On the site of the future road in the Kaliningrad region, archaeologists discovered a necropolis of the 3rd-6th centuries AD.
But the most unusual find is glass chips for the game “ludus latrunculorum”, popular in the 1st-4th centuries AD. The name literally translates as “the game of mercenaries.” Similar chips made of Roman glass have been found before, but usually not in a complete set. Now the Kaliningrad archaeologists were lucky: almost a hundred chips were in one bag, that is, this is a complete sample that belonged to one person.
The head of the excavations, an employee of the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Konstantin Skvortsov, says that such objects are usually found in small groups, 10-30 pieces each. Such a complete set of perfect preservation is a great success. And for the Kaliningrad region, this case, according to Skvortsov, is the first in 170 years.
At the beginning of our era, these lands were one of the sources of amber, which was actively exported to the Roman Empire. The trade route was called the “Amber Road”, and Roman goods arrived in exchange for exported amber, from vessels and metal products to entertainment items like this ancient board game.
Historians believe that ludus latrunculorum was a development of older Greek checker-type games, such as petteia, which Plato mentions in the Socratic dialogue Phaedrus. She, according to him, came from Egypt.
Among the Romans, the first mention of the game of mercenaries is found in Varro of Reatinsky, an encyclopedic scientist and writer who lived in the 2nd-1st centuries BC. In the tenth book of his On the Latin, he speaks in passing about the ludus latrunculorum, comparing the grid being played with that used to study Latin declensions. Quite a few marble boards for the game have been preserved, and they have different sizes of playing fields: 8×12, 10×11, 9×10, 7×8 and 8×8 cells. In field conditions, of course, wooden boards were used. It is this game that is considered the progenitor of checkers. In it, for the first time, a transition of a simple piece to kings appeared, when it reached the opposite side of the board.
Allusions to the ludus latrunculorum are found in writers such as Martial and Ovid. Moreover, they describe it in terms close to the military. Therefore, scientists have come to the conclusion that this is one of the oldest strategy games. They also suggest that, most likely, ordinary pieces in the game moved only one place per turn, and only in a straight line, not diagonally. But at the same time, they could “jump” over other pieces to an empty square in the back.
Yet the sources don’t go into too much detail about the basic rules of the game. As is often the case due to lack of information, there are many interpretations of the scarce data that we know. Based on them, various researchers made their own reconstructions of the ludus latrunculorum. But how much they correspond to reality is a big question.
Photo: Game “ludus latrunculorum”. The pieces for the game are perfectly preserved, but the board on which they are photographed does not belong to the same era. / ©FKU Uprdor “North-West”