Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

Well ... somebody said "Bingo".

Rithnomachia is played with 28 "pawns" at one side and "29" at the other - though in the base configuration on the board ...


... one can only identify 2x24 positions.

But one field at each side shows not a number, but a pyramid. At the "even side" with 2-4-6-8 this is the number 91 (composed by 1^2 + 2^2 + 3^2 + 4^2 + 5^2 + 6^2 or by 1+4+9+16+25+36) and at the "odd" side this is 190 (composed by 4^2 + 6^2 + 6^2 + 7^2 + 8^2 or 16+25+36+49+64), so the "even"-pyramid is made by 6 pawns and the "odd"-pyramid by 4 pawns (these numbers appear NOT at the graphic, but are presented as pyramids).

So we have 23 "usual" pawns at each side, and then we have additional 5 pawns for the pyramid at the odd side and 6 additional pawns for the pyramid at the even side.

Summa summarum: 23 + 5 = 28, 23 + 6 = 29


Recently I wondered about a series of "28"s in the surrounding of Federico Montefeltro of Urbino in the time of 1474 - 76, after Montefeltro (a typical "knight" and "noble") had taken closer contact to the general clergy by becoming the major condottieri for Pope Sixtus IV in 1474.

collection Montefeltro

28 famous men

Generally it's said about Rithnomachia, that it was played by the clergy. It was popular, but more or less only for the intellectuals.

Generally chess was much more more popular, especially it had originally a great fascination for the knights.

Also I recently wondered, that chess had a lot of prohibitions still in 14th century. But these prohibitions often aimed at the clergy.

In the distribution of Rithnomachia it's said, that it started in Germany, went to France and then jumped to England. Where's Italy? How was the reception in Italy?
Il gioco nasce nell'anno Mille (si suppone che la data esatta sia il 1030 e inizia ad avere forte interesse tra l'XI e XII secolo in Francia e Germania. Successivamente si diffonde anche in Inghilterra (XII e XIII). Ma la massima divulgazione sarà nel XVI secolo, anche grazie al fatto che le sue regole vengono stampate.

Il gioco è simile agli scacchi (nel medievo anche più popolare, dato che si insegnava nelle scuole e università).

The very short Italian wikipedia article is rather silent about it. The much longer German and English articles mention not an Italian development.

So there's possibly an underground movement, the not detected influence of Rithnomachia on Italy during 15th century.
Vittorino da Feltre ... this elite school at Ferrara (Montefeltro found his teachings there) ... without Rithnomachia, or was it just imported? Barbara of Brandenburg married a Gonzaga ... did she import Rithnomachia?
What about Alberti and his "mathematical games" (1452)? Is Rithnomachia included?
Did Toscanelli know about it, when he became tutor for Borso d'Este in 1431? Toscanelli had been the friend of Cusanus earlier. Cusanus mentions it in "De Ludo Globi" in a rather general way, so as if it would be common knowledge (at least to him, but he was long enough in Germany).

Montefeltro behaves, as if he had gotten a new and wonderful insight in 1474. And he placed his teacher Vittorino da Feltre between the 28 famous men. Did he learn about Rithnomachia in his youth and redetected it in higher age?


The Hofämterspiel ... secretly coded according the rules of Rithnomachia?

The Hofämterspiel has 48 cards, and the cards could be parted in two groups with 24 cards, in 24 court cards (Kings (no number), Queens (no number), Hofmeisters (10s), Marshalls (9's), Junckfrauwe (6's), Fools (1's) at one side and 24 professions at the other side, filling the missing positions.

The Horse riddle

The professions have the curious detail, that one profession appears twice (the trumpeter). Both appear "on horses" and in the number group 4. Another "4" card also shows a horse, the "Marstaler", but the other "4" card has no horse.


Trumpeter Hungary


Trumpeter Bohemia


Marstaler France ... but standing beside the horse


Barbirer Germany ... the fourth "4", but no horse

All Hofmeister and all Marshalls are on horse and nearly all 4's have a horse, but one not ... to add to this confusion one of the 3's and one of the 4's have a horse:


The "missing German horse" appears on a 3 and is called "Renner", a German expression for Courier (like the special German chess variant)


The "additional Bohemian horse" on a 5 and it is a "Valkner" (falconer).

