Gloucester Tabulae

Discovered by Ian Stewart in 1983, this was the earliest surviving Backgammon set  found in the world.

The board, consisting of a wooden base with containers for the playing pieces, was inlaid with elaborately decorated panels of red deer bone. The points of these panels were arranged as in a modern Backgammon set and, in addition, there was a central bar. As indicated above, each panel was covered entirely with engraved ornament. They included hunting scenes and battles.

The board was not hinged at the middle and measured 600mm x 480mm – a very substantial board indeed and a splendid work of art in its own right. A complete set of playing pieces survived along with the board. Each playing piece was 45mm in diameter and at least 1cm thick. More importantly each piece was decorated with its own particular theme which was unique in its own right. The scenes included hunting, feasting, various entertainments and love-making ! There were also religious and astrological scenes along with a series of mythological creatures.

The owner of this game was probably a Royal Constable of England called Walter of Gloucester who was a close friend of Henry II (1100 – 1135) and father of Miles, later Earl of Hereford. Walter renounced his wealth and titles to his son in 1120 when he retired to become a monk in the Augustinian priory of Llanthony in Wales. These events may account for the ignominious end to the game as it was essentially used for gambling and this, together with the rather secular nature of the decoration, also contributed to its manner of disposal. It was a gesture by Walter that he was casting away his way of life and interests for a more religious existence.