26. Developing draughts
Sultan Ratrout from Jordan made a Checkers families and rules_October 12, 2018 known to him. The survey of draughts variants is always updated at this link http://www.academia.edu/28503616/A_Guide_to_Checkers_Families_and_Rules.
There will be a survey of Alquerque (line draughts) variants in the future.
The survey is certainly not complete. The great dissemination together with the many different varieties is striking: this combination indicates an old age. Most likely draughts is very old indeed: as linguistic research proves, the game was already played in 500 AD, see chapter 23.
The last sentence of chapter 23 was a question: “There were two vulgar Latin names for draughts, why?” I find my answer in the western axiom that a society is continuously in the making and that the evolution goes from simple to complex. I base a reconstruction of the genesis of draughts on this axiom. Once more: it is a reconstruction, with its uncertainties.
Ratrout’s survey holds two main categories: varieties with a short doubleton (king) and a long doubleton. If I apply my axiom, the long doubleton should be the younger one because it guarantees more elaborate play. I discern two developments.
In a territory covering present Spain, Italy and France, a game on a lined board was played, see the diagram for the initial position. The pieces moved and captured in three directions: forwards, sidewards and backwards.
Before 500 AD, a player got a great brainwave: he invented the promotion. This is the first development. The pieces you see on the board were deprived of the possibility to move and capture in backward direction. A piece that penetrated the ranks of the opponent and reached the opponent’s first row was promoted, i.e. it could also play backwards. This promoted piece had a short reach, like the doubleton in England and Italy today (see Ratrout’s survey again).
After 1000 AD, we find this game in the Romanic languages under the name of merelles (French), marella (Italian) and marro (Spanish). These names are derivations from the Latin word marrus = stone, gaming piece.
An unknown Latin speaking tribe devised an innovation: from now on the promoted piece moved and captured along entire rows, columns and diagonals. This is the second development. The new variety got a name derived from the Latin word calculus = stone, gaming piece.
After 1000 AD this new variety was recorded in Spain as querque in a manuscript that in the late 13th c. was made by order of king Alfonso. This happened in Sevilla, a city in a region with Arab influences. The long doubleton can be found in more countries with Arab influences, for instance in the Middle East and Turkey, see Ratrout. After the raid of the Moors in the 8th c., parts of Spain were dominated by the Arab culture for ages. It seems plausible that Spain owes its long doubleton to the Moors, taken with them with their invasion.
The Roman culture, however, did not get lost; the Spanish lexis for example goes for the greater part back to Latin. This explains why the 16th and 17th c. Spanish draughts books call the game marro, a Latin name. The game itself, however, is with its long doubleton Arab.
This reconstruction answers the question why in the Middle Ages draughts was played under two names.
Via draughts in Russia I take a step further back in the time.
Today, the Russians are playing draughts with a long doubleton. If I assume that Russian draughts had this long doubleton form ancient times, the question arises where this piece comes from. I repeat, it is an assumption. A follower of this site is Jeremy Main, a student of medieval history associated with The Warburg Institute. The Warburg Institute is a research institution associated with the University of London in central London, England, and the Institute is a member of the School of Advanced Study, its focus is the study of cultural history. Main asked my attention for the Goths, a Germanic tribe. In the 4th c. AD, members of this tribe had spread over large parts of Europe, from South Russia to what is the border between the Netherlands and Germany today. Suppose it was the Goths that devised the short doubleton. Later, the Ostrogoths (Goths from the East) invented the long doubleton, a doubleton borrowed by tribes in Russia and by Arab tribes also. The Visigoths (Goths from the West) held to their draughts variety with its short doubleton.
A weakness of this interpretation is the Latin names for draughts. As said, the Goths were Germanic, and it is not clear why they should have given their invention a Latin name. On the other hand, draughts could have got its name when it was borrowed by Latin speaking tribes and lost its original one.
I recapitulate. Has it been the Goths, a Germanic tribe, that invented draughts? Or did it concern Latin speaking Germanic tribes on the territory covering Spain, Italy and France today? On the basis of the naming I choose the second option, but I have no certainty. Oh well, uncertainty is intrinsic to reconstructions from ages lying so far behind us.