Latrunculi means "robber-soldiers"
or "mercenaries" and was the most popular thinking
man's game in the Roman Empire. Numerous boards have been found
and they vary in size, but the most common size is 8 by 8. This
game seems to have gone through a transition, just as Duodecim Scriptorum changed to
The result is that writers have described
it alternately as having either one type of playing piece or
two. Archeological finds in Italy and Britain suggest that at
least in the later Empire Latrunculi had two playing pieces.
The earlier single stone version, therefore, would be identical
Latrunculi most certainly derives from
the Greek game Petteia, which also means "pebbles".
Plato tells us that Petteia originally came from Egypt.
In the pictures from Greek amphoras we see Ajax and Achilles
playing Petteia. These vases predate Roman boards.
In a book called Onomasticon by
the Greek writer Pollux, he describes Petteia as follows:
The game played with many pieces is a board
with spaces disposed among lines: the board is called the 'city'
and each piece is called a 'dog'; the pieces are of two colors,
and the art of the game consists in taking a piece of one color
by enclosing it between two of the other color.
The Greeks played this game by at least
the 5th century BCE. The Egyptians may have been playing this
game in the time of Ajax and Achilles, and the Greeks certainly
had commerce with Egypt at the time of the Trojan War, but no
evidence of this game in Egypt has yet been found. The amphora
images may be fancy or fact, but the suggestion that the game
involved military style strategy is inescapable. In these images,
there are 11 stones lined up on one of the boards, and 9 or 10
on the other, which are suggestive of the board lengths.
Latrunculi was a military strategy style
game resembling modern chess in some ways.The exact rules of
this game are not known. Checkerboards were unusual.
Boards varied in size; some boards were
8 x 8, 8 x 7, or 9 x 10.
It may be impossible to determine which
of these boards were for what game, but the size of the board
may not have affected the style of play. Boards for all these
games, therefore, may have been interchangeable. Boards were
made of wood, but some were made of stone, marble, or even silver.
The single stone (single type of playing
piece) must be the original version of the game, and is the Greek
game of Petteia. The two-piece version is referred to
here as Latrunculi 2 or just Latrunculi. The single
additional piece sat in front of the line of stones and may have
represented the Eagle (aquila), or standard-bearer. Descriptions
and proposed rules are provided on the following pages :
- Petteia (Single Stone Latrunculi)
- Latrunculi Directions
The pieces could be made of metal, ivory,
stone or glass. Even coins could have been used. Boards may have
varied in size, without affecting the style of play. Some boards
were made of silver, most were made of wood, but some were made
of stone or marble.
The relationship describing the evolution
of Latrunculi and precursors is shown here.
The links to modern chess and Go are speculative, but in the
case of Go, it is curious to note that the game of Five-in-a-Row
was played in China on Go boards and in Rome on Latrunculi boards.