Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

"It seems to me that despite his errors, Bidev's theory about the "four seasons" game still cannot be ruled out as playing a role in the origin of European playing cards."
We have to see clearly, that (at least for the moment) we have only 2 early Western notes about a 4-players-chess.

1. 1277 at the English court of king Edward I (also called "Edward Longshanks" and "Hammer of the Scots").
2. 1283 at the Spanish court (description at Alfonso's book of Games)

Point one is insecure, that's just a strange sentence.

Huck at viewtopic.php?f=11&t=1103&p=16998&hilit=chess#p16998
Close to the English king Edward appeared a document in 1277, which occasionally was interpreted as a playing card document.

An Inquiry Into the Origin and Early History of Engraving, Upon Copper and in Wood: With an Account of Engravers and Their Works, from the Invention of Chalcographyby Maso Finiguerra, to the Time of Marc' Antonio Raimondi, Volume 1
William Young Ottley
John and Arthur Arch, 61, Cornhill, 1816 - Engraving - 836 pages ... 77&f=false


The assumption, that this game might have been the old 4-players-chess, known nowadays under the name chaturaji ..

.. is somehow supported by the fact, that Alfonso X the wise in his chess book described the variant (usual date of the production c. 1284) of 4-player-chess in a modified opening.


When Edward, the English king's son, was active at the 9th crusade in 1271, a year later his father had died, and Edward became English king himself as Edward I.
It was not until 24 September that Edward left Acre. Arriving in Sicily, he was met with the news that his father had died on 16 November, 1272.[60] Edward was deeply saddened by this news, but rather than hurrying home at once, he made a leisurely journey northwards. This was partly due to his health still being poor, but also due to a lack of urgency.[61] The political situation in England was stable after the mid-century upheavals, and Edward was proclaimed king at his father's death, rather than at his own coronation, as had until then been customary.[62] In Edward's absence, the country was governed by a royal council, led by Robert Burnell.[63] The new king embarked on an overland journey through Italy and France, where among other things he visited Pope Gregory X[j] in Rome, King Philip III in Paris, and suppressed a rebellion in Gascony.[64] Only on 2 August 1274 did he return to England, and was crowned on 19 August.

I don't get a better journey description 1272-74 than this ...


... likely he went to Genoa and then through France, having no direct contact to Alfonso the wise. But if he had stayed some time in Sicily, surely the news of his return spread, and near diplomats were eager to congratulate the new king and ask him for his future intentions, hoping for god relations in the near future. At such an opportunity an information about a 4-persons-chess might have gone from Edward to Alfonso, and Edward - as a plausible theory - got it during his adventures in the Levante.

At least we have, that researcher Rosenfeld found it interesting enough to speculate about the idea, that the 4-persons-chess became the mother of the 4-suits-system of the playing card decks. One of his ideas was - I've to read the article again - that the German suit system used the 4 colors of the 4-persons-chess.

It's not unusual, that chess-variants are rarely documented. On the other side we can't have a clear view, what sort of chess is meant, when we meet the numerous chess documents in old historical notes, cause texts with game descriptions are very rare (what would we know with security, if the JvR-text would be missing ?).
Similar to the Trionfi card research, where researchers expected 22 trumps, when they saw the word "Trionfi", chess researchers tended to find the game, that they had in their mind in their theories about "old chess".

As the situation is, we don't have much evidence to calculate, how much distribution the "game of 4 kings" had in 13th and 14th century. It might have been very rare ... but that's not sure. And the situation of "possible game invention" doesn't demand, that a game is already very far spread (actually "invention" needs the situation, that something isn't there before). It just needs somebody, who invents it, and others (players or a social community), which follow. Courts of kings or other types of courts should have been ideal to spread a game in the common social structure of medieval times.

Chess was distributed "close to the kings".