.... to make it a little more complicated, all cards have a clear shield painted on them, either German, French, Bohemiam or Hungarian shield, only the both Trumpeter (Bohemia + Hungary) cards hide it as a decoration of their trumpets. Furthermore the Bohemian trumpeter have it in other colors as the usual shield, which is a white lion on red ground.


No white lion on red ground.

Why? That's a good question.


Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

In the "man with horses" question in the Hofämterspiel ...

If all 4's would contain a man with horse, one would easily analyze or at least suspect, that it is a 7th court card - the Hofämterspiel has already six, and the definition is made just according the structure and parallel decks (JvR-deck), that 10 Hofmeister, 9 Marshalls, 6 Junckfrauwe and 1 Fools should also be court cards, although these cards have numbers.

But in the case of the horses we have to observe, that the names (= professions) are different, there are two trumpeters, a falconer, a "Renner" and a Marstaler - and these are at cards with the number 4 (3 of them), 3 and 4.

What's so interesting in "horses"? We have to imagine the basic situation of early card-playing ... cards do not exist and if you wish to have painted very nice cards, you woudn't have the money to pay for it. The simple solution: you have to paint them yourself. But not everybody is an artist and has the necessary talent, so the objects, which were painted, should have been easy to paint, but good to recognize during the game. A man at a horse is clearly different to a standing or sitting man. The basic card game was 1 king and 2 marshalls. The king should have been a sitting king and the marshalls had horses, the both are differentiated by the position of the suit sign, which resulted in Ober (suit sign at top) and Unter (suit sign at bottom). In the early rules Ober and Unter had been probably defined as trumps and they were easy to recognize.

If this had some tradition, it automatically should create suspicion, if you detect a horse in a complex card game like the Hofämterspiel.

Counting all horses, we have 13 (of 48), 3 from Germany, 3 of France, 3 of Hungary and 4 of Bohemia. 4 of Bohemia? This deck was made for a young Bohemian king !

If I subtract the only one card, which hasn't the right heraldic color (the Bohemian trumpeter), the number of horses looks 12:48 better sorted and regular. Then the Bohemian trumpeter would possibly present a special Bohemian and unluckily unknown Joker-function.

Another aspect: The German representative in this third group of horsemen in the deck represents the "Renner" ... Renner is just a more common German name for "Courier" and a Chess variant more or less only known in Germany is called Courier chess - it's very difficult to judge, how important this game has been. And this chess was played on a 8x12 board and had 24 figures for each side - as the Hofämterspiel deals with 2x24 tructure and totally 48 cards.
And now we have with Rithmomachia another game "made in Germany", possibly also starting with an 8x12 board and also played with 48 "positions".
And if we look at the tables games, then we have 24 fields. Are we sure, that always were used 15 men running at both sides? Or had there been possibly other "speaking numbers"? And this round playing stones, didn't they occasionally carry decorations, possibly similar in their motifs to Trionfi cards?

Well, that's all too complicated ... perhaps one should look for Bohemian/German iconographic structures, which contain a 24.

Backgammon board from a Wikinger ship.

Well, the advantage of a Courier chess board (8x12) would be, that it could be also used as a tables board.

The two trumpeters might be a reference to Rithmomachia's pyramids (?) ... but it's all too complicated. The games simply follow specific similarities.

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

If I subtract the only one card, which hasn't the right heraldic color (the Bohemian trumpeter), the number of horses looks 12:48 better sorted and regular. Then the Bohemian trumpeter would possibly present a special Bohemian and unluckily unknown Joker-function.

