Medieval Nine-Men’s Morris with Dice

Medieval Nine-Men’s Morris with Dice

By Ulrich Schädler

Board Games Studies, Vol.3 (2000)

Introduction: Nine-men’s morris played with dice is a nearly forgotten medieval variant of the merels games. A description of the game is given in the “Libro del Alquerque” (fol. 92r), a chapter of the magnificent treatise about board- and dice-games written on behalf of Alfonso X, king of Castile and Leon, and finished one year before the king’s death in 1283. It is already mentioned in the pseudo-ovidian poem De Vetula written between 1222 and 1268 in France. After the description of dice games, tables and chess the anonymous author continues:

“Sunt alii ludi parvi, quos scire puellas
esse decens dixi, sed parva monere pudebat;
nuncque magis quam tunc pudet illa minore referre,
quare pretereo ludos, ubi parva lapillos
nunc bis sex, nunc vero novem capit una tabella.
Ac ubi sunt bis sex, capit ex hostilibus illum,
ultra quem salit alteruter, nec ibi deciorum
exigitur iactus; ubi vero novem, bene ludunt
cum deciis et eis sine quando volunt, capit autem
unum quem mavult ex hostibus iste vel ille,
quandocumque potest tres continuare suorum.”

Having said that in his days one is even more ashamed to talk about these minor games than in former times and therefore wants to leave aside “games, where a small board collects twice six or nine gaming pieces”, he continues:

“Where (one plays with) twice six (pieces), one captures the one of the enemy’s pieces, over which another piece leaps, and here the throw of the dice is not applied; but where (one plays with) nine (pieces), they play well with dice or without if they want to, but one captures this piece or that of the enemy’s, which one wants, when one manages to bring three of one’s own pieces into a continuous line.”

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