Bozorgmehr, the Inventor of Backgammon


M. Saadat Noury
by M. Saadat Noury

This article entitled as the First Iranian who Invented the Old Scientific Version of Backgammon was originally published online on February 22, 2009.

INTRODUCTION: The board game of backgammon (in Persian: Nard or Takhteh-Nard) is believed to be the oldest recorded game in the world and it has been reported that it was initiated in the ancient Iran, aka Persian Empire. Though the archaeological excavations in Iran show that a form of backgammon was in use as far back as 5000 BC, the reliable research documents reveal that it was Bozorgmehr, the Chancellor of Sassanid King Khosrow Anushiravan (ruled 531-579), who invented the old scientific version of backgammon. In this article the life story of Bozorgmehr together with some various names of modern backgammon and most important facts about backgammon will be studied and discussed.

THE LIFE STORY OF BOZORGMEHR: His name was Bozorgmehr, aka Buzarjumehr (in English: Great Sun or Great Mithra), and his nickname was Borzouyeh, aka Burzoe or Borzuy (in English: Of Honor or High). Bozorgmehr was a famous Iranian chancellor, minister (in Persian: Vazir) and physician of the Sassanid Empire (226-651) in the sixth century.
Due to his well-known and recognizable literary, political and scientific works he was highly respected in the Muslim World as a man of wisdom and honor even after the Muslims invasion to Iran in the seventh century.

It is documented that Khosrow Anushiravan (ruled 531-579) was remarkably eager for the science and medicine and he therefore invited a very large group of scholars and physicians to his capital (See the article on First Iranian Academic Site written by this author). It was by his decree that the physician Bozorgmehr (Borzouyeh) was given a mission to go to India to gather the best minds and sources of knowledge of the day. He also translated the Indian Panchatantra from Sanskrit into the Middle Persian language of Pahlavi. But both his translation and the original Sanskrit version he worked from are lost. Before the loss, however, his Pahlavi version was translated into Arabic by Ibn Mofagha (aka Ibn Moffaqa) under the title of Kelileh-o-Demneh (names of two jackals) and became the Arabs' greatest prose classics.A collection of various advice or the book of Pandnamak-i Vozurg-Mihr-i Bukhtakan (in Modern Persian: Pandnameh-e Bozorgmehr-e Bakhtegan) is another book attributed to Bozorgmehr. The book was preserved in the royal treasury (Ganj-e Shahigan or Ganj-e Shaayegan) of Iran in the Sassanid Empire and has been translated into modern languages.

Bozorgmehr was a chess master and created the game of Backgammon in its ancient scientific version. Touraj Daryaee on the subject of the early precursors of backgammon wrote that, "The game of backgammon is first mentioned in Bhartrhari's Vairagyasataka, composed around the late sixth or early seventh century AD".

The rules of the game, however, first appeared in the Middle Persian text Wızarisnı Catrang ud Nihisnı New Ardaxsır (Explanation of Chess and Invention of Backgammon), composed in the sixth century during the rule of the Sassanid King Khosrow. The text assigns its invention to the Persian sage Wuzurgmihr (Bozorgmehr), the minister of King Khosrow, as a challenge for the Indian sages.

In the 11th century Shahnameh, the famous Iranian poet Ferdowsi credits Borzouyeh or Bozorgmehr with the invention of the table game Nard in the 6th century. He describes an encounter between Borzouyeh and a Raja visiting from India. The Raja introduces the game of chess, and Borzouyeh demonstrates Nard, played with dice made from ivory and teak.

VARIOUS NAMES OF BACKGAMMON: Years after the old scientific version of backgammon was initiated by Bozorgmehr in Iran, the game was introduced to many countries around the world and it was called by different names.

Here are some various names of modern backgammon used in different countries around the world:

  • Iran - Nard, Takhteh-Nard
  • UK and USA - Backgammon
  • Scotland - Gammon
  • France - Tric-Trac
  • Germany - Puff
  • Spain - Tablas Reales
  • Italy - Tavole Reale
  • Czech - Vrhc-by
  • Israel, Turkey, and Arab Countries - Shesh Besh

1. Backgammon is a board game for two players in which the playing pieces are moved according to the roll of dice. A player wins by removing all of his pieces from the board. There are many variants of backgammon, most of which share common traits. Backgammon is a member of the table game family, one of the oldest classes of board games in the world.

2. Although luck plays an important role, there is a large scope for strategy. With each roll of the dice a player must choose from numerous options for moving his checkers and anticipate possible counter-moves by the opponent. Players may raise the stakes during the game. There is an established repertory of common tactics and occurrences.