... one can only identify 2x24 positions.
Curious... in the German version of the Dances of Death is only 24 characters.
(136.9 KiB) Downloaded 3184 times
When a man has a theory // Can’t keep his mind on nothing else (By Ross)

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

The legend of the chess village Ströbeck has it, that Gunzelin von Kuckenberg became prisoner in their village in the year 1009, and that this man taught them chess (which might have been the Courier game), initiating a great chess tradition in the village. Ströbeck is located in about 20 km of Quedlinburg, which became for ca. 200 years the Easter residence of the German emperors,so the story has internal logic.


The tower, which hosted the prisoner still exist. Official history indeed confirms, that Gunzelin was prisoner in Halberstadt (next city from Ströbeck, 8 km distance).

Gunzelin belonged to the family of the Ekkehardiner.

Günther von Merseburg (965–982), son of a count Ekkehard, had become Markgraf von Meißen in 965 by Otto I the Great. He participated in a crusade against the sarazenes in Southern Italy and died there in 982 in a battle.
He was followed by his son Ekkehard I. who reigned 985–1002. In 1001 he accompanied the young king Otto III to Italy - the king died during the operation January 1002. Ekkehard was one of three possible candidates for the throne in the new king's election. Another was chosen and Ekkehard was killed in April 1002. His brother Gunzelin (the assumed man in the chess tower) followed him as Markgraf, but was abdicated in a process 1009 and prisoned. A son of Ekkehard and nephew of Gunzelin followed him as Markgraf.
Gunzelin is said to have found further prison in Bamberg, after "he left his prison in Halberstadt" (Halberstadt has 8 km distance from Ströbeck). After 1017 he disappeared from the documents. But the last of the Ekkehardiner (at least he is called in this way), a Gunther, is said to have been born 1025 and became 1054 Reichskanzler, counselor of empress Agnes, and 1057 Bischof von Bamberg, and died 23th of July 1065 during this famous pilgrimage:
see also ... %80%931065
... this were 12.000 persons

This ... ... _1065.html
... says: "Aus vornehmen, dem Königshofe nahestehenden Geschlecht (Mutter: Gerbirg, aus dem Hause der EPPENSTEINER), erhielt Gunther seine Erziehung an der Bamberger Domschule.", but born in Ödenstein (= "Sopron"; Hungary), so "from a noble family near to the king (the mother from the house of the Eppensteiner), educated at the Bamberger cathedral school" ... in other words, they'd difficulties to explain, who was the father, but a modern research (it's pointed to an author Gabriele Rupp) seems to state, it was an "Ekkehardiner".

About Bamberg in this time one should know:
wikipedia wrote:: In 1007, Henry II, King of the Romans, made Bamberg a family inheritance, the seat of a separate diocese. The emperor's purpose in this was to make the Diocese of Würzburg less unwieldy in size and to give Christianity a firmer footing in the districts of Franconia, east of Bamberg. In 1008, after long negotiations with the Bishops of Würzburg and Eichstätt, who were to cede portions of their dioceses, the boundaries of the new diocese were defined, and Pope John XVIII granted the papal confirmation in the same year. Henry II ordered the building of a new cathedral, which was consecrated May 6, 1012. The church was enriched with gifts from the pope, and Henry II had it dedicated in honor of him. In 1017 Henry II also founded Michaelsberg Abbey on the Michaelsberg ("Mount St. Michael"), near Bamberg, a Benedictine abbey for the training of the clergy. The emperor and his wife Cunigunde gave large temporal possessions to the new diocese, and it received many privileges out of which grew the secular power of the bishop. Pope Benedict VIII during his visit to Bamberg (1020) placed the diocese in direct dependence on the Holy See. For a short time Bamberg was the centre of the Holy Roman Empire. Henry and Cunigunde were both buried in the cathedral.
As the story has it, the Diocese of Würzburg hadn't been happy, that it lost territory, later, when the winds changed and another King had arrived, partly Bamberg was reduced in favor of Würzburg.


Well, this is Adalbero, bishop of Würzburg in 1045 till 1085, when he was abdicated (he lived till 1090 in another cloister in his home town, Lambach), later, since 1883, he was declared Saint Adalbero. He first had the honor to lead the ceremony at the king's wedding (1065), later the king became his foe (Henry IV, the one, who had to walk to Canossa in 1077, for 50 years German king from 1056-1106).


