23. To the origins
In this chapter I ask the question where and when the game of draughts could have born. All I have are old names for the game, which obliges me to use methods contributed by linguistics. Fortunately it is not necessary to re-invent the wheel but can I use the knowledge gathered by brains in a process from more than a century. I take three steps; each step leads me further into the past.
Earlier, I put the first step: in chapter 10 and chapter 11 I found that between 1300 and 1350 draughts was transferred form a lined board to a checkered board. The game on the lined board was described in Spain in 1283.
I know the names of draughts on the lined board in three Romanic languages: merelles (French), marelle (Italian), marro (Spanish), names that go back to the Latin word marrus = stone, gaming piece.
French, Italian and Spanish are continuations of Latin. Not of the Latin as it was spoken around the year 0 by known people as the rhetorician Marcus Tullius Cicero or Emperor Julius Caesar but by the different tribes which in later centuries inhabited the territory of present France, Italy and Spain and which had their own dialect. We call these dialects vulgar Latin, Latin spoken by common people. The tribes that spoke vulgar Latin underwent each an own development. And an own development means everywhere and always that the dialects are going to diverge. We see this mechanism in the different names for line draughts.
For lack of data ‒before 100 AD the names were not recorded‒ it is impossible to say how long such a development lasts. Four centuries, eight centuries (?). Regrettably, we come to a deadlock here.
However, I can put a second step because line draughts had a second name: querque. This word derives from the Latin word calculus. With its meaning stone, gaming piece, this word is a synonym of marrus. In the late 13th c. the name querque occurs in the manuscript written for king Alfonso X of Castile and León, a territory with many Moorish cultural influences. In the 7th c. the name querque was used by one of the confidents of Mohammed, Abu Huraira, also Abi Horayra (600-678), who wrote about qirq playing Muslims. With the name qirq we make a leap to the 7th c.: in that time draughts players played their game on the lined board.
Sevilla 1283: draughts players at the court of king Alfonso
The third step. How arrived the Latin word calculus in Arabic? Well, members of an Arabic speaking tribe borrowed it form a Latin speaking tibe. Why?: because the borrowed line draughts together with the Latin name for this game? Impossible to find out such a development. In which century took the borrowing place?: 4th c., 6th c.? Again: impossible to find out.
Fortunately, Abu Huraira can help us to put a new step in the time. By him we know, that there were two names for line draughts in the 7th c., namely a name based on the Latin word marrus and a name based on the Latin word calculus. One name is the oldest one. Beside this first name a second one came into being, but that costs time. How much time: one century, two centuries, three centuries? Impossible to say, a development can take place slowly or quickly. But even when I assume a quick development, I can state that about 500 AD draughts was played in a territory spanning present France, Italy and Spain.
500 AD, so old is draughts. It is probably older, but I cannot determine how old. Undoubtedly, draughts is the development of a game with the leap capture but without promotion. Where and when this game got promotion, is hidden in the mist of the past.
Iason and Hercules are playing draughts just before their journey to Colchis
to take the stolen Golden Fleece with them to Greece (1450-1475)
Promotion makes me think of chess, a game that ‒very likely‒ is younger than draughts. In the 15th c. draughts influenced the promotion in chess, and as I shall prove also in the 18th c. Reason for a cautious question: “Has the first chess borrowed the promotion rule from draughts?”. It is not the most obvious assumption: we find the first traces of draughts in territories in the Roman sphere of influence, whereas chess was invented in quite another culture. On the other hand however: we don’t know enough from the past to answer the question negatively.
Another question is, why vulgar Latin had two names for line draughts. I’ll try to answer this question in chapter 24.