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

mikeh wrote: Bidev wrote:
The dragons upon the Mamluk cards are inexplicable from the Islamic religion forbidding pictorial representation of human and animal beings. The dragons may be rather an Islamic decorative adaptation from Portugiese [sic] cards bearing pictures of dragons on the four Aces.
Here are some Mamluk period dragons:

A 14th century finger bowl:


A couple of miniatures from a Mamluk copy of the 'Automata of al Jaziri' or the 'Book of Knowledge of Mechanical Devices'. The mechanical devices depicted and described in the book did not always have practical use, some were automata contrived for amusement:



Some Mamluk emblems on Mosque hanging lamps:


Polo sticks (on a GREEN glass lamp, a colour Bidev imagines to be prohibited)


Trefoil or Fleur-de-Lis

A glass vase with Polo players (as another example of Mamluk figurative art that Bidev states didn't occur in Islamic art)

Some more Mamluk mosque lamps:





Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

BTW: Off-topic but it has been asked about before and I can't find the relevant thread: a piece on the calligraphy and transcription of the Mamluk cards:

But back on topic, the piece on reconstruction there also discusses the colours:

The Topkapi deck is actually composed of three: It is possible the original had 4 court cards:
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

Huck wrote: But there is another 4-persons-chess:

This is the version that Rosenfeld compares with the structure of the cards? I think the first attestation of this four king version is 1030 (by Al-Biruni). I don't know of any arabic source that describes this game in relation to the four seasons, temperaments, humours directly. But that such analogies were made in general can be seen in the 6th advantage of Muhammad ibn Mahmud al-Amuli, which I posted above.

The sixth advantage is derived from the preceding, and assigns to each piece, according to the planet it represents, certain physical temperaments, as the Warm, the Cold, the Wet, the Dry, answering to the four principle movements of Chess (viz, the Straight, Oblique, Mixed or Knight;’s, and the Pawn’s move).

This was in regards to the 2 player game. The four persons variation was after Al-Almudi’s time – but if such variation existed at his time it is clearly he could have carried on the analogy similar to that in Alfonsi’s four seasons - as indeed somebody later did.
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

Wikipedia ...
Chaturaji (meaning "four kings", and also known as choupat, IAST Caupāṭ, IPA: [tʃɔːˈpaːʈ]) is a four player chess-like game. It was first described in detail c. 1030 by Al-Biruni in his India book.[1] Originally, this was a game of chance: the pieces to be moved were decided by rolling two dice. A diceless variant of the game was still played in India at the close of the 19th century.

Footnote 1: Murray p. 65
You find Murray's statements at ... ... navlinks_s
... with the search keywords "1030 forbes"

I've looked through the 1970 text of Rosenfeld, and think, that it doesn't refer to any difference between the versions. But I think, that he earlier wrote other notes about the topic. I'm not sure, that he was informed about the difference. I don't know, if he knew Murray at this time. And Murray offers very much different chess versions, and it's not easy to get an overview.

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

Thanks for the dragon images from Islam, Steve. The ones of scimitars, cups, etc. are relevant to playing cards, of course, but Bidev only said Islam prohibited images of animals and people. Perhaps by "animals" he meant to exclude fantastical animals such as dragons and unicorns. Your examples of the lion and the polo player refute such a supposition, but ideally we should have examples known to be pre-1377. Perhaps Mamluk influence on art, which (like the Turks) not being Islamic until later than the Arabs, thus having less reverence for such strictures, was less pervasive earlier. Dates matter.

I am pursuing Golladay's endorsement of Bidev's thesis (and perhaps Cullin's, but I haven't read him yet), that games originated from sacred ritual. One of her references is Huizinga's Homo Ludens, which I found in a local library; it discusses the relationship of play and sacred ritual in its first chapter. Huizinga's thesis is the converse of Bidev's, namely, that without play, there would not be sacred ritual. The sacred space of the rite is modeled on the game-space. But it is also difficult to separate cause and effect, the two are intimately connected. That is more nuanced than Bidev. Oddly enough, Huizinga excludes games of pure chance from his thesis--they are too primitive for him, and his subject is culture. But of course there is the choosing of Judas's replacement by lot in order to discover God's will, and so on.