Adalbero is suspected to be identical with the otherwise unknown monk Asilo, who in 1030 invented Rithmomachia, by Borst, the famous German expert for medieval times.

Image ... rg&f=false
"Numerology, or, What Pythagoras wrought" By Underwood Dudley

The name Asilo sounds not like a short form of Adalbero, who "around 1030" was just a young man of 20 years. Asilo sounds like "Asylum" and a monk named Asilo might be somebody in disguise. The quick distribution story actually sounds, as if Asilo didn't stay in Würzburg, but took his way to the cloister Reichenau near Constance (around 1040), where he met another person with some mathematical genius:
Hermann of Reichenau the Lame (1013 July 18 – 1054 September 24), "scholar, composer, music theorist, mathematician, and astronomer", really the right man to spread a new clever game. The "humble monk Asilo" seems to have had no big problem to reach this important man.

Well, my Courier-Rithmomachia fiction: If Gunzelin didn't die in 1017, but was given the task to make a visit to the holy country, from which he returned, but stranded in Hungary, where he married and got at least a son (the later Ekkehardiner bishop Gunter, * 1025). And if this man had been forbidden to reappear as "Gunzelin", a man and name connected to too much scandals in the past, he might have reappeared as a monk "Asilo", just caring for his son from the distance, and the son naturally became very successful, getting easily highest positions already with the age of ca. 25.
In this case the chess genius would have been just one man, who spread the Courier game to Ströbeck and the Rithnomachia to the world ... well, I overstretched history a little bit, it really isn't necessary, that Gunzelin operated this way, but simply 1009 and ca. 1030 are near to each other in time and the phenomenon chess village Ströbeck and the abbey of Würzburg have no great distance to each other, neither by locality (ca. 200 km) or by social context. Likely we have to assume a sort of general Golden Era of early chess, possibly initiated by the marriage of Otto II. to Theophanu, a relative of the court of Byzantium, who arrived in the West with a great delegation of Greeks.

Henry I the Fowler (23 April 919 — 2 July 936)

Otto I the Great (7 August 936 - emperor 2 February 962 - 7 May 973)
Son of Henry I; first king crowned in Aachen Cathedral since Lothair I; crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 961.

Otto II the Red (26 May 961 - emperor 25 December 967 - 7 December 983
Son of Otto I; King of Germany under his father 961–973; also crowned Emperor in his father's lifetime, married Theophano
973 Theophanu in Quedlinburg for the first time - big cultural impact, Theophanu eats with a fork, not with the fingers ... .-)

Otto III (25 December 983 - emperor 21 May 996 - 21 January 1002)
Son of Otto II and Theophano

Ekkehard was murdered 1002, brother Gunzelin became Markgraf

Henry II the Saint (7 June 1002 - emperor 26 April 1014 - 13 July 1024)
Great-grandson of Henry I

1009 Gunzelin becomes prisoner - in this time Theophanu's daughter is abbess in Quedlinburg

Conrad II (8 September 1024 - emperor 26 March 1027 - 4 June 1039)
Great-great-grandson of Otto I

Conrad was accompanied by two Ekkehardiner (sons of Ekkehard, killed in 1002), to Italy (emperor oronation)

Henry III (14 April 1028 - emperor 25 December 1046 - 5 October 1056)
Son of Conrad II; King of Germany under his father 1028–1039

He favors Würzburg in contrast to Bamberg

Henry IV (17 July 1054 - emperor 21 March 1084 - 31 December 1105)
Son of Henry III; King of Germany under his father 1054–1056


Quedlinburg ... a central place for the Ottonian time, later still used as an Easter residence to celebrate the ancestors of the German Empire. More than 60 visits of Emperors and German kings are recorded till a. 1200. The chess village Ströbeck has 22 km distance to Quedlinburg.

The fort of the Fürstbischof in Würzburg, a stronghold since very old times


I selected the general list, which I recently presented, to European entries around the critical time.

