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in our e-book     The Board Game on the  Phaistos Disk

by H. Peter Aleff

BOARD GAMES

Phaistos Disk Story

Summary of Volume One

Table of Contents

Riddle introduction

Translation examples

New perspective

Rosette symbolism

Rosette examples

Gameboard tracks  >>

Heads on Disk

Philistine connection

Philistine fluted crown

Senet as key to Disk

Senet enduring magic

Calendar gameboards

Marks on Senet squares

Senet and Phaistos Disk

Metonic cycle on Disk

Command- Life- Down

T-shirt sign Tartarus

Preview Vol. 2

Reader responses

Game of the Goose
and Labyrinth

Goose Introduction
Riddle of Goose
Goose Game Rules
Labyrinth Riddle
Phaistos Disk Riddle
Labyrinth clues 1
Labyrinth clues 2
Labyrinth clues 3
Labyrinth rules 1
Labyrinth rules 2
Goose versus Disk
Solomon's Labyrinth 1
Solomon's Labyrinth 2

Quantumgame
Before Quantum
Quantum Now
Rules for Quantum
Quantum Responses
Quantum Reviews 1
Quantum Reviews 2
Quantum Reviews 3
Quantum Rewards
 


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Footnotes :

 

25 Gernot Wilhelm: "GrundzŁge der Geschichte und Kultur der Hurriter", Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt, 1982, pages 24 to 26 for gods, names, and loan words in Hurrian from India.

 

26 Cyrus H. Gordon: "The Common Background of Greek and Hebrew Civilizations", W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 1965, page 173.

 

27 H. J. R. Murray: "A History of Board Games other than Chess", Oxford, 1952, edition consulted Hacker Art Books, New York, 1978, see pages 28 and 29.

 

28 For a brief summary of labyrinths from Spain to India as well as in the Americas, see Jeff Saward: "Ancient Labyrinths of the World", Caerdroia, The Journal of Mazes and Labyrinths, Thunders- ley, Essex, UK, 1999. A more detailed catalog and study of labyrinths by Hermann Kern is now available in English as "Through the Labyrinth: Design and Meanings over 5000 Years", Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2000, and can be ordered from Jeff Saward's website at www.labyrinthos.net.

 

29 Sir Mortimer Wheeler: "The Indus Civilization", 1953, edition consulted Cambridge University Press, 1979, page 99.

 

30 HJR Murray: "A History of Board Games other than Chess", Oxford, 1952, edition consulted Hacker Art Books, New York, 1978, pages 129 to 132.

 

31 Redrawn from a picture in R. C. Bell: "Board and Table Games from many Civilizations", Oxford, 1960, edition consulted Dover, New York, 1979, pages 17 to 20.

 

32 Hermann Kern: "Labyrinthe: Er- scheinungsformen und Deutungen 5000 Jahre Gegenwart eines Urbilds", Prestel- Verlag, Munich, 1982, pages 65 and 66.

 

33 J. A. DeLuca: "Medieval Games", Willimantic, CT, 1995, pages 16 to 18.

  

  Volume 1: its siblings Senet and Snake Game,

 

and its surviving sequel the Royal Game of the Goose  

 
 

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Gameboard tracks

    0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17   

2.3. Similarities with other gameboard tracks
This direction-reversing track on each side of the Disk resembles the paths on a group of gameboards for race games from India. These also begin with a counterclockwise tour around the border of their board and then make a U-turn to spiral clockwise to the center.

2.3.1. Links betweeen ancient Crete and India

The geographical distance between India and Crete does not rule out the possibility of this suggested connection. India was a part of the same cultural complex that produced the civilizations of the Fertile Crescent and their many common basic beliefs. For instance, Indian Vedic gods such as Mitra, Varuna, and Indra witnessed the oaths of kings in Hurrian Mitanni which is now in Syria.  Also, most of the Hurrian words for horsecraft were derived from Sanskrit, a major language of ancient India
25.

Similarly, in Ugarit on the Syrian coast one of the words for "fire" was the name of Agni, the Indian Vedic god of fire who led to Latin "ignis" and so provided English speakers with "ignition"26.

Moreover, board games travel easily and spread widely, like most other numerical traditions, and are often found distributed in almost identical form over large regions or in widely separated areas. For instance, the ancient game of "Five Lines" is still being played in Crete and, of all other places, also in Northern India27.  A board for this game, shaped like a five-pointed star, was also found chiseled into the roofing slabs of a temple at Kurna in Egypt, built during the 14th century BCE.

