in cultural management. She is in charge of the cultural mediation of the Swiss Museum of Games for 5 years.

Select Publications
AA. VV., Mah-Jong, le jeu, sous la direction de Jennifer Genovese. Arles: Éditions Philippe Piquier, 2015.
Genovese, J., "Jouer avec les chiens dans l'Antiquité" in Archéothéma 31 (November-December 2013), p. 26.

Board Games in Pre-Islamic Indonesia: Finds of Gaming Implements from Shipwreck Sites Considered against Old Javanese and Classical Malay Textual Evidence

Wed 17 May, 14:00 - 14:30 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Dr Jiri Jakl
Gonda Fellow, International Institute of Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden, Netherlands

During the last ten years, Indonesian archaeologists have reported finds of "gaming pieces", fragments of gaming boards, and specimens of other gaming implements from a dozen of shipwreck sites, mostly in the Java Sea, as well as from a number of early urban centres in Java, Sumatra, and Sulawesi. These finds (dated to the 10th to 16th centuries CE), most of them published only in Indonesian-language journals, have never been studied in the proper context of gaming, and there was no effort to contextualise the archaeological artefacts with what we know about board games from the Old Javanese (9-15th centuries CE) literary and epigraphical corpus, and from classical Malay (13-17th centuries CE) textual records. In my contribution I discuss some of these finds in detail, and offer a preliminary overview of how the maritime "Silk Road" helped to promote and disseminate Indian and Chinese gaming cultures in pre-modern maritime Southeast Asia.

Jiri studied Old Javanese at the Leiden University (MA), and holds a PhD from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, for his work on the history of warfare in Java before 1500 CE. Currently, Jiri is a Gonda fellow at the International Institute of Asian Studies (IIAS) in Leiden. Jiri is interested in the social history of Indonesia, and in Old Javanese and Sanskrit medical literature.

Phanjika Revisited: Notes On the Early History of Pachisi

Wed 17 May, 14:30 - 15:00 (KUA3, Room 4A.0.69)

Jacob Schmidt-Madsen
PhD Fellow, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

The Indian predecessor of the modern games Ludo and Parcheesi is known in several variations most commonly referred to as chaupar, chausar, or pachisi. Though often declared as the national game of India, with a hoary history reaching back to the most ancient of times, no incontrovertible evidence of the game prior to the 16th century has emerged so far. Attempts at identifying it with the game played by Shakuni and Yudhisthira in the Mahabharata or by Shiva and Parvati in early Indian sculpture have all been convincingly disproved.

In 1892 Edward Falkener noted certain resemblances between the games of astha-kasthe and pachisi. Though the former was played on a square and the latter on a cruciform board, the overall concept of the two games as well as several particulars were found to be identical. Today pachisi has all but died out, while astha-kasthe boards continue to be scratched into the ground and played under various regional names in towns and villages throughout India and Nepal. This presentation suggests that not only may ashta-kasthe have outlived pachisi, it may even have preceeded and engendered it.

The main argument is based on a 12th-century description of an unidentified game called phanjika. The description appears in a compendium on royal life (Manasollasa) which has been extensively mined for information regarding chess and backgammon, with little attention paid to other games. While earlier attempts at understanding phanjika have pointed in the direction of a strange hybrid between an amorous pastime and a gambling game, a fresh look at the description in question suggests a previously unattested 4-player race game which might help close the gap between ashta-kasthe and pachisi.

Jacob Schmidt-Madsen is a PhD Fellow in the Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen. His current research focuses on the religious origins of Snakes & Ladders among the Jain and Vaishnava communities of 18th and 19th century Western India. Other fields of interest include story literature, narrative painting, and meaningful play.