0801 Charlemagne (742-814) introduced to chess.

0895 GREEKS; Chess introduced to the Greeks; call it zatrikion.

0900 EUROPE; Chess introduced into Europe.

0999 EINSIEDELIN; Earlist known literary account of chess in Europe, the Einsiedeln Verses, Switzerland. Versus de scachis is a 98-line poem describing the game & its rules.

1000 OTTO II; The daughter of Otto II (955-983) was "won" from a chess match.

1000 RUSSIA; Chess reaches Russia from Byzantium and from the Vikings.

1008.07.28 ERMENGUAD; 1st written reference to chess in Europe, from a will of Ermengaud I, Count of Urgel.(that's an entry in Catalonia, Spain)

1050 GERMAN; Earliest reference of chess in the German literature, the Latin epic Ruodlieb.

1055 POEM; Chess poem, Ludus scacorum or Eligia de Ludo Scachorum, written.

1060 William the Conqueror breaks board over head of Prince of France.

1061.12 DAMIANI; Cardinal Damiani of Ostin forbids the clergy to play chess.

1066 BRITIAN; Chess introduced into Britain.

1078 ALFONSO; King Alfonso VI of Castile played chess with B. Ammar.

1078 Seville was spared from siege due to a chess game.

1080 Normans name the financial departments exchequer.

1081 ALEXIUS; Emperor Alexius I comes to power. Plays chess with his court.

1090 Boards with alternating light and dark squares are introduced.

1092 IBN-EZRA; Abraham Ben Ibn-Ezra b. in Tudela, Spain. Author of Hebrew chess works.

1093 CHURCH; Chess is condemned by the eastern orthodox church.

1097 FRENCH; 1st French reference to chess.

1100 POLAND; Chess introduced in Poland.

1110 ZONARES; John Zonares, Eastern Church monk, excommunicated chessplayers.

1115 BYZANTINE; The emperor of the Byzantine empire is a chess addict.

From this it seems, that chess reached German Empire and Christian Spain first, Spain likely from his Islamic inhabitants, Germany possibly by contacts to Byzanz and earlier by relations from Charlemain to Harun-al-Rashid.
France and England seems to have been reached a little later. "The daughter of Otto II (955-983) was "won" from a chess match" ... would be interesting to know this story.
The story of the text "Ruodlieb", above given to 1050, is interesting, however the English wikipedia is rather short, the German much better. The hero is lucky to create some peace between his own king and another (with the help of chess) and gets a reward, either money or wisdom. His choice is wisdom and he gets 12 sentences of wisdom and 2 breads, which the hero should eat much later at specific opportunities. The breads contain jewels and other worthwhile stuff.
The "Eligia de Ludo Scachorum" above is possibly dated too early. ... de&f=false
... has much details to Ezzo, German language
The birth date of Matilde is confirmed for 1079, an agreement for the marriage is assumed to have been given in 1491. Otto II. was dead then, but the widow Theofanu spend a lot of her time in Cologne, near to Ezzo.

As source for the Chess note is is given die "Fundatio Brauweiler", which should be identical with "Fundatio monasterii Brunwilarensis", mentioned in a Wikipedia article ...
... and according this from a monk in the late 1th century, so a little too late.

The source to Ezzo above speaks of a board game, not directly "chess". The source of the 19th century chess master mentions it not. So - negative for the moment.

Here's an interesting list about religious prohibitions of chess: ... idden.html

An interesting article to Alfonso book of chess 1284 ... cation/pdf

Zur Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels: Forschungen
By Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa (2005, original from 1897 ?) ... ch&f=false
Seems to be a rather good source, though German language. Tassilo had been a 19th century German chessmaster.

To daughter of Otto II.:
"In Europe, too, where chess was often played for stakes, difficulties with the Church arise, as well they might when we hear that at the very beginning of the eleventh century Mathilda, daughter of Otto II, was "won" as the result of a chess match between Ezzo, the Count Palatine, and her brother, Otto III." ... chess.html
To Ezzo:
Also ... de&f=false
German language

Mathilde should have been born 979, the first birth year of a son is given as 995, though it is not the oldest. The marriage agreement was made 991, the wedding some time later.
"The Lotharingian palatines out of the Ezzonian dynasty were important commanders of the imperial army and were often employed during internal and external conflicts (e.g. to suppress rebelling counts or dukes, to settle frontier disputes with the Hungarian and the French kingdom and to lead imperial campaigns)."

