In Asia, the earliest form of backgammon appeared in approximately 800 AD. The game was known as Nard. It was played with two dice and the design on the board represented a year. On each side of the board there were 12 points representing the months of the year; the total of 24 points represented the hours in a day. The 30 checkers represented the days in a month; the sum of the opposing sides on the dice were the seven days of the week. The two sets of checker colors represented day and night.
The first codification of the rules of the game were found in a document written sometime in the 13th century, the Alfonso X manuscript. Alfonso X was a Spanish king in the Middle Ages who commissioned ‘The Book of Games,’ which had 98 pages and 150 color illustrations, and covered chess, dice, and “Tables.” The only known original of the book exists in the library of the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial in Spain.
In the late 13th and early 14th century, “Tables” enjoyed a renaissance in England, and the game is mentioned in popular literature for the first time in over 500 years. Complete game boards from this period were found at St. Denis near Paris (c.1200 AD), Gloucester (c.1220 AD), and Freiburg in Germany (c. 1300 AD).
In the 17th century, the name backgammon was finally adopted. The first known use of the word backgammon was in 1645, although the name “Tables” was still in use. By the end of the seventeenth century, backgammon became the more common name.
The game’s popularity waned slightly until the sixteenth century when a variant of the game, known as tric-trac, spread through Europe. The exact rules are still unknown. The earliest known records of this new game appeared in Hoyle’s “A Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon” from 1743. The game included the doubling rule. It also included winning a double game (a gammon).
We know that backgammon had arrived in America by the 18th century, since Thomas Jefferson wrote about his losses in a June 1776 entry in his journal. Modern backgammon has changed very little since then, except in that there are now many more variants and, of course, that backgammon can be played instantly online both against computers, and against players regardless of where the players are.