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Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 12:35 pm
by FionaDowson
Does anyone have any provenance for how far back this goes?

Has anyone played it?

How easy is it make a board? What do you use for pieces?

Can I do this at Saxon events?


Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 5:50 pm
by Lord Byron
FionaDowson wrote:Does anyone have any provenance for how far back this goes?... Can I do this at Saxon events?'s_Morris

"History -

Clay tile fragment from the archeological museum at Mycenae showing what appears to be a Nine Men's Morris board
According to R. C. Bell, the earliest known board for the game includes diagonal lines and was "cut into the roofing slabs of the temple at Kurna in Egypt" c. 1400 BCE.[12] However, Friedrich Berger writes that some of the diagrams at Kurna include Coptic crosses, making it "doubtful" that the diagrams date to 1400 BCE. Berger concludes, "certainly they cannot be dated."[1]

One of the earliest mentions of the game may be in Ovid's Ars Amatoria.[1][12] In book III (c. 8 CE), after discussing Latrones, a popular board game, Ovid wrote:
There is another game divided into as many parts as there are months in the year. A table has three pieces on either side; the winner must get all the pieces in a straight line. It is a bad thing for a woman not to know how to play, for love often comes into being during play.
Berger believes the game was "probably well known by the Romans", as there are many boards on Roman buildings, even though dating them is impossible because the buildings "have been easily accessible" since they were built. It is possible that the Romans were introduced to the game via trade routes, but this cannot be proven.[1]

The game peaked in popularity in medieval England.[3] Boards have been found carved into the cloister seats at the English cathedrals at Canterbury, Gloucester, Norwich, Salisbury and Westminster Abbey.[12] These boards used holes, not lines, to represent the nine spaces on the board — hence the name "nine holes" — and forming a diagonal row did not win the game.[13] Another board is carved into the base of a pillar in Chester Cathedral in Chester.[14] Giant outdoor boards were sometimes cut into village greens. In Shakespeare's 16th century work A Midsummer Night's Dream, Titania refers to such a board: "The nine men's morris is filled up with mud" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act II, Scene I)."

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Mon Jul 28, 2014 9:21 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Interested in this myself - does anyone actually manufacture boards / sets at all? Getting time to make things at the moment is a luxury I don't have!

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Fri Aug 01, 2014 9:12 pm
by bilbobaglin
Hello, folks
Games is what I does. Or at least one of the things I do, branching out now. Yes Morris (3 men and 9 men) is suitable and there are some others, for a Saxon such as yourself I would recommend Fox and Geese (Halatafl mentioned in the Icelandic sagas).
There are two good makers I have bought from in the past, do a Google search for Gothic Green Oak, he uses contemporary materials and really knows his onions, also Cyningstan probably has forgotten more about ethnic and historic games than I will ever know and offers lots of free info on his webpages but his materials might not be suited to your period. For some more suggestions or just some ramblings on the subject check out my blog

PS avoid draughts

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Fri Aug 29, 2014 1:27 pm
by Brother Ranulf
The Finds Research Group published a short but useful datasheet on this subject some years ago (I think it is still available from them), covering mainly graffiti versions of the game - boards scratched on any convenient surface. There were a large number of names used over time and in different parts of the country: merels, mills, morris, merryholes or peg meryll - all are derived from Medieval Latin merellus, a gaming counter.

The article states that "Boards for merels are the most commonly encountered type from the 11th to the 16th century", meaning graffiti boards rather than specially made wooden game boards; since the playing surface was contrived "on the spot" it makes sense for the counters to be equally rough and ready, such as small stones of two different colours (one set per player), although proper gaming counters were available almost everywhere. These were flat disks of bone, antler, pottery, tile, stone or ivory.

Strangely, I can not trace the Old English (Saxon) name for the game, which would definitely not have been any of those mentioned above.

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Tue Nov 01, 2016 1:39 pm
by FionaDowson
The Birmingham Museum has a nine men's morris board for people to play in a Saxon house as part of the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition. I was so disappointed - they wouldn't let me bring any of it home :)

If it's good enough for Birmingham Museum , it's good enough for me. They must have played something.....

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:34 am
by Brother Ranulf
They must have played something.....
Agreed, but it seems extremely unlikely that pre-Conquest Saxons played merrels/morris. I have searched extensively through Old English texts and found no mention of the game anywhere, although there are some interesting hints towards various other board games. It seems likely, despite your museum display to the contrary, that morris was a post-Conquest import to England. Old English definitely has no name for the game and languages usually have no word for things not found in the culture.

The term bleó-bord literally means a coloured board and is believed to refer to chess, where alternate squares would be coloured (often red). Chess certainly arrived in England before 1027.

The term cynning-stán refers to an intriguing board game played with dice, in which a little hollow wooden tower sits at one side of the board, with steps inside the tower down which the dice were rolled - they emerge from a door onto the board. Cynning-stán means "a trying stone". The exact nature of the game is unknown, but clearly it was not morris since that uses no dice.

The term tæfl means a gaming board, but also the game itself, later known as tables. Either similar to backgammon, or perhaps just like one of many Old Norse games using carved playing pieces (one recent view is that the Lewis chessmen are actually from Iceland and are not chess pieces but intended for playing hnefatafl).

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Sun Dec 11, 2016 10:01 am
by FionaDowson
Thank you :)

Re: Nine Mens Morris

Posted: Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:00 pm
by kael
I'm not familiar with the literary evidence/lack of evidence mentioned above, but there are several extant Morris boards from the Viking Age:

Gokstad (Norway)

Bergen (Norway)

Arby (Sweden)

Toftanes (Faroe Islands - Viking are believed to have introduced the game here EDIT - actually here is a thread with pictures showing it: viewtopic.php?f=9&t=35549&p=367049#p367049)

Inchmarnock (Scotland)

Whithorn (Scotland - possible given the irregular patterning that survives)

And it's believed that the 10thC lle de croix ship burials gaming pieces were for Merelles

Certainly in the Scandinavian sphere it was played, but it's much less clear for Anglo-Saxon Britain as there are no pre-11th century examples of the board (unless we go back to the Bronze age!). It's generally accepted that the Normans re-introduced the game to Britain, perhaps having learned the game from their Norse forefathers.

Tafl (and the many sub-versions of) are very well represented in the archaeological record, however.