The source with the chess passage is given as the "Brauweiler Foundatio", written at end of 11th century, so considerably later. A second source ...
Ottonian Germany: the Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg
By Thietmar (von Merseburg, Bishop of Merseburg), David Warner ... ss&f=false
English translation

... which also talks about the marriage and doesn't mention chess.

991: Theohanu had died (15th of June Nimwegen), Otto II. was already 8 years dead. Otto III. was 11 years old, the bride 12 years.
The marriage contract likely was made to solve the difficult situation.
A few generations later a monk in Brauweiler near Cologne (that had been pro-Ezzo territory) writes, that Ezzo did win either in a "chess game" or in a "chess or dice game" or in a "board game" the hand of Mathilde either from Otto II. or Otto III. --- so far the contradictions, that I've read about this story.

An interesting document with (? copulating? fighting?) phantasy animals ... but an official and real marriage document for Theophanu and Otto II. ... unde01.jpg

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

#45 ... th&f=false

"Ruodlieb" is a fragmented poem and the chess theme is estimated to relate to a "real" meeting between Emperor Henry II. and the French king Robert the Pious at 10th and 11th August 1023 in Ivois, France. ... nkreich%29

Datings for the poem give it to ca. 1050.
The hero Ruodlieb is send as a diplomat to the French king, but had to wait. In this time he played chess. The French king offered to play himself against Rodlieb, which is accepted after some resistance. The king gambles some money, but Ruodlieb is not allowed to do the same. Ruodlieb wins three times and after this he plays against other nobles (these also gambling some money) and again Ruodlieb wins to the astonishment of the onlookers. Ruodlieb tried to give the money back, but his opponents denied.

In one sentence a double move at begin is noted ...
all according
Zur Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels: Forschungen ... By Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa
page 47 ff

... a similar move with more than 1 stone is known from the Courier chess later.

"The second rank is filled with pawns. These move one square forward, capturing one square diagonally forward, except that at the start of the game each player must move his rook-pawns, his queen-pawn, and his queen two squares forward. Such a two-square leap along a file was called a Freudensprung—English "joy-leap".[note 3] The original rule for pawn-promotion is unknown. The standard medieval rule was that a pawn reaching the farthest rank was promoted at once to (medieval) queen." ... mentioned by Selenus

In the follow-up Ruodlieb gets a reward from his own king, who offers either wisdom or money. Ruodlieb's choice is wisdom ... he gets 12 "sentences of wisdom" and 2 breads, which he is allowed to eat later at specific situations (marriage etc.). The breads contain jewels, but Ruodlieb doesn't know about them.

The Courier game has 8x12 fields, which are filled with 2x12 figures for each side. If the number game with "12 sentences and 2 breads" relates to the earlier chess scene, then the really chess game might have been the Courier game - if there are not other remarks in the text, which make it reliable, that this game was really chess.

[img]htto://[/img] ... eb&f=false

As far I could study it, it seems, that the chess scene and the following 12 sentences etc. has had oracular meaning for the text and Ruodlieb, "the truth of these (12) precepts is proved" in the following 12 adventures (which we likely don't know, as the text is incomplete and likely we even don't know, if it ever was finished) ... well, that's somehow the plot of Hercules and his 12 works.
Ruodlieb developed no influence (as far it's known) and no fame, it's just, that somebody started to write something and the text was redetected in fragments in a cloister at Tegernsee at begin of 19th century. A "real" romantic story, comparable to the fictious hidden diary of Emperor Claudius by Ranke-Graves. A story, as it seems, based on chess (?) or the Courier game (?) and it was the "first of this kind of composition" ... well, that's a great plot in itself. Learning chess - which somehow meant "play a game with your mind" - mankind learned to play with words, romantic ideal, bloodthirsty fight ... the adventure of life as literature.
And - beside this -they started their crusade adventures with it.