3. Like chess, backgammon has been studied with great interest by computer scientists. Owing to this research, backgammon software has been developed capable of beating world-class human players.

4. Shapour Suren-Pahlav wrote that, "The world oldest pair of dice was discovered in Dahān-e Gholāmān located in in southeastern Iranian province of Sistan, which date back to Achaemenid dynastic period".

5. In an article on Backgammon in Shahr-e Sukhteh, it was noted that, "A team of experts from Iran and Italy found a board that they agreed to be the model where backgammon was based. The board was discovered by the team in Shahr-e Sukhtheh, an early civilization in Iran, in December 2004. The members of the team studied the board and found that it was imported by early Iranians from the people in India. The group of archaeologists also found that the material used in creating the board is ebony. Together with the discovery of the board, 60 pieces of pegs that are similar with the checkers used in backgammon were unearthed". These artifacts proved that the game could have been originated in Iran.

6. As Steve Meehan noted there are the following explanations for the devices and the terms used in backgammon:

30 Pieces (Mohreh-haa): 30 days and nights in a month.
24 Houses (Khaneh haa): 24 hours of day and night.
4 Parts of the Board (Bakhsh-haa): 4 seasons in a year.
5 Hands to Play (Dast-haa): 5 periods in day and night (dawn, morning, noon, evening, night).
2 Colors of Black and White (Rang-e Mohtrh-haa): Night and day.
6 Numbers on a dice: (1) - Uniqueness, Praising God, (2) - Sky and Earth, (3) - Good Thoughts, Good Deeds, Good Words, (4) - North, East, West, and South, (5) - Sun, Star, Fire, Thunder, Creation, (6) - Six Days of Work.

On the basis of above, it follows that there are very close correlations between the explanations and symbols used in the game of backgammon and the Culture of Zoroastrian Iran when the game was invented by Bozorgmehr.

EPILOGUE: Some Western scholars assume and claim that the term BACKGAMMON in English has been derived from the word BACK (behind, rear, reverse, support, assist, fund, and posterior) plus the Middle English word GAMEN which means game. Such interpretation sound very odd and dubious.  This author, however, suggest that it may be reasonable to say that in addition to the names of Nard and Takhteh-Nard, the ancient Iranians most likely used to call the game as BAKHTAZMOON. The Persian term of Bakhtazmoon (Bakht = Luck and Azmoon = Test) in English means a Test to see or try the Luck. I only assume it may be true!


Backgammon-rank Website (2009):  Online Article on Backgammon in Shahr-e Sukhteh, Iran.
Brunner, C. J. (1978): The Middle Persian Explanation of Chess and Invention of Backgammon, the Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University, Vol. 10.
Daryaee, T. (2006) "Backgammon" in Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia ed., pp. 88-89.
Meehan, S. J. (2009): Personal Communication.
Sadat Noury, M. (2005): Online Article on First Iranian Academic Site.
Saadat Noury M. (2009): Various Notes and Articles on the History of Iran.
Shapour Suren-Pahlav (1998): Online Article on Chess, Iranian or Indian Invention?
Wilssens, K. (2009): Online Article on the Origin of Backgammon.
Wikipedia Encyclopedia (2009): Online Articles and Notes on Backgammon, Bozorgmehr, and Persian Empire.



more from M. Saadat Noury

Never knew that

by millermax10 on

I know that backgammon is one of the oldest games in history, but I never knew that it was invented in ancient Iran. I wonder how different the game is today in comparison to how it was way back then. Obviously there have been many different variations through the years, but I wonder if Bozorgmehr could have ever guessed the game he invented would be played for generations to come.


A good read..!!!

by Webmaster-Translations on

This is really nice article about the history of backgammon.

Ancient Persian empire seems to be a home to a lot more things than would be expected.



It is great to be a little nationalist!

by azerbrown on

Chess, Backgammon, carpets, rugs, nuts, poetry, wine and few more, are there any other games or inventions we did not know about? What about beer and wine? I read in Susha they found , few years ago, remains of clay bottles with Beer stains! Were we the first manufactures of Stella Artoise I wonder? Did the ARABS enhance our pure Persian culture and told us how to write and count more efficiently or were they the Greeks and the Romans who gave us philosophy and architecture?


Modern chess also came out of Persia

by yek_nafar on

Thank you for you article.  Great work.  Just to let you know, the modern version of the most tactical game in the world, chess, also originated from Iran.