Similarly, the Classical Labyrinth design with seven circuits is first attested on a tablet from Pylos in Greece dated to about 1200 BCE, and it is typically associated with nearby Crete where it appeared on coins from about the sixth century BCE on. That same intricate and unmistakable design is also reported from southern India and many other places
28.

The people of the Indus Valley, or Harappan, civilization shared many other traits with the Cretans of their time, such as, for instance, the bull cult and snake worship, and an emphasis on maritime trade (practically all the Harappan cities were built on the seashore or on navigable rivers). Both had also the most advanced sanitary plumbing systems of their time.

Removing any remaining doubt about the possibility of mutual influences between Bronze Age Crete and Harappan India, Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who excavated many of the principal Indus Valley sites, points out that two segmented faience beads, one from Knossos and the other from Harappa, did not only have the same shape but were also identical in composition, as shown by spectrographic analysis2
9.

2.3.2. Indian games on square boards

Those Indian race games with U-turns in their otherwise spiral-like race tracks were played on square boards. Professor H.J.R. Murray, a scholar who surveyed the history of board games, describes these square boards as an Indian invention and adds:

"In the oldest games the board has an even number of cells but in all existing games the board has an odd number. All boards contain a number of marked or crosscut cells which include the central cell on odd-sided boards and the four central cells on even-sided boards from which men are borne, the middle cells of the four sides which serve as entry, and occasionally the four corner cells. Men occupying a crosscut cell are immune from capture. (...) Each player enters his men in the crosscut cell before him and moves anti-clockwise round the border of the board and then clockwise round the inner cells until the men reach the central cell to be borne30.

Ashtaboard9x9.gif (6711 bytes)

Ashtobaord7x7.gif (9752 bytes)

Gameboards for the Indian race games of 9 x 9 Saturankam, and for 7 x 7 Ashta- Kashte30, both with track directions.
 

Thayyamgame.gif (4894 bytes)

Board and track direction for the traditional 5 x 5 square race game Thaayam which is still popular in southern India.

Here, too, the pieces enter through the crosscut square in the middle of one side and race to the center. Please note the U-turn in the track after the outer ring is completed "against the sun"31.

The U-turns in the paths on both sides of the Phaistos Disk are therefore yet another feature that associate it with gameboards. The so defined tracks also place both of the outer rosettes at the beginning or end of the path on their side so that three of the four path ends are marked with rosettes, just like the significant fields on many other ancient gameboards.

2.4. Shapes and sizes of gameboards

It would be easy to object that these gameboards are square, and the Disk is round. However, this apparent difference is no obstacle to their possible relationship because many designs exist in both square and round versions.

An excellent parallel is the classical Labyrinth pattern which appears routinely in both its square and circular forms, including on some Cretan coins more than a thousand years younger than the Disk which have also sometimes an eight-fold rosette or star at their center32. Another example of squares coexisting with circles is the game of Chess which evolved on one of those square Indian boards but was also played in slightly modified form as "Byzantine Chess" on circular boards33.

Another possible objection to the gameboard interpretation might be that the Disk seems too small for that use. Itís diameter is only six and a half inches, and most gameboards from antiquity were usually a foot across or larger, as they are today. Playing a game on that small Disk may seem akin to polishing the toenails of a mosquito.

On the other hand, we have even smaller travel editions of Chess and many other games, and not all of them are magnetic to hold the pieces in place. The far-traveling Cretans could easily have made miniature versions of their favorite games, too, to bring them along on the wine-dark sea for the times when their swift wind-winged ships were beached and becalmed.

A gameboard skeptic might also ask why the fields on the Disk cover both sides. It would surely have been hard to play on the lower track while the upper one was in use.  However, many gameboards in ancient Egypt were fashioned with tracks on both sides, Senet on one and "20 Squares" on the other. The users of the Disk could also well have completed a race on one side before flipping it over and continuing on the other side.

However, the two sides of the Disk were not necessarily intended for two separate games. The absence of a rosette at one track end suggests that the game-path did not end or begin there but continued on or from the other side, and that both paths were meant to be joined.

Moreover, the Disk itself may not have been made for playing the game on it.  It might simply have served as the notepad for recording the sequence of signs on a board where the two halves of the track were joined.

That clay notepad would then have allowed its possessor to reproduce said lengthy sequence correctly on a larger and more ornate gameboard, or maybe even in a floor mosaic, as reconstructed on the Labyrinth gameboard described in Volume 2 of this e-book, and also in the Labyrinth- related pages of our online booklet for the Game of the Goose and of the Labyrinth.

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