The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
The Games of Chess and Backgammon
in Sasanian Persia
By: Professor Touraj Daryaee
California State University, Fullerton
آسمان تخته وانجم بودش مهره نرد
کعبتينش مه وخورشيد وفلک استاد
باچنين تخته و این مهره و این
فکربردن بودت ، عقل توبی
شرط درآمدکاراست نه دانستن کار
طاس گرنيک نشيند همه کس نراد است
Board games were played in many parts of the ancient world
and so it is very difficult to attribute the origin of any board game to a
particular region or culture. Board games have been found in ancient
Mesopotamia, the oldest from the city of Ur, but one must also mention the game
of Senet in ancient Egypt.
Often board games were placed in the tombs of the Pharaohs
and sometimes the dead are shown playing with the gods, for example one scene
shows Rameses III (c. 1270 B.C.) playing with Isis to gain access to the nether
world. The importance of this fact is we can see that early on some board games
had cosmological and religious significance and were not just games played for
pleasure. Reference to board games in Persia can be found as early as the
Achaemenid period, where according to Plutarch a board game with dice was played
There is also a reference to a
board game being played in the Parthian period by king Demetrius, albeit in a
later source, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
The earliest historical reference to the game of chess occurs in India
where it existed as early as the time of the great Indian grammarian Pān,ini
around 500 BCE.
The game is also mentioned in
the great Indian epic, the Mahābhārata, where in an episode the great
sage Vyāsa explains the rules of the game (Sanskrit) caturanga ; (Middle
Persian) čatrang ; (Persian & Arabic) šatrang/ šat,ranj to
the great Pān,d,ava prince Yudhis,t,hira. Vyāsa exclaims that the board game
has four groups: hasty-aśva-nauka-padāta “elephant, horse, ship, foot
soldiers.” Thus the meaning of the name of the game, (Sanskrit) caturanga is
not that it has four limbs but rather “army consisting of four divisions,”
referring to the division of the Indian army, where according to the Amarakośa,
by the sixth century CE, nauka was replaced by ratha, thus: hasty-aśva-ratha-padāta
“elephant, horse, chariot, foot soldiers,” accompanying the king and the
There are references to the game
also by Patañjali (second century BCE), Bān,ā and Dan,d,in (seventh century
CE) and Ratnākara (ninth century CE).
As for the game of backgammon, again one has to look to India as its
place of origin. The earliest mention of backgammon in India occurs in
Bhartr,hari’s Vairāgyaśataka (39) composed around the late sixth or
early seventh century A.D.
Thus, what we have is a general
stream of Indian knowledge, including board games into Persia in late antiquity
during the Sasanian period. The use of dice for both games, is another
indication of its Indic origin, since dice and gambling were a favorite pastime
in India. This essay attempts to review the history of the games of Chess and
Backgammon in Persia and to demonstrate their significance in the Persian
society. The earliest text on the game of Chess and Backgammon is found in
Persia, which is known as Wizārišn ī Čatrang ud Nihišn ī Nēw-Ardaxšīr
(The explanation of Chess and
the Invention of Backgammon) which although its date of composition is unclear,
based on the text points to the sixth century CE during the reign of Xusrō I
(530-571 CE), known as anōšag-ruwān (immortal soul). The authenticity
of the narrative of the story has been questioned and it has been pointed out
that due to the literary nature of this Middle Persian text we cannot establish
its historicity. But what is important is that both the Indic and Middle Persian
sources point to personages mentioned in the sixth century CE. Before looking at
the text we should discuss the function of chess and backgammon as it appears in
other Middle Persian sources in the society of ancient Persia. Three other
Middle Persian texts mention the game of chess and backgammon in a context that
makes it clear that it was part of princely or courtly education. In acquiring
(Middle Persian) frahang > (Persian) farhang which is
equivalent to Greek Paideia and best can be translated as “culture,”
it appears that it was required that those of nobility learn several arts
including board games. These
sciences were acquired in frahangestān “education schools”
for the nobility as there were hērbedestān and mowestān the
“priestly schools” established to train priests.
The first Middle Persian text is named Xusrō ud Rēdag “Xusrō
and the page,” which according to the story takes place at the court of King
The Page, who is from a noble
line and whose parents have passed away, asks the king to look after him. Regard
to his virtues, which he learned as the text mentions, include being most
diligent in acquiring frahang while attending the frahangestān,
in memorizing the sacred utterances, in scribeship, calligraphy, horsemanship,
jousting, polo, playing musical instruments, singing, poetry, dancing, astrology
and finally being master of the following board games (Pahlavi Texts, ed. Jamasp-Asana
ud čatrang ud nēw-ardaxšīr ud haštpāy
kardan az hamahlān frāztar hēm
“And in playing chess and backgammon
and haštpāy, I am ahead of (my) peers.”
Thus based on this text we can gain an insight into the
conceptual view of acquiring culture in Persia in Late Antiquity. Further, frahang
did not mean that a person who was to become a well-rounded person had to
show not only prowess in physical training, but also of the mind as well as the
body. This idea is also echoed in Greek civilization, which may have influenced
the Persian world at large, but certain elements were native to Persia. This is
contingent upon believing Herodotus and in more detail Strabo”s account in
regard to the Achaemenid Persians. While Herodotus (1.136) states that Persian
youth were required “to ride a horse, use the bow, and speak the truth,”
Strabo (15.3.18) states that the youth were not only trained in the use of bow
and javelin and riding, but were also given training by wise men in learning
mythical elements and to rehearse songs about the deeds of gods (religion) and
the noblest men (history). They were also to learn planting of trees and
gathering of roots which gave them wider knowledge of the physical world. Thus,
this ancient Persian tradition had its root before the conquest of Alexander.
The second Middle Persian text where these games are mentioned is the Kārnāmag
ī Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān (The Book of the Deeds of Ardaxšīr, son of Pāpag.)
The text is about Ardaxšīr I's (A.D. 224-240) rise to power and his foundation
of the Sāsānian dynasty and the unification of Persia. The text, however,
appears to be a late compilation and its last redaction has been assigned to the
seventh century A.D., probably during the reign of Xusrō II (A.D. 590-628).
In a part of the text where the
virtues which made Ardaxšīr supersede other princes is discussed, the games of
chess and backgammon are mentioned along with other sports as part of acquiring frahang
pad yazdān ayyārīh pad čōbēgān ud aswārīh ud
čatrang ud nēw-ardaxšīr ud abārīg frahang az
awēšān hamōyēn čēr
ud nibardag būd
“With the aid of the gods he (Ardaxšīr) was (more)
victorious and experienced than all of them in polo
and horsemanship and chess and backgammon and
The last Middle Persian text mentions the game of
backgammon in a negative sense. In the Andarz ī Ōšnar ī Dānāg (The
Councils of the Wise Ōšnar), the path of moderation, (Middle Persian) paymān
is emphasized, where four things in excess leads to harm for man (33):
pad ēn čiš rāy mard ziyānkārtar bawēd was
xwardan ī may ud waranīg pad zanān ud was
kardan ī nēw-ardaxšīr (ud) naxčīr nē pad paymānagīh
“With these four things man becomes more destructive:
Drinking a lot of wine, and lusting after women, and
playing a lot of backgammon, and hunting without moderation.”
Because of the late date of all the Middle Persian texts we can only
state that by the time of Xusrō I these games along with a variety of works
were introduced to Persia from India which were transmitted in the sixth century
CE. These include such texts as the Pañcatantra which according to
tradition was translated into Middle Persian by a physician named Burzoe. This
Middle Persian work is unfortunately lost. However, a Syriac translation of it
was made in CE 570 under the name of Kalīlag wa Damnag, this being the
name of the two main players “jackals,” in the Sanskrit text, Karataka u
Damanaka. This story was also translated from Middle Persian into Arabic by
‘Abdullāh ibn al-Muqaffa‘ in the eighth century CE, also known in Persian
as the Dāstānhāy-e Bīdpāy (The Fables of Pilpay). The Persian
version of the Dāstānhāy-e Bīdpāy which we have today is the version
which was first translated from Sanskrit into Middle Persian and then to Arabic
and then into Persian.