So it can just as well be that first there is the game, and then the religious or astrological interpretation and ritual. The priest uses the game as a tool of religion as much as, or more than, the game borrows from religious symbolism. In any case, interpretation in terms outside the game itself (Huizinga's is a thesis about culture in general) is a natural and pervasive human phenomenon. Thus today's Olympics symbolically reflect the health and vigor of the nations competing, and of the nation hosting, etc.

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

mikeh wrote:Thanks for the dragon images from Islam, Steve. The ones of scimitars, cups, etc. are relevant to playing cards, of course, but Bidev only said Islam prohibited images of animals and people.
He argues that the emblems of the Mamluk cards were copies of the Western Latin suits, and that the dragon probably came with them from Portuguese decks, as such images were prohibited by Islam.
MikeH wrote: Dates are important!
Most are 14th century, early to mid (prior to 1377), e.g.,
SteveM wrote: A 14th century finger bowl:


This beautiful mid-14th century (i.e., pre-1377) Mamluk bucket/finger bowl was sold at Sotheby's for £1,553,250 GBP, details of its motifs (dragons, lions, double headed eagles) and inscriptions are at the Sotheby's site: ... ot.96.html

Mosque Lamp ca. 1329–35 with cup emblem

Large glass lamps of this type were commissioned by sultans and members of their court for mosques, madrasas (Qur'anic schools), tombs, hospices, and other public buildings in fourteenth-century Mamluk Cairo. This example bears the name of its patron, Qawsun (d. 1342), amir of the Sultan al-Nasir Muhammad ibn Qalaun (r. 1293–1341 with brief interruptions), and was probably intended for one of his two architectural commissions in Cairo—a mosque or a tomb-hospice complex.

Mosque Lamp with polo sticks emblem

First half of 14th century, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts

Mosque lamp with sword emblem c.1320-1330

Sultanahmet, Turkey

A Mamluk bottle with Phoenix, c.1350

This bottle is an example of the fine gilded and enamelled glass manufactured under the Mamluk dynasty, which ruled Egypt and Syria between 1250 and 1517. The design, dominated by a large-scale inscription in blue enamel, is typical of work produced around 1300 to 1350. The mouldings below the mouth of the bottle and around the top of the high foot indicate that the form of this vessel is based on a precious-metal prototype, for which the mouldings would have been structurally necessary.

The decoration on the body is in two registers. The main feature of the upper register is three roundels containing a phoenix motif of Chinese origin, reserved in a blue ground. This bird, together with a Chinese-style dragon*, had become a popular symbol of royal power among the Mamluks.

Three roundels in the lower register contain an arabesque motif reserved in a red ground. These roundels divide the inscription into three parts. It reads, ‘Glory to our master the Sultan, the Wise, the Just King’. Texts such as this appear on many Mamluk objects and indicate that such items were originally made for use at court. The fashion for them probably spread to the richer members of Mamluk society outside the court and they were also exported to Europe.

The flattened underside of the bottle and the high foot were left plain, since they could not be seen by those using the bottle, who would have sat on the ground in the Arab manner, looking down on the bottle.

ps: There are numerous and extensive examples of Islamic figurative art, from a variety of regions and over an extensive period of time. A simple google search on Islamic art will give you plenty of examples.

There is also the question of names of the card - if the Mamluks copied from the western deck, I think it likely the cups would have been called cups, rather than Tuman, multitudes (a name which possibly connects them with chinese money cards).

*The Chinese dragon style of the Mamluks is probably due to Mongolian influence, the Seljuk style dragon was more common in Islamic art prior to the Mongolian invasions. Power over Anatolia was exercised by the Mongols after the Seljuks surrendered in 1243 until the fall of the Ilkhanate in 1335.

