War games

A recent visit to Rome yielded a fairly meagre harvest of games-related material. Admittedly, the trip was not a research outing and what I found was only accidental – perhaps a focussed search might find more, but that will have to be on another occasion.

In the Vatican Museum I came across a collection of medieval chess pieces, but the display case had no labels at all, so the date and origin are impossible to know. Comparing these with the images on Jean-Louis Cazeau’s excellent History of Chess website, it is at least possible to tentatively identify them.

In the Roman Forum, between the Honorary Columns opposite the Tabernae Veteres/Basilica Iulia, I found an example of a ‘circle and spoke’ game of the C.4 type according to the British Museum Working Typology (see Bell and Roueché in Ancient Board Games in Perspective, 2007). This was no doubt one of the diagrams described by George Dennis in his 1892 letter to Edward Falkener and contained in the latter’s Games Ancient and Oriental, and how to Play Them as Appendix III:


Another C.4 type ‘circle and spoke’ game is on display in the Colosseum, though it was not excavated there. It is a common type of game and has been found fairly widely in areas included in the Roman Empire.

The precise game (or games) played on this board are hard to identify. Murray and others consider that the diagram was a variant of the lesser Merels (3-Mens-Morris), but it has also been used in Denmark to play a Hare Game (which is one type of hunt game) (see Michaelsen Somme trak også tavl – om et gammelt tidsfordriv og dets navne, in Ord og Sag 18, 1998). Perhaps further research will throw some more light on this.


Tendo, in northern Japan, is the most important production centre of Shogi pieces in Japan. The different types and  qualities of Shogi pieces deserves a serious blog article of its own, but in the meantime I would like to just shamelessly copy here a picture my daughter recently took in Tendo, where famous Shogi games are actually built into the pavements of some streets: