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Senior Member
posted 02-16-2001 01:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Reading in J. Zeune: "Burgen - Symbole der Macht" (Regensburg 1997), I came up to very interesting chapter about board-games played by castle-inhabitants.

CHESS seems to have been one of the most popular games. Imported from the orient, it soon became a favourite of the medieval elite. The indian war-elephant was changed to become a castle-tower, accompanied by king, queen, bisoph, knight and peasants. So the european chessmen represented the medieval society and its hierarchy perfectly.

BACKGAMMON, also known as "Trictrac" or "Wurfzabel" was also played everywhere. As some sources show, the richer Lords played it with 'elefantei lapides' - pieces made of ivory.

NINE MEN'S MORRIS (or "Mühle" - the "mill-game" in german) was also very popular. Scratched into stone it still can be seen on the windowsills of many castles.

The author says that at Castle Acre in Norfolk / England, several slabs of limestone have been found, with scratched fields for backgammon and morris on them - something that seems to be a real rarity. Does anyone know more about those findings?


posted 02-17-2001 06:19 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Levan   Click Here to Email Levan     Edit/Delete Message
A few months ago there was a specialist open day on the subject of games at Stokesay Castle (Shropshire). I went along to the event and thoroughly enjoyed it. The games were well explained and there was plenty of opportunity to have a go at some of the games.

Unfortunatly I was rather pressed for time and so didn't take any details, so if anyone has any information about the group that produced this event I'd be welcome to hear.

I seem to recall they also dealt with the concept and measurement of time.


Senior Member
posted 02-19-2001 01:56 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Reading further, I came up to a very funny game that was played in medieval times. It's called THE WARM HAND and goes like this:

A young boy kneels down in front of a sitting lady and lays his head on her thights. Now, without seeing anything, he's got to find out who's touching his bottom.

And this wasn't a game played by children but at the royal court - as is shown on a famous carpet from the upper Rhine area, completed around 1385 AD. (Zeune, p.128)


posted 02-19-2001 02:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter   Click Here to Email Peter     Edit/Delete Message
Merlin .. are 'thights' medieval english for tights, or is it a knight with a lisp ?

Philip Davis
posted 02-19-2001 04:31 PM           Edit/Delete Message
In Medieval Fortifications by John R Kenyon (1990; Leicester University Press' ISBN0-7185-1392-4), which is a very good review and synopsis of the recent history and archeology of British castles, Kenyon says that abone dice and series of bone counters with ring and dot decoration of 12C date where found at Castle Acre. The whole short section is worth a look so I'll take the liberty of posting a copy here. What I can't post here are the excellent illustrations and I'm not going to post the superb bibliography. Serious castle enthusiasts will want a copy of this book to hand.