(all this was written based on snippets and fragments gathered here and there, so I might easily err in details)


Another early chess note is mentioned for Knut the Great, King of Denmark, also of England, also Norway and parts of Swedia ...

Knut killed his brother-in-law Ulf in 1027, cause Ulf didn't allow a knight's move taken back. The story is told in "Heimkringlasaga" by Snorre Sturleson, written 1210-40.
The author Tassilo v. H. takes this story as not serious and gives no further information. Page 43


Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

In a Druid grave a game with playing stones and 8x12 board (as the Courier chess board) was found. ... anway_Game

... dated c.40-60 A.D

"The white and blue glass counters, 13 for each player, were ranged against each other, similar to a Chess opening."
Archaelogy report
Great care was needed to excavate the doctor's board game because all that was left of the board itself was its metal corners and hinges. These lay in their original places and showed that the board had measured about 38.5cm×56.5cm. The hinges indicate that the board could be folded, similar to the board found at Baldock, Hertfordshire (1st century BC). Unlike other ancient game boards it had no handle(s), but apparently it had a raised rim. Along the long edges of the Stanway board 13 white and 13 blue typical Roman glass counters were placed in more or less straight lines. One blue counter bunched with others in the corner was turned upside-down, while the central white counter was slightly smaller than his companions.

The find poses a number of intriguing questions. What was the design of the game board? Were the counters placed in a starting position or is their position only decorative? Is their number complete? Have any moves been made? Did the flipped blue and the small white counter have a special function? And finally: what is the significance of such an arrangement in a burial?

At first glance, one may think that such a rare find would add to our knowledge of ancient board games. However, it is the other way round: the find cannot be interpreted without making assumptions about the game the doctor liked so much during his lifetime that he did not want to do without it in the afterlife. This is not an easy task, due to our scarce information about ancient Roman and Celtic games.

The relatively regular alignment of the counters - only some of them seem to have been drawn towards the cremated bones, while others seem to have shifted slightly to the side - suggests the gaming surface consisted of a grid of lines, like a draughts board. Since the board was not square but rectangular in shape, eight by 12 or nine by 13 squares would fit quite well. Unfortunately such boards are not known from early Roman times, where rectangular boards like this would normally be used for the "game of 12 points", a predecessor of backgammon. But this game was played with 15 counters for each player and two dice, while in the doctor's burial not enough counters and no dice have been found.

On the other hand the raised rim suggests the use of dice, and the counters might not represent a complete set. The notion of "completeness" makes sense only with regard to modern commercially-boxed games, but not to the ancient culture of play. As the numerous game boards incised in marble pavements all over the Roman world demonstrate, people used to play in public places and buildings, where everybody had to bring their own implements – as many as needed to play any game.

The two special counters are intriguing. The position of the inverted blue one is difficult to interpret. But the small white counter was placed exactly in the middle between six pieces on the left and six on the right, and close to the centre of the board as well. Did this piece have a special function in the game? This is perhaps the most important question to answer.

We do not know of any Roman board game that needed an extra piece. But a remarkable find from King Harry Lane site at Verulamium (St Albans, Hertfordshire) may help. In a burial dating to the doctor's lifetime, gaming pieces in the shape of pegs were found, half decorated and half plain. Moreover, one of the decorated pieces is further distinguished by a dot in a circle. There it is - the extra piece! But only one player had such an extra piece. Was the doctor's game an asymmetric board game, too? In fact, early Irish sources mention such a game: fidcheall. A similar game was popular during the early middle ages in Scandinavia and Britain: hnefatafl.We do not know where these games originate, but perhaps the doctor's game from Stanway sheds light on the origins and early history of the favourite board game of the Vikings?
Seems to look more like a 9x13 board, considering 2x13 playing stones (?).


Further notes:

Einsiedeln Abbey

Difficulties to find a complete English or German translation.

