Tabula (game)

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Medieval illustration of tabula players from the 13th century Carmina Burana
A game of tabula played by Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno in 480 and recorded by Agathias in 530 circa because of a very unlucky dice throw for Zeno, as he threw 2, 5 and 6 and was forced to leave eight pieces alone.[1]

Tabula was a Roman board game, and is generally thought to be the direct ancestor of modern backgammon. According to the Etymologiae by Isidore of Seville, it was invented by a Greek soldier named Alea.[2]

The earliest description of tabula is in an epigram of Byzantine Emperor Zeno (476–481), given by Agathias of Myrine (527–567), who describes a game in which Zeno goes from a strong position to a very weak one after an unfortunate dice roll. The rules of Tabula were reconstructed in the 19th century by Becq de Fouquières based upon this epigram.[3][4]

Tabula was most likely a later refinement of ludus duodecim scriptorum, with the board's middle row of points removed, and only the two outer rows remaining.[4] The game was played on a board nearly identical to a modern backgammon board.[3] Two players had 15 pieces each, and moved them in opposing directions around the board, according to the roll of three dice.[3][4] A piece resting alone in a space on the board was vulnerable to being hit.[3]


  1. ^ Robert Charles Bell, Board and table games from many civilizations, Courier Dover Publications, 1979, ISBN 0-486-23855-5, pp. 33-35.
  2. ^ Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe and Andy Orchard, eds. Latin Learning and English Lore: Studies in Anglo-Saxon Literature for Michael Lapidge. University of Toronto Press, 2005. Page 60.
  3. ^ a b c d Austin, Roland G. "Zeno's Game of τάβλη", The Journal of Hellenic Studies 54:2, 1934. pp 202-205.
  4. ^ a b c Austin, Roland G. "Roman Board Games. II", Greece & Rome 4:11, February 1935. pp 76-82.

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