It was through this transmission
of Sanskrit literature that the Buddhist Jātaka stories came to Persia,
later being translated into Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, which was to bring about
the Aesop's Fables in Byzantium, the Sandbād-nāme, and the Arabian
These stories were taken from another Indian text called the Hitopadeśa
(Book of Good Counsel). This book was part of the Indian genre known as nītiśāstra
"Mirror for Princes," which also existed in Persia, and in Middle
Persian was known as ēwēn-nāmag > (Persian) āyīn-nāme “Book
of Manners,” which in the Middle Persian text on chess and backgammon is also
mentioned to be part of this genre.
These books of manners or more
commonly known as "Mirror for princes" is common in Arabic / Persian
as well, being known as Siyār al-mulūk or Nas,īh,at ’al-mulūk.
The reason for which this body of texts were known as mirrors (Middle Persian) ēwēnag
is best explained in Dēnkard VI:
awēšān ēniz ōwōn dāšt ku pad āmōzišn ī ōy ī did ān
čišē ēn weh ka xēm ī xwēš be wirāyēd ud xwēštan
ēwēnag be kunēd ud pēš ī ōy ī did dārēd ud ōy
did andar nigerēd ud wēnēd ud az-iš abar hammōzēd.
“They held this too: In teaching one's fellow this one
thing is best: That a man discipline his character, make
a mirror of himself and hold it in front of his fellows.
The other man looks at it, sees it and learns from it.”
According to Wizārišn ī Čatrang ud Nihišn ī Nēw-Ardaxšīr,
there are four major personages; Dēwišarm/Sačidarm, the Indian king and his
minister, Taxtrītos. On the Persian side, Xusrō I and his Minister, Wuzurgmihr
are represented. In relation to the people mentioned in the Middle Persian text
on chess and backgammon, it has been claimed that the Indian king is not a
historical figure. However, not only in this text on chess, but also in the Stories
of Bēdpāy we come across this name for an Indian king (in the Bēdpāy,
his name is written as Dabšalīm). Herzfeld believed that the story of the
invention of Chess was transferred from Ardaxšīr I's time to that of Xusrō I,
but it appears that indeed not
only the Ardaxšīr romance (The Deeds of Ardaxšīr, son of Pābag), but
also the game was brought during the reign of Xusrō I. The name of the Indian
king is Dēwišarm, (Persian and Arabic Dabšalīm), thus may be from Sanskrit Devaśarman
“God's joy," which appears in the Hitopadeśa “Book of Good
Another suggestion is also
possible which may place the king in the sixth century CE. Markwart tried to
show the historicity of this king, connecting Dabšalīm to the Indian king Yaśōdharman
who was the contemporary of Xusrō I.
The name of the Indian messenger has also been thought to be connected
with other famous figures who may have been the product of popular imagination.
Herzfeld conjectured the name t’tlytus (Taxtrītos) is the corrupt form
of the name Aristotle
which is unlikely. According to
the Middle Persian text, Taxtrītos was sent to Persia with 32 chess pieces made
of emerald and red ruby to test the intelligence of the Persians. A letter was
sent to Xusrō I via Taxtrītos by Dēwišarm asking if he could solve the
riddle or rationale of this game. The reason that Dēwišarm had done this was
if Xusrō I was a greater king than that of his Indian counterpart, the sages
who were in his realm must have been wiser as well. This of course is nothing
more than Sāsānian propaganda, exalting the Sāsānian court and the king
among the empires of Late Antiquity.
Xusrō I asks for three days to explain the rationale and rules behind
the game of chess, but early on no one in the court is able to solve the riddle
of the game. It is only on the third day that one of the sages by the name of
Wuzurgmihr rises and attempts to explain how the game must be played. In so
doing, he uses the analogy of battle between two armies
in explaining the rules of the
game which reminds us of the episode in the Mahābhārata. Wuzurgmihr who
finds out the logic of the game gives the following analogy (WČ.10):
u-š homōnāg 2 sar-xwadāy kard šāh *[mādayārān ō
hōyag ud dašnag homānāg frazēn
homānāg pīl ō puštībānān-sālār homānāg
ud asb ō aswārān-sālār homānāg payādag ō ān
ham-payādag homānāg pēš-razm
“He made the king like the two overlords, the rook (on)
the left and
right flank, the minister like the commander of the
elephant is like the commander of the bodyguards, and the
like the commander of the cavalry, the foot-soldier
like the same
pawn, that is at front of the battle(field).”
Taxtrītos is astonished when he hears the explanation,
because it is exactly the rule that was devised by Indian sages with much toil,
but now Wuzurgmihr had solved the riddle rather easily. The story attempts to
drive several points to the audience. One is that not only the King of Kings of
Persia is greater than others, but also Ērān (the Sāsānian Persian
Empire) is the greatest empire.
Secondly, Wuzurgmihr is not only the greatest of the
Persian sages, but of all the sages in the world. He is also able to defeat the
Indian sage three times in the game of chess which was invented by the Indians.
The message of the story is simple: Persia is the greatest empire during the
Late Antiquity, its king is the greatest king, and its minister or sage is the
wisest in the oikumene.
Wuzurgmihr in return constructs the game of backgammon and goes to India
and gives the same challenge as the Indian king had given them, but no one can
solve the riddle and the rationale behind it. According to the Middle Persian
text, the name which Wuzurgmihr gives the game of backgammon is Nēw-Ardaxšīr
“Noble is Ardaxšīr” in memory of Ardaxšīr I (A.D. 224-240) the
founder of the Sāsānian empire. (Middle Persian) Nēw-ardaxšīr >
(Persian) nard or nardašīr (especially in Arabic texts) / also
found in (Babylonian Talmud) nrdšyr has had popular etymologies among
Arab lexicographers. The common one is that (Arabic) nardšīr was
composed of nard and šīr which is a Volksetemologie accepted
by some scholars.
The invention of backgammon gives Wuzurgmihr even more
prestige and enables him to extract more tribute and make himself more famous in
This act and others have made Wuzurgmihr famous in Persian
literature where he has become a semi-legendary and semi-historical person,
known as Buzurjmihr.
The Cosmological Significance of Backgammon:
The story of Wuzurgmihr's invention of the game of backgammon is most
probably fictitious and the game must have come from India and was part of the
great age of scientific and artistic transmission of knowledge to Persia from
India during Late Antiquity.
The works which came from India
were on such subjects as (Middle Persia) tark; (Sanskrit) tarka “logic,”
kōšak; (Sanskrit) kośa and (Middle Persian) āwyākrn;
(Sanskrit) vyākaran)a “rhetoric.”
From the Greek world, works on
(Middle Persian) zamīg-paymānīh “geometry,” and Ptolemaios'
(Middle Persian) mgstyg are known as well.
The transmission of scientific
knowledge from India and Byzantium was current in the Sāsānian period,
especially works on astronomy and astrology to which the game of backgammon is
related. The importance which the Sāsānians gave to these sciences is evident
from a number of names which exist for the practitioners of these sciences. The
“astrologer” (Middle Persian) axtarmār; starōšmār, and
“soothsayer” (Middle Persian) murw-nīš; kēd; kundāg,
“zodiac-teller” (Middle Persian) 12-star-gōwišn,
“star-reckoner” (Middle Persian) stārhangār, and “time-knower”
(Middle Persian) hangām-šnās were valued and active in this period
which must have utilized and welcomed new Greek, Indian, and Babylonian
astronomy and astrological material, and it appears that indeed the Sāsānians
brought about a mixture of the Greek, Indian, and Babylonian astrological
According to the Fihrist of Ibn Nadim, the inventor of the game,
Wuzurgmihr is also said to have written a commentary on the Anthologiae of
Vettius Valens on astronomy which is lost, but fragments of the Arabic
translation of the Middle Persian version exist.
The reason for discussing the
preoccupation of Wuzurgmihr with astronomy and astrology is the cosmological
explanation of the game of backgammon according the Middle Persian text.
According to the text on the invention of the game, when the Indian king sent
the game of chess to the Sāsānian court to figure out the logic of the game,
Wuzurgmihr, as a challenge designed and sent the backgammon board and its pieces
to India to challenge the Indians. The Indian sages could not find the logic of
the game and as a result Wuzurgmihr brought more glory to the court in Iran
along with much booty and honor. Since the Indians could not find the logic of
the game, the King of Kings, Xusrō I asked the sage to explain the game.
Wuzurgmihr's answer is central to Zoroastrian beliefs. The passage clearly
demonstrates the cosmological significance of the game as described by
Wuzurgmihr. His explanation of the game is analogous to the processes of the
cosmos and human life. Wuzurgmihr makes fate the primary reason for what
happens to mankind and the roll of the dice in the game performs the function of
fate. The pieces represent humans and their function in
the universe is governed by the seven planets and the twelve
signs. If we are to accept that Wuzurgmihr suggests “fate” (Middle Persian) baxt
to be the principal determinant for one’s life and action and accept Eznik
of Kolb's statement that in the Sāsānian period, the God Zurvān was
equivalent to baxt, then we should consider Wuzurgmihr as follower of the
Zurvanite doctrine. What is important is the difference between the game of
chess and backgammon. While the game of chess is a game likened to battle,
backgammon is based on the throw of the dice, meaning based on one’s fate.
to the Zoroastrianism of the Sāsānian period, fate dominated and controlled
human life. The Middle Persian version of Wīdēwdād (Anti-Demonic Law)
states (Wd 5.9):
pad baxt, mēnōg pad kunišn ast kē ēdōn gōwēd:
ud frazand ud xwāstag ud xwadāyīh ud zīndagīh
baxt, abārīg pad kunišn
material world is (governed) through fate, the spiritual world is (governed)
through action, There is somebody who says:
and children and wealth and sovereignty and life is
through fate, the rest is (governed) through action.”
Shaked, however, has warned us that we should not think of the idea of fate
governing human life as solely Zurvanite since the “orthodox” form of
Zoroastrianism also accepted this idea. The shape of the game board is likened to spandarmad
zamīg (Avestan) Spān)tā Ārmaiti, the goddess of the earth. This
is a regular feature of Zoroastrian angelology, where the earth is thought to be
part of the cosmological structure which is not only an idea but also an image.
humans are functioning or living upon a cosmological being that is alive. The
pieces represent the thirty nights and days. The die represent the axtarān and
spihr “constellations and firmament,” which by its turn and position
(number) decide one’s movement and predict human life. The one on the dice
according to the text represents Ohrmazd’s omnipotence and his oneness. The
two on the die represent mēnōg and gētīg, the spiritual and
the material world. The three represents the three stages of heaven in
Zoroastrianism, humat and hūxt and huwaršt preceding paradise. The four
represents another cosmological expression, čahār sōg ī gētīg,
“the four corners of the world,” an important concept in Mesopotamian royal
ideology. This phrase is equivalent to Akkadian kibrāt arb’I “the
four corners,” i.e., the entire world. The five represents the five luminaries according
to the text which are the divisions of the heavens, although here there are some
deviations from the norm. According to the Avesta, the heavens had four
stations which were the stars, the moon, the sun and the eternal light. Here we
have in a disorderly fashion the divisions of the heavens into the following
stations: the sun, the moon, the stars, fire and finally the heavenly
the six represents the šaš gāhānbār or the six seasonal feasts
according to the Zoroastrian religion.
hitting of pieces is likened to killing and when the pieces come back to the
game it signifies the act of resurrection which, according to Zoroastrian
cosmology, appears in the twelfth millennium. Astrological signs are also very
important for the end of the millennium and the beginning of the apocalyptic age
which ushers the twelfth millennium and the arrival of Sōšāns, where
people are resurrected, and the luminaries return to their original position at
the highest point. The seven planets and twelve zodiacal signs are the most
important actors in human destiny which according to Zaehner was part of the
Zurvanite heresy - astrological fatalism. Thus the seven planets were evil and
the twelve zodiac signs were on the side of Ohrmazd, and they were to decide the
fate of man in the universe, something that the “orthodoxy” and Zoroaster
himself had negated.
is why in the Mēnōg ī Xrad (278.21-22) it is stated that all the
welfare and adversity that comes to man is through the seven planets and the
twelve zodiac signs.
has been claimed that the cosmological nature of the game of chess and
backgammon was connected with and corresponded to a mandala, a
representation of the cosmic cycle in the Indic world. In this cycle, the battle
initially took place between the devas and the asuras. But we may also state that this cosmological
battle was also to play a similar part in the corporeal world, where human
destiny was based on one’s fate and struggle.
earliest surviving chess pieces are from Persia. These include an elephant
carved from black stone (2 7/8 inches). The piece is from the late sixth or
seventh century, which corresponds to the time when the Middle Persian text was
composed. More importantly there is a silver-gilded
hemispherical bowl housed at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which depicts
several important scenes from the Sāsānian period (fig 2). They include a
scene of marriage, a wrestling scene, and several other scenes including a scene
of two people playing backgammon.
one can conclude that this bowl represents the things that mattered in the
courtly life, and based on the text of Xusrō ud Rēdag,
one can suggest that the bowl represents the activities of which a noble should
engage or have a knowledge of. These include wrestling, being informed in
religious precepts and ritual, marrying and having offspring, playing
instruments, and also being able to play board games, i.e., backgammon. Harper
has assigned the date of the bowl to the seventh century based on several
premises. These premises include the forms of dress of the personages on the
bowl which are similar to the reliefs at Tāq-i Bustān, the shape of some of
the vessels, and the attachments of the short sword in the scene.
backgammon scene shows that the person on the left has won the game and has his
left hand raised as a sign of victory. The person on the right has his left hand
on his knee and it appears that one of his fingers on his left hand is bent. The
bent forefinger gesture has had a long history in the ancient Near East, going
back to the second millennium BCE and was used to demonstrate a gesture of
reverence, but in the Sāsānian period, it also came to mean a gesture of
submission. Thus in our scene, the loser may be giving a sign
of submission or defeat, while his head is slightly dropped and the winner has
his hand raised as a sign of victory.
other pictorial evidence for the game of backgammon comes from Central Asia,
from the city of Panjikent (Sogdian pncyknδ (h)).
In 1946 Russian archaeologists discovered this site which is situated in present
day Tajikistan. The paintings depict religious as well heroic and epic scenes.
Some of these paintings depict such epic stories as that of Rustam’s battles,
the lamentation for Siyāwaxš (Persian) sōg ī siyāwaš and other
imagery which are quite pertinent to the ancient Iranian world.
the wall paintings from Panjikent, which are now housed in the Hermitage museum
at St. Petersburg, there is a scene of what can be called court activity. The
painting shows two people playing a board game which in all probability is a
backgammon game along with several other personages beside them. The exact
context of the story is not clear, but it has been suggested that the scene
either represents a Buddhist Jātaka story or a Turco-Iranian narrative theme. A nimbus appears to encircle the head of one of
the players who has his right hand raised as a gesture of victory. The man
seated on the left again has his left hand raised showing the bent forefinger. A
figure behind the victorious person also appears to be pointing to the loser
with the bent forefinger. The bent forefinger here again demonstrates one’s
submission or defeat at the game along with the acknowledgment of another person
with the same gesture as witness.
fourteenth century manuscript of the Šāhnāme contains two scenes, one
at the court of Xusrō I, and the second at the court of Dēwišarm. In the
scene Wuzurgmihr is seated on the floor with three other Persians all with white
turbans. In front of the Persian sage is a board game where by taking into
account the story, we can see that the board game is a backgammon board. The
Indian king is seated on his throne and is surrounded by the Indian sages who
are painted darker and have darker turbans. Wuzurgmihr has his right hand
pointing on the backgammon board which probably means that he is either
challenging the Indian sages or explaining the ruler of the game after the
Indian sages have been dumbfounded. It is particularly interesting to note that
one of the two older Indian sages who has white beard has his hand by his mouth,
symbolizing his amazement or perplexity. We should also note that the design of
the board is very similar to that of the board on the wall paintings at
What can be concluded from these representations and our
texts is that board games such as Chess and Backgammon were not just important
games for pleasure rather they symbolically represented the importance of the
cycle of life, where the game of chess was likened to battle and the struggle in
life, and the game of backgammon represented fate and the cosmic cycle.
board games were sports which simulated physical challenge of life and combat,
as well as the training of the mind in order to be a well-rounded person, namely
someone who has acquired frahang / farhang.
know that in the early Islamic period, the Arabs were familiar with backgammon.
There is in fact evidence that during the time of the Prophet Muh)ammad in
Arabia, the game of backgammon was popular. There is a popular story which Tha‘ālibī
relates that when the Arab Muslims conquered the Sāsānian capital of
Ctesiphon, they found a set of backgammon pieces belonging
Xusrō II (CE 590-628), pieces of which were made of coral and turquoise. The
companions of the prophet, such as Abu H)urayra (d. 676) refused to meet Muslims
who had played backgammon. He is also to have said “One who plays nard with
stakes is like one who eats pork; one who plays without stakes is like one who
puts his hand in pig's blood; and one who watches the game is like one who looks
at pork meat.” By the eighth century CE, the four schools of
Islamic jurisprudence considered the game of backgammon as h)arām (forbidden). We, however, have many textual references to the
game being played at the court in many regions of the Islamic Near East, which
means that the game may have been played by the masses as well, and in fact its
popularity confirms this suggestion.
the early Abbāsīd period (CE 750-900) the game of backgammon was popular both
at the court of Hārūn al-Rašīd and that of his son, al-Ma’mūn. It is said
that Ma’mūn liked to play backgammon since, if he lost, he could place the
blame on the dice, meaning fate. The same may be said of the game of
chess which was seen as a form of gambling by many Muslims. Medieval authors
justified the game by stating that as long as it was played for mental exercise
be beneficial. The Qābūs-nāme dedicates a chapter to the games of
Chess and Backgammon, where the proper etiquette of playing and when and to whom
one should lose or win from is discussed. It is strictly stated that one should
not make bets on the games and only then playing the game becomes a proper
activity. During the Seljuk period it is reported that Alp
Arslan was also fond of backgammon. But according to a Persian text, once when
Alp Arsalan became quite angry when he threw two ones instead of two sixes. Although the game
been deemed as h)arām, the love of playing backgammon has been the most
favorite board game in the Near East and parts of the Mediterranean world until
is the Persian form of the game that spread to the rest of the Near East and
Anatolia. The reason for this supposition is that still today when playing the
game in Turkey and in the Arab countries, the game is called shesh-baish,
nard or nardi or (Arabic) tāwula. The technical
terminology is generally in Persian such as the terms used for numbers: yuk ;
Persian yak ; Middle Persian ēk; du ; Persian do ;
Middle Persian d��; sey; Persian se; Middle Persian sē;
jahr ; Persian čāhār ; Middle Persian čahār; benj ;Persian
panj; Middle Persian panj; and shesh ; Persian šeš ;
Middle Persian šaš. When calling combinations, they are rarely called
out in Arabic and the Persian form is used, such as shesh-baish or dū-yuk. In Georgia the game is called nardi, in
Central Asia it is called narr; in the Deccan the game is called tukhta-e-nard
from Persian taxt-e nard. Finally in Persian poetry there are many
references to the game by Anwarī, Asadī, Ferdowsī, Khāghānī, Manūčehrī,
Mas‘ūd Sa‘d, Mokhtārī, Mowlavī, Sa‘dī, and Sanā‘ī all mention the
game of backgammon. Several of the poets place the game in its
original cosmological function which means they have stayed faithful to
Wuzurgmihr's description of the game. Manūčehrī gives the following couplet
in regard to human fate and the cosmos:
همچوپيروزگون تخته نردى زمرجانش مهره زلولوش
firmament is like the victorious looking backgammon
Its pieces from coral, the quality of pearl.”
The significance of chess and backgammon and its diffusion into the
Islamic world and further into Europe is another matter with which we are not
concerned here with. It should, however, be mentioned that different
civilizations made changes to these games to make them more coherent with their
cultural realities and beliefs. To conclude one point would demonstrate this
change in the environment where the game of chess was played. When the Christian
Spaniards were able to beat back the Muslims who had brought the game of chess
to Andalusia (Spain), one piece of the game was changed. Now the queen replaced
the wazīr and so the game looked more Spanish than its Near Eastern
Transcription, Translation, and Text of the
Wizārišn ī Čatrang ud Nihišn ī Nēw-Ardaxšīr
have been several translations of this text in the nineteenth and the twentieth
century, beginning with D.P.B. Sanjana, C. Salemann, J.C. Tarapore, M. Lucidi, A. Pagliaro, C.J. Brunner, and A. Panaino. H.S. Nyberg made important emendations and notes
to the original Pahlavi text, and O. Hansen, and A. Cantera have made important comments on the text.
have been three Persian translation of the text as well, those of M.T. Bahār, S. Oriān, and the best one that of B. Gheiby. One should also pay attention to the Šāhnāme
of Ferdowsī which contains a version of this text with much detail which is
secondary. Tha’ālibī has also supplied the Arabic
version of the story which is closer to the Šāhnāme than the Middle
MK codex which contains the Wizārišn ī Čatrang ud Nihišn ī Nēw-Ardaxšīr
was edited by K.J. Jamasp-Asana. The text was edited based on several
manuscripts, the TD, MK, and JJ. The codex consisted of 163 folios where the Wizārišn
ī Čatrang ud Nihišn ī Nēw-Ardaxšīr was found in fol. 115 - fol. 120. The
codex contains a variety of texts, some short and a few longer ones, such as the
Ayādgār ī Zarērān, and Xusrō
ud Rēdag [sic].
For the transcription, MacKenzie's system has been used
and in the translation, the Middle Persian forms of the names are used with some
modifications. The following symbols have been used in the transcriptions: ( )
addition / < > omission. First the transcription, then the English
translation, and finally the original text is given.
nām ī yazdān
ēdōn gōwēnd kū andar xwadāyīh ī husraw anōšag-ruwān az dēwišarm
ī wuzurg šahryār ī hindūgān šāh abar uzmūdan ī xrad ud dānāgīh ī
ērān-šahrīgān ud sūd-īz ī xwēš nigerīdan rāy čatrang ēw juxt 16 tāg
az uzumburd ud 16
tāg az yākand ī suxr kard frēstīd.