  • Pastimes

    Evidence for gaming has come from a number of recent excavations, both gaming counters and ‘boards’ on which various games were played. Other pastimes for which evidence has been discovered include sewing and the playing of music.
    The remains associated with board games are found more often in twelfthand thirteenth-century contexts rather than later. Bone dice from Castle Acre have been dated to the twelfth century, and the one from Threave belongs to the late fourteenth or first half of the fifteenth century. A series of bone counters with ring-and-dot decoration from Castle Acre dates to the same period as the dice. A crude counter also came from the castle, made from a sherd of pottery. Ring-and-dot bone counters were associated with the final Saxon phase of occupation at Goltho (1000—80), and have been discovered in late twelfth-century contexts at Loughor, as was possibly the box in which they were kept, whereas the Portchester gaming piece has been dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century. A particularly fine ivory counter came from the garderobe of the keep of Brandon Castle; the circular piece has at its centre a collared griffin, an animal with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. Later medieval gaming-pieces include the shale counters from Threave. The most exciting find, however, as far as games are concerned was the discovery in a late eleventh-century pit at Gloucester of 150 pieces of carved bone (figure 9.4) (Stewart 1988; Stewart and Watkins 1984). They represented the remains of a board for the game known as tables (tabula), a form of backgammon, and together with these finely decorated pieces was the full set of thirty counters (figure 9.5). The central carving of the counters or tablemen varies, but include a centaur with a bow and a harpist sitting on a stool. It is not possible to say why the tables set was thrown away; although it seems that the board had been broken before it was discarded, that would not have been a reason for throwing out the thirty counters.
    Chess pieces were also found associated with the counters at Loughor, and it was possible to identify one as a knight and another as a pawn. The pawn is thimble-shaped and hexagonal, and is closely paralleled by a find from the castle at Totnes. Various small pieces of carved chalk from Castle Acre may well be twelfth-century gaming pieces, although it cannot be said for what game. However, one with a crenellated top might have been a castle in a chess set.
    Castle Acre has also produced several examples of twelfth-century graffiti gaming boards, designs crudely scratched on pieces of stone, and possibly soon discarded. Three of these, with fragments of others, were for merels, otherwise known as nine men’s morris, whilst a fourth was a tables board. All four
    boards are rather rough and ready in appearance, and it would seem unlikely that they were devised for permanent parlour games. Pieces of merels boards dating to the fifteenth century were excavated at Okehampton, incised into slates, another west country example was found at Launceston, and a medieval board has also come from Peel Castle, Isle of Man (White 1986: 30, 60).
    The main evidence for sewing and spinning comes in the form of thimbles and whorls. Thimbles do not tend to appear in contexts much earlier than the
    mid fourteenth century (Holmes 1988). An example from Sandal has been broadly dated to c. 1270—c. 1400, but the majority belong to the late medieval or post-medieval occupation levels. A thimble lighter than the Sandal examples was found at Bramber, and was probably in use in the fourteenth century, as was another solitary find, this time from Burton-in-Lonsdale (Moorhouse 1971: 94, 96). Other late medieval thimbles were found at Threave. Spindle whorls are known from a number of sites, but not in great numbers. They are either made of metal, pottery or stone, each whorl having acted as the fly wheel at the base of a spindle. Lead examples are known from Hen Blas, Llantrithyd and Threave, the last also producing stone examples. Further stone whorls come from Castle Acre and Totnes. Clearance at Castell-y-Bere produced a single pottery example.
    A number of bone pipes or flutes were recovered from castles in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one of which, discovered at White Castle in the 1920s, has been published in detail (Megaw 1961); it probably dates to the late thirteenth century. Two pipes have since come from Castle Acre, the largest carved from a sheep bone, the smallest from the bone of a
    goose; they are both mid twelfth century in date. The castle has also produced the remains of a jew’s harp which may be medieval, but could be later. Other bone pipes come from Rayleigh, c. 1300 (Helliwell and Macleod 1981: 68), and Okehampton, where an unfinished bone piece was discovered in the fill of a fourteenth-century pit. One other type of musical instrument represented in castle excavations is the harp; at Dolforwyn a carved bone harp peg was discovered in the courtyard of this native Welsh fortress.
    One very important pastime that was both practical as well giving pleasure has already been touched upon above. It was noted that amongst the collections of arrowheads there occur some types which would have been used for hunting as opposed to warfare. Further evidence for hunting comes from the remains of birds of prey retrieved from environmental deposts. Although bird remains are discussed in the following section (as food), it is more relevant to mention hunting birds here. At flantrithyd, an early Norman ringwork in the Vale of Glamorgan, the bones of goshawks and a young sparrow hawk were found, as well as the remains of several rooks. The falconers may well have released their birds against rooks as part of their training, a custom not unknown today. The bones of hunting birds were found at Portchester in the twelfth-century deposits, but none in the later middle ages, so it may have been that other methods such as netting were used in order to provide food for the table. At Hadleigh a male merlin was part of the household in the late middle ages. Although no remains of hunting birds were identified at Sandal, a small bell is likely to have been part of an attachment to a leg of a hawk, as in fact depicted in fragments of painted glass from the castle.

And the astronomyours beheldyne the constellacions of hys bryth by thare castle, and foundyn that he sholde bene wyse and curteyse, good of consaill
Secreta Secretorum

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Senior Member
posted 02-20-2001 02:29 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Merlin   Click Here to Email Merlin     Edit/Delete Message
Many thanks, Philipp, for all that information. I never saw such beautiful pieces as your text describes. What a day for an archaeologist, when he finds something like this!

Peter: Let's just think that it's a very shy knight who starts to lisp whenever he kneels in front of a lady.


[This message has been edited by Merlin (edited 02-20-2001).]

posted 02-20-2001 12:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Peter   Click Here to Email Peter     Edit/Delete Message
Cheers Philip.
Had forgotten all about that piece by John.
Most likely because my bookmark was in page 145, and the piece you mention started on 163 !
This book by John often gets overlooked by some of the grander volumes. Well worth picking up if you see it.

Philip Davis
posted 02-20-2001 12:42 PM           Edit/Delete Message
Ah you must have the hard back edition. In my softback library book (I will be buying my own copy) page 145 is a section on the kitchen at Weoley Castle, which is a fortified manor in the Birmingham suburbs. This was open to the public but has been closed for the last few years since Birmingham City Council can't afford the cost of an onsite attendent for a little visited site and it's urban situation means it requires a high level of supervision if the public are admitted (mainly to protect the fragmentary remains of the foundations from the attention of penknives and spray paint.) Fortunately the important wooden remains are buried and safe. Some of the items excavated were displayed in a small hut on the site but have now been moved to the Central Museum in the City. The decission to open the site for the summer is usually taken about now but I don't expect it to be opened except for special occassions and pre arranged tour parties.

And the astronomyours beheldyne the constellacions of hys bryth by thare castle, and foundyn that he sholde bene wyse and curteyse, good of consaill
Secreta Secretorum

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