Traditional Games that were popular along the Silk Road

The murals in Dunhuang recorded more than 40 kinds of games that were popular along the Silk Road, through which these traditional games connect countries, nations and cultures. Now, let's travel all over the world to see these wonderful heritages.

Starting from Dunhuang, the Silk Road came into existence following the footprints of the ancient nomadic nations. Accordingly, the knucklebones of cattle and sheep became the most common game tools.

In Xinjiang of China and in Central Asia, this game was called Asik, which means knucklebones.

In areas where the Mongolian language is spoken and in the Evenki communities in the Northeastern part of China, this game is known as Galaha. It was taken along the expedition of Genghis Khan from Asia to Europe, and was used to practice divination and plan wars.

In ancient Greece, it was named Astragaloi. According to Homer’s Iliad, Patroclus killed his opponent while playing this game in his boyhood.

The game was also very popular along the Maritime Silk Road. Of course, the knucklebones were replaced by other materials. The Silk Road brought the game to many other peoples, including those without nomadic habits, and contributed to their wisdom and agility.

Now let’s go to ancient Persia to look at a game of wood planks. It was the most popular game among Persian males and also a means to train warriors: One used a plank to hit another repeatedly, and his opponents chased the plank that sprang into the air.

Next let’s talk about pinballs. In the pyramids of Egypt, archelogists first found earth balls, which later evloved into marbles, rock balls, and glass balls, etc.

Along the Silk Road, there is an infinite variety of rules. In Indian alone, there are at least four ways to play with the balls.

The word “Mancala” is the combination of the Swahili language in East Africa and Classic Arabic.

The players put their pieces into the small holes on the chessboard,and try to capture the opponent’s pieces.

The pieces symbolize seeds. One can also play by a drawing chessboard on the ground. So Mancala is also known as “sowing game” in many places, reflecting peoples’ profound love of the land and life.

The chessboard is generally placed in an east-west direction, symblizing the sun’s rise and set. The seeds or rocks stand for the stars, their movement on the chessboard represents the gods’ passage through time and space.

The Arabian merchants took the Mancala game, gold, gemstones and ivory from Africa to the Middle East, and to Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia via the Silk Road. In each place, Mancala got its own name.

Even in China, its name varies from place to place. It is called Sanyao in Henan, Laoniu Chess in Anhui, and Fenliubao in Guangdong.

With the development of the Silk Road, these traditional games evolved and spread over the road. In order to preserve and inherit the games, the UNESCO and the Tencent Interactive Entertainment jointly established the Open Digital Library on Traditional Games, rejuvenating the games in the internet era by giving them modern forms. Likewise, we can find our shared future from the common experience along the history.