čatrang 1000 ud 200 uštar bār zarr ud asēm ud gōhr ud morwārīd ud jāmag
ud 90 pīl u-š čiš ī mādagīg kard abāg frēstīd ud tātarītos čiyōn
andar hindūgān pad wizēn būd abāg frēstīd.
pad frawardag ōwōn nibišt ēstād kū abāyēd čiyōn
ašmā nām pad šāhān-šāhīh pad amā hamāg šāhān-šāh hēd abāyēd kū
dānāgān (ī) ašmā(-īz) az ān ī amā dānāgtar bawēnd agar čim ī ēn
čatrang wizārēd ēnyā sāk (ud) bāj frēstēd.
šāhān-šāh 3 rōz zamān xwāst ud ēč kas nē būd
az dānāgān ī ērān-šahr kē čim ī ān čatrang wizārdan šāyēst.
sidīgar rōz wuzurgmihr ī bōxtagān abar ō pāy ēstād.
u-š guft kū anōšag bawēd man čim ī ēn čatrang tā
im rōz az ān čim rāy be nē wizārd tā ašmā ud harw kē pad ērān-šahr
hēd be dānēd kū andar ērānšahr mard ī man dānāgtar hom.
man čim ī ēn čatrang xwārīhā wizārom ud sāk (ud)
bāj az dēwišarm stānom ud anē-iz čiš-ē kunom ō dēwišarm frēstom ī-š
wizārdan nē tuwān (ud) az-iš 2 bārag sāk man gīrom ud pad ēn abēgumān
bawēd kū ašmā pad šāhān-šāhīh arzānīg hēd ud dānāgān ī amā az
ān ī dēwišarm dānāgtar hēnd.
šāhān-šāh 3 bār guft kū zīwā wuzurgmihr tātarītos
ī amā u-š 12000 drahm ō wuzurgmihr framūd dādan.
rōz ī dudīgar wuzurgmihr tātarītos ō pēš xwāst ud
guft kū dēwišarm ēn čatrang pad čim (ī) kārezār homānāg kard.
u-š homānāg 2 sar-xwadāy kard šāh ō mādayārān
raxw ō hōyag ud dašnag homānāg frazēn ō artēštārān-sālār homānāg
pīl ō puštībānān-sālār homānāg ud asb ō aswārān-sālār homānāg
payādag ō ān ham-payādag homānāg ī pēš-razm.
u-š pas tātarītos čatrang nihād abāg wuzurgmihr wāzīd
ud wuzurgmihr 3 dast az tātarītos burd ud padiš wuzurg rāmišn ō hamāg kišwar
pas tātarītos abar ō pāy ēstād.
u-š guft kū anōšag bawēd yazad ēn warz ud xwarrah ud
amāwandīh ud pērōzgarīh ō ašmā dād ērān ud anērān xwadāy hēd.
čand tā dānāgān ī hindūgān ēn čatrang
ēw juxt nihād pad was harg (ud) ranj ō ēd gyāg āwurd (ud) ēč kas wizārdan
nē tuwān būd.
wuzurgmihr (ī) ašmā az āsnxrad ī xwēš ēdōn xwārīhā
ud sabukīhā bē wizārd.
u-š ān and xwāstag ō ganj ī šāhānšāh wisē kard.
šāhān-šāh dudīgar rōz wuzurgmihr ō pēš xwāst.
u-š ō wuzurgmihr guft kū wuzurgmihr ī amā čē ast ān
čiš ī-t guft kū kunom (ud) ō dēwišarm frēstom?
wuzurgmihr guft kū az dahibedān andar ēn hazārag ardaxšīr
kardārtar ud dānāgtar būd ud nēw-ardaxšīr ēd juxt pad nām ī ardaxšīr
taxtag ī nēw-ardaxšīr ō spandarmad zamīg homānāg
ud 30 muhrag ō 30 rōz ud šabān homānāg kunom 15 ī
spēd ō rōz homānāg kunom ud 15 (ī) syā ō šab homānāg kunom.
gardānāg ēd tāg ō wardišn ī axtarān ud gardišn ī
spihr homānāg kunom.
ēk abar gardānag-ē ōwōn homānāg kunom kū ohrmazd
ēk ast (ud) har nēkīh ōy dād.
2 ēdōn homānāg kunom čiyōn mēnōg ud gētīg.
3 ōwōn homānāg kunom čiyōn humat ud hūxt ud huwaršt
ud menišn ud gōwišn ud kunišn.
4 ōwōn homānāg kunom čiyōn čahār āmēzišn kē
mardōm az-iš az-iš čahār sōg (ī) gētīg xwarāsān ud xwarwarān (ud) nēmrōz
5 ōwōn homānāg kunom čiyōn 5 rōšnīh čiyōn xwaršēd
ud māh ud stārag (ud) ātaxš ud warzag (ī) az asmān āyēd.
6 ōwōn homānāg kunom čiyōn dādan ī dām pad 6 gāh
nihādag ī nēw-ardaxšīr abar taxtag ēdōn homānāg
kunom čiyōn ohrmazd xwadāy ka-š dām ō gētīg dād.
wardišn ud gardišn ī muhrag pad gardānāg-ē ōwōn
homānāg čiyōn mardōmān ī andar gētīg band ō mēnōgān paywast ēstēd
pad 7 ud 12 hamāg wardēnd (ud) wihēzēnd ud ka ast ēk ō did zanēnd ud abar
čīnēnd čiyōn mardōmān andar gētīg ēk ō did zanēnd.
ud ka pad gardānāg-ē ēd gardišn hamāg abar čīnēnd
hangōšīdag ī mardōm kē hamāg az gētīg widārān bawēnd ud ka did-iz bē
nihēnd hangōšīdag ī mardōmān kē pad ristāxēz hamāg zīndag abāz bawēnd.
šāhān-šāh ka-š ān saxwan āšnūd rāmišnīg būd
ud framūd 12000 asb (ī) tāzīg az ham mōy padisār pad zarr (ud) morwārīd
ud 12000 mard (ī) *juwan kē pad wizīn ī az ērānšahr 12000 zrēh ī haft-*gard
ud 12000 šamšēr (ī) pōlāwadēn ī wirāst hindūg (ud) 12000 kamar ī haft
čašmag ud abārīg har čē andar 12000 mard (ud) asp abāyist har čē abrangīgīhā
wuzurgmihr (ī) bōxtagān abar awēšān sālār kard
ud rōzgār-ē wizīdag pad nēk jahišn ud yazdān ayārīh ō hindūgān frēstīd.
dēwišarm ī wuzurg šahryār ī hindūgān-šāh ka
āwēšān pad ān ēwēnag dīd az wuzurgmihr ī bōxtagān 40 rōz zamān xwāst.
ēč kas nē būd az dānāgān ī hindūgān kē čim
(ī) ān nēw-ardaxšīr dānist.
wuzurgmihr did-iz ham čand ān sāk ud bāj az dēwišarm
stād ud pad nēk jahišn (ud) wuzurg abrang abāz ō ērānšahr āmad.
wizārišn (ud) čim ī čatrang ēn kū č(ērī)h pad
nērang az ān čiyōn dānāgān-iz guft ēstēd kū pērōz kū pad xrad barēd
az ān (ī) a-zēn ardīg mādagwarīh <ī> dānistan.
wāzīdan (ī) čatrang ēn kū nigerišn ud tuxšišn
<ī> pad nigāh dāštan ī abzār ī xwad wēš tuxšišn čiyōn ō
burdan šāyistan ī abzār ī ōy did ud pad ummēd ī abzār ī ōy ī did
burden šāyistan rāy dast ī wad nē wāzišn ud hamwār abzār ēk-ē pad kār
ud abārīg pad pahrēz dārišn ud nigerišn bowandag-menišnīhā ud abārīg
ōwōn čiyōn andar ēwēn<ag>-nāmag nibišt ēstēd. frazaft pad drōd
the name of the Gods
It is said that during the reign of Xusrō, of Immortal soul, for the
sake of testing the wisdom and knowledge of the Iranians and to see his own
benefit, Dēwišarm, great sovereign of the Indians, sent one set of chess, 16
pieces made from emerald and 16 pieces made from red ruby.
Along with that (game of) chess he sent 1200 camel loads of gold and
silver and jewels and pearls and garments and 90 elephants and things specially
made for them, which were sent along, and Taxtrītos who was notable among the
Indians was sent along.
In a letter he had written thus: Since you are named king of kings, and
over us you are king of kings, then your wise men also must be wiser than ours,
either you explain the logic of this (game of) chess or send (us) tribute and
The king of kings asked for 3 days, and there was not one among the
wisemen in Ērānšahr who was able to explain the logic of that chess
On the third day, Wuzurgmihr, the son of Boxtag stood upon his feet.
He said thus: May you be immortal, I did not explain the logic of this
game of chess till today for that reason so that you and anyone who is in Ērānšahr
know that I am the wisest in Ērānšahr.
I will easily explain the logic of this (game of) chess and will take
tribute and tax from Dēwišarm, and I will create and send something to Dēwišarm
which he will not be able to explain, (and) for the second time I will again
take tribute and therefore it will become certain that you are worthy of the
kingship of kings and our wise men are wiser than those of Dēwišarm.
The king of kings said 3 times thus: Bravo Wuzurgmihr, our Taxtrītos,
and he commanded to give Wuzurgmihr 12000 silver coins.
On the second day Wuzurgmihr called Taxtrītos before him and said thus:
Dēwišarm has designed this chess (game) like a battle in purpose.
He made the king like the two overlords, the rook (on) the left and right
flank, the minister like the Commander of the Warriors, the elephant is like the
Commander of the Bodyguards, and the horse is like the Commander of the Cavalry,
the foot-soldier like the same pawn, that is at front of the battle(field).
Then Taxtrītos set the (game of) chess and played with Wuzurgmihr, and
Wuzurgmihr won 3 hands from Taxtrītos, and because of this, great joy came to
Then Taxtrītos stood upon his feet.
He said thus: May you be immortal, God has given you this miraculous
power, and glory and strength, and victoriousness. You are the lord of Ērān
Several of the Indian wise men prepared this set of chess (pieces) with
much effort, and toil brought it to this place, (and) no one was able to (give
Your Wuzurgmihr due to his innate wisdom rather so easily and simply
He dispatched that much wealth to the treasury of the king of kings.
The next day the king of kings called Wuzurgmihr before him.
He said to Wuzurgmihr thus: Our Wuzurgmihr, what is that thing which you
said to me: I will make and send it to Dēwišarm?
Wuzurgmihr said thus: Among the rulers of this millennium Ardaxšīr was
more capable and most wise and I will name this (game) backgammon (Nēw-Ardaxšīr)
in Ardaxšīr's name.
I will make the board of the backgammon like the Spandarmad earth.
and I will make 30 pieces like the 30 night and day, I will make 15
white, like the day, and I will make 15 black, like the night.
I will make this single die as the turning of the constellations and the
revolution of the firmament.
I will make the one on the dice like Ohrmzad, who is one and all goodness
was created by him.
I will make the two like the spiritual and the material world.
I will make the three like good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, and
thoughts, words, and deeds.
I will make the four like the four humors which the people are made of,
and (like) the four corners of the world, northeast and southwest, and
southeast, and northwest.
I will make the five like the five lights, like the sun, and the moon,
and the stars, and the fire and the heavenly brightness which descends from the
I will make the six like the creation of the creatures during the six
periods of Gāhānbārs (which makes the divisions of the year).
I will make the arrangements of the (game of) backgammon on the board
like the Lord Ohrmazd, when He created the creatures of the material world.
The turning and revolution of the pieces by the die is like people in the
material world, their bond connected to the spiritual world, through the 7 and
12 (planets and constellation) they all have their being and move on, and when
it is as if they hit one against another and collect, it is like people in the
material world, one hits another (person).
And when by the turning of this die all are collected, it is in the
likeness of the people who all passed out from the material world (died), and
when they set them up again, it is in the likeness of the people who during the
(time of) resurrection, all will come to life again.
When the king of kings heard that speech, he became joyful and commanded
12000 Arabian horses of the same hair (color), bridled with gold and pearls and
12000 young men who are distinguished in Ērānšahr, 12000 coat of mail
armor and 12000 swords prepared of Indian steel, (and) 12000 seven-studded (jeweled)
belts and whatever is needed for 12000 men (and) horses, everything adorned in
the most splendid manner.
Wuzurgmihr, the son of Boxtag was made commander over them, and at the
chosen date, with good fortune and with the aid of the Gods, sent to the
Dēwišarm the great, the sovereign of the king of the Indians, when he
saw them in that manner, he asked Wuzurgmihr, the son of Boxtag for 40 days
There was no one among the wise men of the Indians who knew the logic of
that (game of) backgammon.
Wuzurgmihr again collected as much tribute and tax from Dēwišarm and
through good fortune and great splendor returned to Ērānšahr.
The explanation (and) the logic of chess is this: Victory through skill,
in the manner which the wise have said: The victor who wins through wisdom, from
having the essential knowledge of weaponless war.
The explanation of chess is this that, observation and
striving through protecting one’s own piece, greater striving to be able to
capture the other person’s pieces, not playing a bad hand because of hope of
being able to capture the other person’s pieces, always keeping one piece on
the attack and the others on the defense, observing with complete mindfulness,
and other as has been written in the Book of Manners.
with salutation and joy.
For the Egyptian game of Senet see E. B. Pusch, Das Senet-Brettspiel im
alten Aegypten, Muenchner aegyptologische Studien, Heft 38, Muenchen,
Berlin,Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1979; W. Decker, Sports and Games of
Ancient Egypt, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1992. I
would like to thank A. Loprieno for the information.
Lives, Translated by J. Dryden, The Modern Library, New York, 1864,
Gheiby, Guzāreš-e Šatranj, Edited and Translated by Nemudar
Publications, Bielefeld, 2001, p. 12; G. Chaucer, “The Pardoners Tald,” The
Canterbury Tales, Wordsworth Poetry Library, Hertfordshire, 1995, p.
eek that, to the kyng Demetrius
king of Parthes, as the book seith us,
him a paire of dees of gold in scorn
he hadde used hasard ther-biforn
which he heeld his glorie or his renoun
no value or reputacioun
at King Demetrius
King of Parthia, as the book tells us,
sent a pair of golden dies in scorn
he had dice-played (gambled) beforehand
which he held his glory and renown
value or reputation.”
Thieme, “Chess and Backgammon (Tric-Trac) in Sanskrit Literature,” Indological
Studies in Honor of W. Norman Brown, ed. E.
Bender, New Haven Connecticut, 1962, pp. 215, reprint in his Kleine
Schriften, teil 2, Franz Steiner Verlag Gmbh, Wiesbaden, 1971, p. 424.
Falkner, Games of Ancient and Oriental and How to Play them Being the
of the Ancient Egyptians, the Hiera Gramme of the Greeks, the Ludus
of the Romans and the Oriental Games of Chess, Draughts, Backgammon and
Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1892, p. 125; B. Utas, “Chess I. The
History of Chess in Persia,” Encycopaedia Iranica, ed. E. Yarshater,
Vol. V, Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, 1992, p. 395.
appears that playing the game of chess without dice is a later development,
A. van der Linde, “Geschicte und Literatur des Schachspiels I,” 1874, p.
78ff apud Thieme, p. 424.
op. cit., pp. 423-424.
Brunner, "The Middle Persian Explanation of Chess and Invention of
Backgammon," The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of
Columbia University, Vol. 10, 1978, pp. 43-51; A. Panaino, La Novella
degli Sacchi e della Tavola Reale, Testo pahlavi, traduzione e commento al
Wizārišn ī Čatrang ud nēw-ardaxšīr, Mimesis, Milan, 1999; J.
Curtis & I. Finkel, “Game Boards and Other Incised Graffiti at
Persepolis,” Iran, Vol. XXXVII, 1999, pp. 45-48.
a study of the requirements for king and princes in ancient Persia see W.
Knauth, Das altiranische Füerrstenideal von Xeneophon bis Ferdousi,
nach d. antiken u. einheim. Quellen
dargest, Franz Steiner, Wiesbaden, 1975.
D. Monchi-Zadeh, “Xusrōv ī Kavātān ut Rētak, Pahlavi Text,
Transcription and Translation,” Monumentum Georg Morgenstierne,
Vol. II, Acta Iranica 22,E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1982, pp. 47-91.
as,t,āpada < Persian haštpāy is similar to the
chessboard and has 64 squares, 8 rows of 8 squares, Murry, idem., p.
Chukanova, Kniga deianii Ardashira syna Papaka, Pamiatniki
Pis'mennosti Vostoka, Moscow, 1987, p. 162; the method used by Chukanova for
dating the last redaction of the text has been criticized by A. Panaino,
“The Two Astrological Reports of the Kārnāmag ī Ardaxšīr ī Pābagān
(III, 4-7; IV,6-7),” Die Sprache, Zeitschrift für
Sprachwissenschaft, Band 36, 1994, pp. 181-198.
the text and the latest translation see, I.M. Nāzerī, Andarz ī Ōšnar
Hermand Publishers, Tehran, 1373, pp. 22-23.
translated by Muh,ammad b. Abdallāh al-Bukhārī, ed. P.N. Khānlarī and
M. Roshan, Khārazmī Publishers, Tehran, 1369.
Skilton, A Concise History of Buddhism, Barnes & Noble, New York,
1994, p. 200.
Tafazzolī, “Āyīn-nāme,” Encyclopaedia of Iran and Islam, ed.
E. Yarshater, The Royal Institute of Translation and Publication, Tehran,
1978, p. 266.
omits, Wisdom of the Sasanian Sages, Dēnkard VI, Westview Press,
Boulder, Colorado, 1979, passage 223 pp. 86-87.
Herzfeld, Zoroaster and His World, Vol. II, Octagon Books, New York,
1974, p. 628.
T. Nöldeke, “Persische Studien,” Sitzungsberichte der K. Adademie
der Wissenschaften in Wien, Phil.-hist. Klasse, Vienna, Kl. 126, Abh.
12, 1892, pp. 21-23.
J. Markwart and de Groot, J.J.M. “Das Reich Zābul und der Gott Zūn,” Eduard
Sachau-Festschrift, 1915, p. 257.
E. Herzfeld, idem., p. 628.
supplies a short version of the Middle Persian version, where Buzugmihr /
Wuzurgmihr describes the game of chess to h#arb “war,” and the
game of backgammon to falak “cosmos,” ed. M-Š
Bahār, Tehran, 1334, p. 75.
text reads šāh ō mādāyārān ō hōyag, but I follow Panaino’s
emendations, La Novella, op. cit., pp. 68-69.
Rosenthal, “Nard,” The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. VII, Fas.
129-139, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1992, p. 963; H.J.R. Murry also accepted the
false etymology of šīr for “lion,” A History of Board-Games
other than Chess, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1952, p. 114.
regard to his fictional nature and lack of historicity see T. Nöldeke,
zum Buche Kalila we Dimna,” Schriften der Wissenschaft Ges. In Strassburg,
Vol. 12, 1912, p. 104f; for proponents of his historicity and his
identification with Burzōe see, A. Christensen, “La légende du sage
Buzurjmihr,” Acta Orientalia, Vol. 8, 1929, pp. 81-127; For the
influence of Xusrō I and Wuzurgmihr in the post-Sasanian period see R.D.
Marcotte, “Anīshīrvān and Buzurgmihr - the Just Ruler and the Wise
Counselor: Two figures of Persian Traditional Moral Literature,” Rocznik
Orientalistyczny, LI, 2, 1998, pp. 69-90.
Panaino has suggested that the game was in fact originally a game which
existed in the West known as ludus duodecim scriptorum, alea tabula, La
Novella, p. 197.
Bailey, Zoroastrian Problems in the Ninth-Century Books, Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1943; P. de Menasce, “Notes Iraniennes,” Journal
Asiatique, 1949, pp. 1-2; M. Boyce, “Middle Persian Literature,” Handbuch
der Orientalistik, Iranistik, Literatur, Lieferung 1, Leiden / Köln,
E.J. Brill, 1968, pp. 36-37.
ibid., p. 86; Boyce, ibid., pp. 36-37; For a review of all the
material in Persian see H. Reza’ī Bāghbīdī, “Vāže Gozīnī dar
As)r-e Sāsānī va Ta’sīr ān dar Fārsī-ye Darī,” Nāme-ye
Farhangestān, vol. 5, no.3, 1998, pp. 144-158.
Pingree, “Astronomy and Astrology in India and Iran,” Isis, An
International Review Devoted to the History of Science and its Cultural
Influences, Vol. 54, Part 2, No. 176, 1963, p. 241.
Museum MS Add. 23,400, Pingree, ibid., pp. 241-242; Brunner op.
cit., 1978, p. 46; Ibn Khaldūn gives similar information on
Wuzurgmihr's preoccupation with astronomy and astrology, Pingree, ibid.,
p. 245; that the Iranians were interested in astronomy already in the fifth
century, before the influence of Indian material is indicated by E.S.
Kennedy and B.L. van der Waerden, “The World-Year of the Persians,” Journal
of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 83, 1963, p. 323; Panaino
believes that Wuzurgmihr is not the astrologer who translated the Anthologiae,
Panaino, La Novella, p. 123.
op. cit., pp. 46-47.
Brunner, “Astrology and Astronomy II. Astronomy and Astrology in the
Sasanian Period,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. E. Yarshater, Vol. II,
Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1987, p. 864.
Shaked, “Bakt II. The Concept,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, ed. E.
Yarshater, Vol. III, Routledge & Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1989,
p. 538; also regarding the influence of Neoplatonic sources on this passage
of the Wīdēwdād, see J. Duchesne-Guillemin in Hommages à
Georges Dumézil, Collection Latomus 45, 1960, pp. 102-103.
Corbin, Spiritual Body and Celestial Earth, From Mazdean Iran to Shī‘ite
Iran, Bollingen Series XCI: 2, Princeton University Press, 1977, pp.
of the four corners of the world” adopted by Cyrus in the sixth century
B.C., The Assyrian Dictionary, eds. M. Civil, I. J. Gelb, A. L.
Oppenheim, E. Reiner, Vol. 8, The Oriental Institute, Chicago, Illinois,
1971, p. 331. In Cyrus' cylinder CyC 1-2): [mKu-ra-áš
šàr kiš-šat šarru rabū šarru dannu
u Akkadī .... ]
[ .... .... šàr ki-i]b-ra-a-tim ir-bi-it-tim
King of the world, great king, legitimate king,
of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad,
of the four quarters of the earth...”
W. Eilers, “Le texte cunéiforme du cylindre de Cyrus,” Commémoration
Cyrus, Hommage Universel II, Acta Iranica 2, 1974, p. 29-32. *Please
note that the fonts used for the transcription are not standard. From
literary sources, one can point to the Šāhnāme of Abū Mansūrī,
of which only the preface has survived. In explaining the division of the
world the author states:
مردمان بودبه چهار سوى جهان
تا کران این زمين را ببخشيدندوبه هفت
where there was the resting place of the people, in the four corners of the
world, from end to end, this earth they divided, and made it into seven
portions.” M. Qazwīnī, “Moghdame-ye qhadim šāhnāme,” Bīst Maqāleh,
Tehran, 1332, p. 43.
the question of the influence of Mesopotamian and Greek ideas on the number
of heavens see A. Pananio, “Uranographia Iranica I: The Three Heavens in
the Zoroastrian Tradition and the Mesopotamian Background,” Au
carrefour des religions, Mélanges offerts à Philippe Gignoux, ed. R.
Gyselen, Groupe pour l'Étude de la Civilisation du Moyen-Orient,
Bures-sur-Yvette, 1995, pp. 205-226.
Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism, Weidenfeld and
Nicolson, London, 1961, p. 238.
Bruckhardt, Moorish Culture in Spain, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1972,
E. Herzfeld, “Ein Sasanidischer Elefant,” Archaeologische
Mitteilungen aus Iran, Vol. III,
1931, p. 27; F. Sarre, “Sasanian Stone Sculpture,” Survey of Persian
Art, Oxford, 1939, Vol. I, pp. 593-600; C.K. Wilkinson, Chess: East
and West, Past and Present, A Selection from the Gustavus A. Pfeiffer
Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1968, xxxvii.
Harper, The Royal Hunter, Art of the Sasanian Empire, The Asia
Society, New York, 1978, p. 75.
75-76; A. C. Gunter and P. Jett, Ancient Iranian Metalwork in the Arthur
M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 163.
Choksy, “Gesture in Ancient Iran and Central Asia II: Proskynesis and the
Bent Forefinger,” Bulletin of the Asia Institute, Vol. 4,
1990, p. 205.
a discussion of these matters see G. Azarpay, Sogdian Painting,
ThePictoral Epic in Oriental Art, University of California Press,
Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1981.
Bussagli, Painting of Central Asia, The World Publishing Company,
Ohio, 1963, pp. 46-47.
Wilkinson, ibid., p. xii.
Gambling in Islam, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1975, p. 88.
al-Adab al-mufrad, ed. M.F. ‘Abd al-Bākī, Cairo, 1375, pp.
326-328; and for other traditions also see Rosenthal, ibid., p. 91.
op. cit., p. 114-115.
op. cit., p. 115.
Unsur al-ma‘ālī Kai-Kāwūs b. Iskadar b. Qabūs b. Wašmgīr b. Ziyār,
Qābūs nāme, ed. Q.-H. Yusefī, Scientific and Cultural Publishers,
Tehran, 1375, p. 77.
b. ‘Umar b. ‘Alī Nizāmī Samarghandī, Čahār maghāle, ed. M.
Ghazwini and M. Mo‘īn, Armaghān Publishers, Tehran, 1331, pp. 68-69;
certain manuscripts mention se “three” instead of do “two”
for the number of dice. Qazwini's manuscript has two, but there is also
evidence of the game being played with three dice. In Nafāyis al-fun‚n
fi ‘arāyis al-‘uyūn, by Muh)ammad b. Mahmūd Āmolī, ed. Mirza
Ah)mad, Tehran, 1309, Vol. II, p. 220, regarding the game of backgammon,
three dice are mentioned and again the game is likened to the cosmos.
author lived in Greece for some years and saw the popularity of the game
among the Greeks.
A. Barakat, Tāwula: A Study in Arabic Folklore, Suomalainen
Tiedeakatemia Academia Scientiarum Fennica, Helsinki, 1974, pp. 10-11.
op. cit., p. 115.
Loghat Nāme Dehkhodā, ed. M. Mo‘īn and Dj. Shahidī,
Letter N, Fas. 10, Tehran, 1972, pp. 421-422.
D.P.B. Sanjana, Ganje shâyagân andarze Atrepât Mârâspandân, Mâdigâne
chatrang and Andarze Khusroe Kavâtân. The
Original Péhlvi Text, the same Transliterated in Zend Characters and
Translated into the Gujrati and English Languages,
a Commentary and a Glossary of Selected Words, Bombay, 1885.
Mittelpersische Studien. Ersets Stük (sic). Mélanges
Asiatiques tirés du Bulletin de l’Académie Impériale des Sciences de
Tome IX, Livraison 3, 1887, pp. 222-242.
Tarapore, Vijārishn-i chatrang or the Explanation of Chatrang and other
Texts, Transliteration and translation into English and Gujarati. The
Original Pahlevi Texts. With an Introduction, Bombay, 1932.
Testo Pahlavico Vičārišni čatrang
ud nihi·ni nēw-artaxšēr,
Scuola Orientale, Universita di Roma, 1935-1936.
Pagliaro, Il Testo Pahlavico Sul Giuoco degli Scacchi, in Miscellanea
G. Galbiati, Vol. III, Fontes Ambrosiani VIII, Milano, pp. 97-110.
Brunner, “The Middle Persian Explanation of Chess and Invention of
Backgammon,” The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of
Columbia University, Vol. 10, 1978, pp. 43-51.
Panaino, La Novella, Mimesis, Milan, 1999.
H.S. Nyberg, Amanual of Pahlavi, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden, 1964,
Zum mittelpersichen Vičārišn čatrang, Internationalen
Orientalistenkongress in rom, Verlag J.J. Augustinus in Glückstadt Holst,
1935, pp. 13-19.
of A. Panaino’s La Novella degli Scacchi e della Tavola Reale in Orientalistiche
Literaturzeitung, vol. 95, no. 3, 2000, pp. 304-311.
Bahār, “Gozāresh-e šatrang va nahādan-e vanirdšēr,” Tarjumeh-ye
čand matn-e pahlavī,” Tehran, 1347, pp. 10-17.
Oriān, Motūn-e pahlavī, National Library of Iran, Tehran, 1371,
pp. 152-157, 226-342.
B. Gheiby, Guzāreš-e Šatranj, Nemudar Publications, Bielefeld,
Moscow edition, 1970, vol. VIII, lines 2628-2810, pp. 206-217; Š.H. Ghāsemī,
“Peydāyeš-e Š)atranj be Ravayat-e Šāhnāme,” Tahghighāt
Vol. VI, 1991-1992, pp. 458-466.
Prof. Touraj Daryaee was born in Tehran, Iran in 1967. His elementary and secondary schooling was in Tehran, Iran and Athens, Greece. Daryaee took his Ph.D. in History at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1999. He specializes in the history and culture of Ancient Persia. His most recent articles include: “History, Epic, and Numismatics: On the Title of Yazdgerd I (Rāmšahr),” Journal of the American Numismatic Society, vol. 14, 2002(2003), pp. 89-95; “Gayōmard: King of Clay or Mountain? The epithet of the First Man in the Zoroastrian Tradition,” Paitimāna, Essays in Iranian, Indo-European, and Indian Studies in Honor of Hanns-Peter Schmidt, Mazda Press, 2003, pp. 339-349; “Sight, Semen, and the Brain: Ancient Persian Notions of Physiology in Old and Middle Iranian Texts,” The Journal of Indo-European Studies, vol. 30, nos. 1&2, 2002, pp. 1-26; “The Changing ‘image of the World’: Geography and Imperial Propaganda in Ancient Persia,” Electrum, Studies in Ancient History, vol. 6, 2002, pp. 99-109. His books include Šahrestānīhā ī Ērānšahr, A Middle Persian Text on Late Antique Geography, Epic, and History, Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, 2002; History & Culture of the Sasanians, Qoqnoos Press, Tehran, 2003; and Mēnōg ī Xrad: The Spirit of Wisdom, Essays in Memory of Ahmad Tafazzoli, Mazda Publishers, Costa Mesa, 2003. He is also the editor of the Nāme-ye Irān-e Bāstān, The International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies.
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