Minoan games and game boards

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


The old, world-wide phenomenon of playing board games has received little attention among scholars studying the ancient cultures. This thesis collects and analyses game-related material from Bronze Age Crete, defines the field of research and provides a framework with definitions and typologies. A further goal is to use the results of the analyses to extend beyond the archaeological material and examine gaming as part of social history. Each part of the thesis - published separately also - is focused on a particular material.

The figures of cup-holes are organised in a database. Statistical comparisons and analyses of appearance and placement suggest that most were made for the purpose of playing games. They were made on pavement slabs at open, public, multi-purpose areas, such as street corners and courtyards. The outline of a few specific games can be presented, e.g., the "12-ring"-game and "10/2"-game, and unpublished excavation documents show that there also were a "3x10"-game on Crete, related to the Egyptian game of Senet. The investigation of the elaborate Knossos game board provides a new understanding for its details, general layout and internal logic. Several, common game features found in other ancient games, such as separate, safe entrances, battle areas, difficult passages and end-play areas, can be found on this board also. Subsequently, all kinds of small objects that could possibly have been associated with games are investigated. The following categories stand out: "markers/counters", "pieces", "tiles", "dice and lots" and "visual representations". Each object is evaluated to see how likely it is that it was made for gaming or not. The finds made for gaming include cone-shaped gaming pieces, an astragalos with differently marked sides, and a six-sided signet with the Egyptian game board sign. The oldest die of Europe is discussed for the first time, and previously unpublished gaming pieces are presented.

If modern theories on game classification are used, the suggested games belong most likely to a positioning kind of race game or to the subgroup of alinement games. The game-related finds can also highlight several other aspects of the Minoan society the public and private spheres, possible connections to ritual and religion, etc. There are, e.g., possible connections between games and rituals, such as games played on cup-holes that may have been ritualised and centralised over time. We have a local production of gaming material, with various dimensions of foreign influence. These influences came from Egypt and from other cultures around the Eastern Mediterranean, but little seems to have continued to the Greek mainland. From the period of Mycenaean influence on Crete, there are less gaming finds, and the cup-holes seem to have disappeared.


  • Niklas Hillbom
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Classical Archaeology and Ancient History


  • game, game board, cup-holes, Kernos, marker, astragalos, dice, Mallia, Phaistos, Gournia, Khania, ritual, cultural contacts, Ancient history, Antikens och forntidens historia, Arkeologi, Archaeology, Crete, Minoan, Knossos, gaming piece, knuckle bones
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
Award date2005 Apr 23
  • Department of Archaeology and Ancient History, Lund University
Print ISBNs91-628-6447-5
Publication statusPublished - 2005
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2005-04-23 Time: 14:00 Place: Internationella Miljöinstitutet, Tegnérsplatsen 4, Lund. External reviewer(s) Name: Hägg, Robin Title: Prof. Emeritus Affiliation: Göteborg University ---