1,700-year-old board game found in Norway


The pieces of a 1,700-year-old Roman Iron Age board game were found in Norway. According to archaeologists, this would have made it possible to forge lasting relationships with traders from far away.

A research team led by Morten Ramstad of the Museum of the University of Bergen announces that they have discovered the pieces of an old board game in a cairn in the west of Norway.

The 18 pieces studied, dated to around 300 AD, were found among fragments of bone, pottery and burnt glass. The site also contained pieces of charred charcoal, suggesting that it was actually an ancient cremation pit, in which the body of an individual was probably burned, surrounded by a few funerary objects.

An ancient Roman game
The presence of these game pieces – including some elongated four-sided dice – suggests that this individual was in contact with representatives of the Roman Empire.

“The tokens and the dice were part of a board game inspired by the Ludus latrunculorum, a Roman strategy game dating from the 3rd century BC. AD, explains Morten Ramstad. The owner was probably a high-ranking person who belonged to [a regional elite tribe]. ”

The latronule game (Ludus latrunculorum), like other ancient Roman games, was a bit like chess and backgammon. According to the archaeologist, this game became popular among the Germanic peoples, before finally spreading further north, to Scandinavia.

Building and maintaining commercial links
The archaeological site, known as Ytre Fosse, is strategically positioned near the Alverstraume Line, an important sea route which, during the Iron Age, linked northern Norway to the Continental Europe.

In addition, as the archaeologist points out, the people who controlled various points along this shipping route were “those who held power in their local tribal areas.”

He adds that “the many large burial mounds found along Alverstraumen are a testimony to this ancient political landscape”, in which “powerful groups could tax goods and / or pay tribute to those who sailed in the strait” .

Thus, in the manner of this modern cliché according to which certain contracts can be negotiated around a round of golf, we could here imagine that the fact of playing these board games allowed at the time to forge or maintain trade relations with merchant peoples from afar.