Re: The Mongols and the Mamluks
Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.
T. S. Eliot

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

An older chess theory ...
Cox–Forbes theory

Cox's illustration of the "ancient Hindoo game of chess" (1801)
The Cox–Forbes theory is a long-debunked theory on the evolution of chess put forward by Captain Hiram Cox (1760–1799)[1] and extended by Professor Duncan Forbes (1798–1868).

The theory states that a four-handed dice-chess game (Chaturaji) was originated in India in approximately 3000 BC; and that arising from the results of certain rules, or the difficulty in getting enough players, the game evolved into a two-handed game (Chaturanga). On account of religious and legal objections in Hinduism to gambling, the dice were dropped from the game, making it a game of pure skill.[2][3]

The theory arose from an article by Hiram Cox published posthumously in Asiatic Researches in 1801. Cox's article was a commentary on an earlier article written by Sir William Jones, which included an account of the Indian text Bhavishya Purana, which he believed to date from c.3000 BC. Jones stated that this contained a description of a four-player version of chess, presented in the form of a dialogue between Yudhishthira and Vyasa.[4] Jones argued that the four-player version described was a variation of the original two-player form of the game. Cox's article, "On the Burmha Game of Chess Compared to the Indian", proposed that the four handed version of the game was the earliest form of chess. He states that this version "is mentioned in the oldest law books and is said to have been invented by the wife of Ravan",[5] referring to Ravana, the legendary king of Sri Lanka. Cox dates Ravan to "three thousand eight hundred years ago".[5]

Forbes developed this idea in his 1860 book The History of Chess, accepting the 3000 BC dating of the Purana.[6][7] In Forbes' explanation, the four-handed dice version is called Chaturanga, and Forbes insists that Chaturaji is a misnomer that actually refers to a victory condition in the game akin to checkmate. In his 1860 account, the players in opposite corners are allies against the other team of two. He represents this "Chaturanga" as gradually developing into the two-player diceless form by the time it was adopted by the Persians as "Chatrang". He further asserts that this name later became "Shatranj" after the Arabic pronunciation.

The earliest Puranas are now assigned a more conservative date of 500 BC, rather than 3000 BC.[3] Furthermore, Albrecht Weber (1825–1901) and Dutch chess historian Antonius van der Linde (1833–97) found that the Purana quoted by Forbes did not even contain the references he claimed.[8] While working on Geschichte und Litteratur des Schachspiels (Berlin, 1874, in two volumes), Van der Linde also found that the actual text around which Forbes had built his entire theory was the Tithitattva of Raghunandana, which was written around AD 1500, rather than 3000 BC as claimed by Forbes.[7][9] Van der Linde thought that Forbes deliberately lied, and was furious.[9] John G. White writing in 1898, did not suggest deliberate deception on Forbes's part, but insisted that "He did not even make good use of the material known to him."[8] As a result, the theory is now rejected by all serious chess historians.[8
Hiram Cox ...
Hiram Cox

Captain Hiram Cox (1760–1799) was a British diplomat, serving in Bengal and Burma in the 18th century. The town of Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh is named after him.[1][2]

As an officer of the East India Company, Captain Cox was appointed Superintendent of Palongkee outpost after Warren Hastings became Governor of Bengal. Captain Cox was specially mobilised to deal with a century-long conflict between Arakan refugees and local Rakhains (see Rakhine State). He embarked upon the mammoth task of rehabilitating refugees in the area and made significant progress. A premature death took Captain Cox in 1799 before he could finish his work. To commemorate his role in rehabilitation work a market was established and named after him: Cox's Bazar ("Cox's Market").[3]

Cox was a member of the Asiatic Society, contributing scholarly articles on Asian culture to its journal Asiatic Researches. He is most noted for his theory of the origin of chess as a four-player game, known as the Cox-Forbes theory.
Duncan Forbes ..

