The Royal Game of Ur is the oldest playable boardgame in the world, originating around 4,600 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia.
The game’s rules were written on a cuneiform tablet by a Babylonian astronomer in 177 BC. From this, curator Irving Finkel was able to decipher the rules – two players compete to race their pieces from one end of the board to the other. The central squares were also used for fortune telling.
This game-piece is dated to 2600 BC, consisting of inlaid shell and lapis lazuli, and is among the many artifacts excavated by Sir Leonard Wooley, in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, located in today’s southern Iraq. It is said to be similar to backgammon. The British Museum even provides a YouTube video on how to play. Click here.
Status Symbol? An article in BAS article suggests the following:
In the ancient world, board games, one of the world’s oldest hobbies, were played not only to pass the time, but also to signify the wealth and status of the players, according to a new study. Mark Hall, an historian with the Perth Museum and Art Gallery in Scotland, believes the process by which board games spread across the ancient world suggests they were passed along as elite gifts. “Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status,” said Hall. “We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people.” Hall notes that many of the earliest board games from the ancient Near East, including the Mesopotamian game of Twenty Squares (similar to today’s backgammon) and the Egyptian game of Senet (which used a grid of 30 squares), were discovered as offerings or gifts in royal burials, such as the Royal Tombs of Ur and the tomb of King Tutankhamen.
Sir Leonard Woolley directed 12 seasons of excavations at the site of ancient Ur (Tell el-Mukay-yar) on behalf of the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania.
Students of the Bible have an interest in Ur of the Chaldees as the home of the patriarch Abraham (Gen. 11:28,31; Neh. 9:6). Not all agree that Woolley was correct in his identification, but his excavations there are informative and fascinating, to say the least.
In 1927 the archaeologist Leonard Woolley uncovered spectacular finds in southern Mesopotamia, in the ancient city he had identified as Ur, home of Abraham. The treasury of his finds included this figure, known as “The Ram in the Thicket.”
Ram in the Thicket. British Museum. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
This statuette is composed of gold, silver, copper, lapis, shell and coral. Two of these were in what is called “the Great Death Pit.” The other is housed in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
This figure is illustrative of the ram which Abraham offered at Moriah, in the stead of Isaac his son (Gen. 22:13). This figure here is actually a male goat.
Interestingly, this artifact predates Abraham by a few centuries.
Fant and Reddish suggest that
. . . the discoveries at Ur are a significant indication of an amazing level of cultural sophistication in an early period in the locale identified as the birthplace of the father of the Hebrews. If Abraham and his family came from Ur, a city of such considerable cultural advancement, to the tents of the land of Canaan, it further dramatizes the biblical story of his sacrificial following lowing of the promises of an unknown God. (Clyde E. Fant; Mitchell G. Reddish. Lost Treasures of the Bible: Understanding the Bible through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums, Kindle Locations 580-581. Kindle Edition.)
In our previous post we mentioned how Jacob fled from his home in Beersheba to Haran, of Mesopotamia. For the short term he was running for his life; for the long term he married (four wives as it turned out) and had children, including twelve sons who would become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Beersheba was the home of the patriarch Abraham as well as at times that of Isaac, and later Jacob as we have indicated. There was a well there which Abraham dug. The Philistine king Abimelech received seven ewe lambs from Abraham as confirming that the well was indeed Abraham’s (Gen. 21:22-30). “Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there” (v.31). The text goes on to say, “Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God” (v.33).
Our photo of Beersheba depicts both a well as well as a tamarisk tree.
Beersheba, with well and tamarisk tree. Photo by Leon Mauldin.
A good deal of excavation has been done at Beersheba. See photo below.