Van der Linde ... dgoog.djvu

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century

Image ... a9cada1a1d

An unusual chessboard from mid 16th century with "15x8" fields ... whereby this 15x8 might be an error, as each player according the description has 32 figures, so it actually should be 16x8 fields (?). Though it might be, that two figures had special function or had been positioned outside of the usual 2-rows-system (possibly the pawns were positioned at 3rd and 6th row for quicker advance in the game.

Figures are:

1 King
1 Queen
2 knights = flying horses
2 rooks = elephants
2 bishops = like bishops
2 knights = men dressed as Spanish knights with axe
2 turks = with shield and saber
2 men with beard and bald head
2 standard bearer

The rules are, as it seems, unknown.

The other side of the board container is painted with a Venus motif
Spielbrett und Schachfiguren
Mitte 16. Jahrhundert
noted in an inventory of archduke Ferdinand II. 1596

Das Schachspiel mit 15 x 8 goldenen bzw. silbernen Feldern im Inneren des Kastens ist ein Einzelstück. Von den ursprünglich 64 vergoldeten und versilberten Figuren aus Holz fehlen 11, die sich aber aufgrund der Symmetrie beider Parteien hypothetisch ergänzen lassen, wobei die Anzahl der Figuren darauf hindeutet, dass von den Schmalseiten aus gespielt wurde. Die Bauernreihe ist verdoppelt - 16 silberne "Bauern" sind erhalten - und auch die "Offiziere" nehmen zwei Reihen ein. Jede Farbe setzt sich aus einem "König" (Mann mit Barett, Bart und Amtskette), einer "Dame" (gekrönte Frau), zwei "Springern" (geflügelte Pferde), zwei "Türmen" (Elefanten) und zwei "Läufern" (wie in der englischen Schachtradition in Gestalt von Bischöfen) zusammen. Dazu kommen vier neue Figuren: zwei Ritter im Harnisch mit spanischem Helm und Streitaxt, zwei Türken mit Schild und Streitkolben, zwei Bärtige mit Glatze, zwei Wappenträger. Die Bedeutung dieser vier weiteren Figuren kann durch einen Vergleich mit dem auch noch im 17. Jahrhundert von Nordeuropa bis Deutschland verbreiteten Courierschach mit 12 x 8 Feldern erahnt werden. Auch bei dieser Form des Spieles gab es zusätzliche Figuren, den "Ratgeber", den "Schleich" (Narren) und zwei "Couriere". Die "Couriere" waren beim Ambraser Spiel wohl die Wappenträger mit den Schriftrollen.
Die Außenseiten des Kastens zeigen die Allegorien von Justitia und Venus in jeweils einem bemalten Rahmen mit ovalen Schriftfeldern in der Mitte jeder Seite. Neben Justitia, die ohne Augenbinde, aber mit dem Schwert in der Rechten und der Waage in der Linken wiedergegeben ist, steht als Symbol der Wachsamkeit ein Kranich, der mit der rechten erhobenen Klaue einen Stein umklammert. Die Gegenseite des Spielkastens zeigt Venus mit den beiden ihr zugeordneten Sternzeichen Waage und Stier. Sie hält ein brennendes Herz in der Rechten sowie einen Pfeil in der Linken und repräsentiert Leidenschaft und Unberechenbarkeit. Die beiden Gegenbilder symbolisieren das für das Schachspiel nötige Kalkül auf der einen, Kampfeslust und Unbedachtheit auf der anderen Seite. Im Nachlassinventar Erzherzog Ferdinands II. von 1596 ist das Schachspiel im 18. Kasten seiner Kunstkammer erwähnt.

Re: Chess variants 14th/15th century


"Sforzinda", Franesco Sforza's ideal city, as it appears in a manuscript of Filarete, who worked for Sforza.

The plan favors a 16+16 - scheme, easily recognizable (16 inside, 16 outside), as a natural development of the wind rose with 16 directions (it just reminds the theories of Diane O'Donovan, who once supported the explanation, that Tarot developed from compass presentations).

Well, it also naturally mirrors the structure of chess.

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