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Go directly to dungeon, do not collect 200 schillings: Medieval board game discovered in Russia

Contributed by
Sep 7, 2018

You might think that people during the Middle Ages had more on their minds than fun and games (what with the Bubonic Plague ravaging a third of Europe), but as it turns out, folks were playing board games in the 12th Century, much like we do today. 

Ok, we know what you're thinking and the answer is no. Game manufacturers Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley did not originate in the age of knights, fiefdoms, and dragons (or at least the myths of them). If they did, though, that'd actually be incredible. 

Anyway, The Moscow Times reports that Russian archaeologists discovered a medieval board game in the secret chamber of an ancient, swedish-built fortress in northwestern Russia, known as Vyborg Castle. The rudimentary "game" was no more than small, red brick on which a maze-looking grid had been etched, before the clay making up the brick was baked. 

Vyborg Museum director Vladimir Tsoy posted photos of the brick on his VKontakte (the Russian equivalent of Facebook) page, writing: 

“This is perhaps the most intriguing find at the moment [at the site]."

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 3.57.58 PM

Credit: VKontakte

According to the Moscow Times report, the board is for Nine Men’s Morris, a checkers or chess-like game, in which two players move pieces around, attempting to take away their opponents pieces. Owing itself to a sizeable litany of alternate names like Merels and Mills, Nine Men's Morris is believed to date back over 2,000 years.

Writing for Newsweek, Katherine Hignett expounded on the rules:

"When a player builds a “mill” — a row of three men — on the grid-like board, they are rewarded with an opponent’s game piece. Once a player is down to just two men, they are unable to form mills and their opponent claims victory."

Some postulate that the shape of the board arose from the religious significance placed on squares in Christianity. In his paper Circle and Square to The Image of the World: A Possible Interpretation for Some Petroglyphs of Merels Boards, Friedrich Berger writes:

"After an investigation into merels games and game boards, the route of circle and square motifs from Eurasian and Egyptian symbolism into Christianity is reviewed. It seems that the Christian meaning of the square was transferred to the merels board and, together with other elements, was used in folk art for Christian magic."

While more complex board games like Monopoly, Risk (basically just conquering entire peoples back then), and even Hungry Hungry Hippos wouldn't arrive until much, much later, it's still cool to see that certain forms of entertainment (from thousand-year-old cultures we'd consider archaic and backwards) still endure to this day.


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