The History of Chess: From the Time of the Early Invention of the Game in India Till the Period of Its Establishment in Western and Central Europe
by Duncan Forbes
W. H. Allen & Company, 1860 - 312 Seiten ... ox&f=false

I personally think, that complex games might be rather old. For instance the history of Go, a game, which I know rather well ...
Origin in China[edit]
Go's early history is debated, but there are myths about its existence, one of which assuming that Go was an ancient fortune telling device used by Chinese astrologers to simulate the universe's relationship to an individual.

The earliest written reference of the game is usually taken to be the historical annal Zuo Zhuan[2] (c. 4th century BC[3]), referring to a historical event of 548 BC. It is also mentioned in Book XVII of the Analects of Confucius[3] and in two of the books of Mencius[4] (c. 3rd century BC[3]). In all of these works, the game is referred to as yì (弈).

In ancient China, Go was often seen as the refined pastime of the scholars, while xiangqi was the game of the masses. Go was one of the four cultivated arts of the Chinese scholar gentleman, along with calligraphy, painting and playing the musical instrument guqin, and examinations of skill in those arts was used to qualify candidates for service in the bureaucracy.[5]

Chinese archaeologists have discovered a broken piece of a pottery go board from the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - 24 AD) in Shaanxi Province. This is the earliest discovery of an existing board unearthed in China.

The board was found in the ruins of a watchtower at the tombs of Emperor Jingdi and Empress Wang Zhi of the Western Han Dynasty. The broken fragment of the board measures 5.7 cm to 28.5 cm long, 17 cm to 19.7 cm wide and 3.6 cm thick.

Li Gang, a research fellow with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeological Research Institute, said that this board might have been made from a floor tile, and that it did not belong to the royal family since the carvings are too rough. Li said the board could have been made by the tomb guards who played go to pass the time. "That proves that go was being played not only by nobles, but also by ordinary people like tomb guards, more than 2,000 years ago," Li noted.

In 1954 a complete Go board made out of stone was found in a tomb dating to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) in Wangdu County, Hebei Province. This board has a 17 × 17 grid, which confirms the statement by the 3rd century author Handan Chun in the Classic of Arts that Go was at this time played on a 17 × 17 grid:

The go board has 17 lines along its length and breadth, making 289 points in all. The black and white stones each number 150.[6]

The earliest board with a 19 × 19 grid to have been found is a ceramic board dating to the Sui Dynasty (581-618) that was excavated from Anyang in Henan Province, so sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries a change in grid size must have taken place. However, the 17 × 17 board has survived in the version of Go played in Tibet.[7]

Growth in east Asia
Go is believed to have been introduced to Japan by Kibi Makibi who had studied in Tang China at the beginning of the 8th century. But the Taihō Code, enacted in 701, has a description of Go and therefore the game may have been introduced a little earlier. After it was introduced from China, Go came to be actively played during the Nara period (710-794), and during the following Heian period (794-1185) Go was a favourite aristocratic pastime, as is described in typical literary works of this period such as The Pillow Book and The Tale of Genji.

During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), potentates employed semi-professional Go players, called Go-uchi (碁打ち) or Uwate (上手) who competed against other clans. At the end of the 16th century, Nikkai (Honinbo Sansa) served Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu as a Go teacher, and in 1578 was recognized as the first Meijin of Go by Oda Nobunaga; he also became the first Honinbō.

In 1612, at the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1868), the Tokugawa Shogunate established Four hereditary "houses" to teach the game of Go: Honinbō (本因坊 Honinbō?), Hayashi (林 Hayashi?), Inoue (井上 Inoue?) and Yasui (安井 Yasui?). These four houses (Iemoto) competed with each other throughout the 300 years of the Edo period.

