The Royal Game of Ur, 2600-2400 BC
Wood, shell, lapis-lazuli, carnelian
30.1 (length) x 11 (width) x 2.4 (height) cm
Ur, southern Iraq


This ornate example of an ancient board game, now famous as the Royal Game of Ur, is one of several excavated in the Sumerian cemetery at ancient Ur (in southern Iraq). The game played on it was for two players, each of whom had seven pieces to be entered one by one from their side of the board. The game was a race to the finish, and players tried to knock off their opponents’ pieces on the way and make them start again. The equipment for this board was lost, but other boards from Ur still had their round pieces decorated with dots, and rather exotic tetrahedral dice with two marked corners, although some players preferred four-sided stick dice. All was kept in an internal drawer. Each square on the board is decorated with shell, lapis-lazuli and carnelian, but only the five with rosettes were significant for playing in the game, for they were safe squares that allowed another throw. Boards of this twenty-square pattern have been discovered all over the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world as well as Egypt and India. Its widespread distribution that endured over two and a half millennia of time shows that it was an exciting and enjoyable game to play, and anticipates the later popularity and longevity of chess and backgammon.


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