An Example of a 2,000-Year-Old Board Game Was Found in a Secret Castle Passage

A checkers-like game was discovered in a medieval castle.

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Sep 10 2018, 4:00pm

Archaeologists recently excavated a board game buried within a castle crypt that dates back to medieval times.

Yes, medieval people were tabletop gamers.

The artifact, a board drawn on a brick and made up of square maze-like lines, was found inside Vyborg Castle, a 725-year-old fortress on an islet near the Finnish border in Russia.

The game, likely carved into a wet, unset clay brick then allowed to bake before playing, is among the discoveries in a “secret passage,” which Vyborg Museum Reserve announced last month is finally being explored. The passage is thought to travel between the castle’s islet, and the city. (Archeologists made an interactive 3D model of the passage you can explore for yourself.)

Vladimir Tsoi, the head of Vyborg Museum Reserve, identified it as similar to “Nine Men’s Morris,” a strategy game for two players that dates back to at least the Roman empire.

In Nine Men’s Morris, each player has nine pieces, which are moved around the square lines, with the goal of getting three of their own pieces on contiguous points in a straight line. It’s kind of like checkers in that you can “jump” your opponent to get to your own goals.

People still play this game today; It’s sometimes printed on the back of checkerboards, and called “cowboy checkers.”

In a social media post, Tsoi called the brick “the most intriguing finding” of the expedition so far. Archeologists also found a purse full of early 19th-century copper coins in one of the castle shafts.

Vyborg Castle was Swedish-built, on the then-easternmost Kingdom of Sweden, but the modern city of Vyborg eventually grew up around it.