The wave of Westernization and modernization accompanying the Meiji Restoration in 1868 caused the dissolution of the official iemoto Go system and a wane in general popularity for the game. In the wake of this upheaval, the Honinbo title was transformed into a tournament title.
I know about a game, which was played in 90 AD and which has survived as a not finished record. The moves of the players weren't stupid, though occasionally unusual in modern Go.
They played with the restriction, that 4 stones (2 black and 2 white) were placed at the 4-4-points in the corners of the board, which likely was an early tradition and so reduced the possibilities of the game a little bit (an usual finished Go game has about 250 moves, extreme games may have about 400, only possible, if a lot of stones are captured, and in the cases of excessive use of "Ko" - a special rule in Go).

In my opinion it can't be excluded, that games with some similarity to chess existed much earlier than modern theories believe, the problem is likely, that we have none or not enough records of them.

One deciding difference is, that Go used not personified stones (all are equal in rank), and that chess-similar games used personified figures (kings and others). This sort of personification took place in old polytheistic mythology, and that in a manner far more complex as we find it on the chess board. Actually this sort of personification is also a factor in the creation of the much later Trionfi decks.
Personification is also an element of modern computer strategy games as for instance Civilization, which often use much more characters in much more complex situations as our ancestors ever could dream from.

Trionfi cards (naturally also playing cards) are - somehow - an extension of the earlier similar-to-chess games, just as the specific computer games are also an extension of chess. That's not a big mystery.

Any author, who writes a fictive story of humble or extended dimensions, uses personifications, designing acting persons (for instance A = the criminalist), (B = the murderer), (C = endless other persons with different functions to accompany the process, how A captures B), without that he doesn't really get a story.

Re: Bidev 1979 typescript on playing cards' origin

I have been reflecting on the color green. It seems to me that green is a perfectly natural color to associate with spring and active sexuality, apart from the color red associated with the "sang" of "sangine", and quite independently of Alfonso's Game Book. There is the song "Greensleaves" for example. According to Wikipedia, it came into fashion in Elizabethan times and (of course!) is referred to by Shakespeare.
At the time, the word "green" had sexual connotations, most notably in the phrase "a green gown", a reference to the grass stains on a woman's dress from engaging in sexual intercourse outdoors.[7]

An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was, through her costume, incorrectly assumed to be sexually promiscuous. Her "discourteous" rejection of the singer's advances supports the contention that she is not.[7]
But the association is earlier:
In Nevill Coghill's translation of The Canterbury Tales,[8] he explains that "green [for Chaucer’s age] was the colour of lightness in love. This is echoed in 'Greensleeves is my delight' and elsewhere."
Also, against the theory that Henry VIII composed it:
The piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after Henry's death, making it more likely Elizabethan in origin.[5]
Perhaps it is Italian in origin, too. Spring is when the grass is green after the winter rains (phlegm), when animals mate, and gods, too, at least in Florence, where Conception Day was the start of the New Year. Hence also, besides the green sleaves and gloves in the PMB staves, the green gloves of the Empress and the female Lover, not for promiscuity but for fertility.

I am left with absolutely no reason to think that the "four seasons" chess game had anything to do with the origin of European-style playing cards. However the book in which it is described may have set a lofty precedent for the cultural interpretation of games in classical and Christian terms, depending on how widely its influence spread (e.g. Cessolis).

P.S. to Steve. You wrote:
There is also the question of names of the card - if the Mamluks copied from the western deck, I think it likely the cups would have been called cups, rather than Tuman, multitudes (a name which possibly connects them with chinese money cards).
It is not clear that "Tuman" is related to "multitudes" as opposed simply to "clothed in large drawers". Also, the term was applied only to the governor and vice-governor. That of course leaves open whether it meant a higher value than other cards, i.e. "multitudes". But it is only one possibility. Another possibility, according to Ettinghausen, pp. 52, 62, is that the term was chosen because it rhymes with al-arkan in the verse on the card (the same rhyme is in Polo Sticks, with, where "Ahad al-arkan..." means "One of the Pillars of the Game is..."), and did fit the clothing style of these officials. If so, and even if it does mean "multitudes", it seems to me we don't know what the suit itself was called, if it didn't rhyme with "al-arkan".

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