Hello, this is Alan.
We saw last time
that among the most common popular entertainment,
there were dice games.
And we didn’t go further,
as we didn’t have enough time
to speak of another family other common games,
Those who require a little more equipment than a simple pair of dice.
But which are more sophisticated, too,
as they involve less chance than strategy.
Finally, what is a popular game ?
A game without any expansive equipment,
easy to carry with you or to reproduce with what is at hand
and not necessarily requiring a large instruction.
Merels games match perfectly this definition.
Merels or nine men’s morris,
are games where 2 players are opposed,
using from case to case 3, 5, 6 or even 9 pawns each
and they have to align them on the intersections of the lines of a diagram.
In modern English, just call those games « Tic-Tac-Toe »…
This family of games is very ancient
and we know for certain that it existed in the Greco-Roman Antiquity.
Then, we can find them all over Europe,
as show the wooden table with a Merels set
which was found in the Gokstad viking grave, in Norway
and many graffitis representing a Merels set that were discovered
in England, Portugal, Spain, France, etc.
Because the interest of this game is that we can easily improvise it
and draw the diagram in the sand or engrave it briefly on a stone…
And with some pebbles as pawns
it is easy to set up
and you can play anywhere.
There are several medieval versions of Merel games,,
which differ by the shape of the diagram,,
the number of pawns
and some details in the rule…
“Ah, am I dummy : you probably play Aquitain rules”…
But usually we have a diagram
with 9 intersections where to put the pawns
and you just have to align 3 of them.
If, like on Tic-Tac-Toe, le first one who aligns his pawns wins,
we speak of Three men’s Morris.
If you have just 3 pawns,
you move them one by one, taking your turn alternately,
until one of the players wins.
If you have more pawns,
you fill the diagram without moving the former pawns
until you manage to align your pawns.
But there are other games, more complex,
like the Nine Men’s Morris (also names Mill Game).
The principle remains globally the same :
Align three pawns…
but the play doesn’t stop every time a player makes an alignment:
his opponent loses a pawn, then,
ans the plau goes on,
until one of the two players,
has only two pawns left, and cannot make any alignment, any « mill »,
and then, looses the set.
This kind of game, very popular,
will inevitably finish
by « aristocratise » itself, if I mays say that.
And there are records, at the end of the Middle-Ages,
of some luxuous games of Merels.
Also, Merels are enough wide-spread
in all levels of the society
to be described in the Book df Games,
which was written in the 13th century
at the request of Alphose X of Castille, called « the Wise ».
To tell the truth, this publication is absolutely essential
when you are interested in the Middle-Ages.
because it contains the oldest description we know
of most of these games
and represent the most complete source on the subject,
with illustrations, descriptions
and even the rules of the games!
The games presented in the book are dice,
chess and table games…
That wording, « table games »
has nothing to with the fact that we can play on a table,
in the modern sense of the word.
The word comes from the latin “tabula”,
which means a kind of game grid.
It is used first to represent a family of games,
I mean « board games »,
which need a board
representing a chessboard, a diagram,
Or any drawing allowing to place your pawns or game pieces.
But the Table Game
is also a specific game:
the ancestor of the Trictrac (in French), a game frome the 17th century
which will evoluate to the « Jacquet » (in French)
and then to the modern backgammon.
This game, in the medieval version,
needs two players and a board
with two rows of twelve cells each,
embodied by what we call « arrows »,
15 pawns per player and 3 dice.
the purpose of the game is to make the pawns
get out of the board as fast as possible,
after having them introduced
and made them browse the 24 cells.
The origins, as often,
goes back to Antiquity
and to the roman game of the 12 rows.
Isidore of Séville, in the 7th century,
dedicates to this game, which will remain for a long time a leasure restricted to the elites,
and that he calls “Tabula”, that means, « Table Game »,
a part of his « Etymologies »
We shall note that there is also
a version of this game named « Four Seasons »
and which is played by 4 players.
There are 12 pawns per player,
still 24 arrows which are arranged in circle
and they are distributed between the 4 players.
In all the game we have mentioned so far,
the players have the same pawns
and the same goal as their opponent.
The only difference which can possibly benefit one or the other
is to specify who begins.
But there is also a family of games
where the two players have a completely different purpose,
different pawns and different game plays.
« Fox and Hounds » or its variant « Fox and Geese »,
where one player has a unique pawn, the fox,
when his opponent has 12 or 13 : the hounds or the geese
The purpose for the first one is to catch all his challengers,
by eliminating them one by one,
when the other one must bock his opponent’s pawn
so that he can’t move anymore.
Is one of these roles easier than the other ?
I let you discover it if you have the opportunity to play…
What is clear is that the game is much more interesting
with its asymetric dimension.
As well, Tafl games and their variants such as Tablut or Brandub
symbolise a king and his army
who are attacked by an opposite army.
Those games, which could have roman origins,
the word Tablut reminding a little bit the word “tabula”, about which we have already spoken,
are wide-spread in nothern countries,
Scandinavia et Iceland, and Anglo-Saxon or Celtic countries.
In France, it is called « Table du Roi » (Table of the King).
One of the players plays the king,
surrounded by 8 to 12 warriors supposed to defend him,
whereas his opponent plays the aggressors
with 16 to 24 warriors, according to the version of the game.
The king, initially in the middle of the board,
has to run away and take refuge in one of his castles,
one of the corner cells.
As for the agressors, they must capture the king
by surrounding him so that he can’t move anymore.
A little bit like in Chess…
Some say this game symbolize a viking raid
that would attack a king, a duke or an abbot,
but also that the four corners symbolize the four evangelists
when the king in the center personified the unity of the Holy Trinity
and therefore of the Christian Church,
damaged by the heretical and unfaithful of all kinds.
Of course, once again, it is a strategy game, geared towards the elites,
whose interest is precisely
in the different roles of the two players.
The taboo about this kind of games
is exactly the same
as the one about dice games.
There is simply no difference
and the Church sees all this in an unfavourable light,
considering, as we said last time,
that gambling, in any way,
takes away from God by inciting to idolatry
encouraging avarice, envy, anger, lust…
and being a waste of time.
Since the 6th century,
the Justinian Code forbids board games to clerics.
Gambling activities were considered as crimes.
In 1128, the Knight Templars
include in their Rule an article which says :
« Please know that the brother of the Temple should not play no other game
which everybody can play, if wanted,
for leisure, without betting.
No brother of the Temple may play Chess nore Backgammon. »
But like in the Temple rule,
some practices are accepted, in certain conditions.
We can play if honestly,
with joy and sincerity and only small amounts
and at specific hours…
OK, that doesn’t prevent some,
like Louis d’Orléans or Philippe le Hardi, in the 14th century,
from blowing huge amounts of money.
But it is not much tolerated and turns into scandals.
There are many games, of course, about which I did not speak:
due to lack of time, because I cannot obviously be exhaustive.
Among those games, let’s mention the Irish Fidchell,
the Alquerque game, I just have in front of me,
we usually consider the ancestor of the Checkers game,
and of course, there are Chess.
How not to speack of Chess ?
The king of games in some way…
Well, in fact, I won’t speak of it this time.
The history of this game is so much enlivened
that it represents a full subject,
I will deal with that, I promise, but not today.
We will do that well, taking our time.
Concerning cards games, they are very late.
If they appear in Western Europe around the 14th century,
they cannot really spread
before the invention of the printing press.
But this is no more in the Middle-Ages…
The Alquerque game made of artificial stone with wich I play in the video was made by Joël Gaudé
The other games, made of pyrographed wood were made by myself