Petteia of Achilles & Plato


«War is the father and king of all.» – Heraclitus

Probably the most sophisticated board game that the Greeks invented to sharpen their minds, was the game of Petteia (Lantruculi in Latin). It is among the oldest board games in ancient Greece, and it is considered by many as the ancestor of modern chess. No matter whether we accept such a claim or not, it is definitely an amazingly clever game whose origins are lost in the mists of time.

There are many references to Petteia in ancient sources, such as in Homer’s Odyssey, and it is no by chance that many celebrated historians (including the legendary professor of archaeology, Dr. Ragavis) considers it to be one of the main Homeric board games.

As a strategy game, it was highly respected, as it was ideal for practicing mind sharpness. The legendary Greek philosopher, Plato, once said that mastering the game of Petteia was equal to learning mathematics and geometry. Besides being both a fun game and an educational tool, it was also used to predict the future as it is documented on an ancient Greek amphora. More specifically, on finding dated to 450 BC, Achilles and Ajax are being portrayed playing Petteia and trying to guess the outcome of the Trojan War.

It was such a high-valued strategy board game that the Romans embraced it almost immediately, becoming passionate players and further enriching its game’s mechanics by adding an additional piece of greater importance to the rest, the one called the Leader. This version of the game, a Petteia with a Leader piece, was named Lactus Latruncularum or simply Lantruculi.

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^ Achilles and Ajax practice a strategy board game during the Trojan War. Representation in Attica Lekythos dated back to 475 BC and is exhibited at the Louvre Museum in France.

< Achilles and Ajax practice a strategy board game during the Trojan War. Representation in Attica Lekythos dated back to 475 BC and is exhibited at the Louvre Museum in France.

Bringing Ancient Artifacts to the 21st century

In the world of Classical Greece, War and Rhetoric (in the sense of political confrontation) were considered the ideal fields to practice virtue and sharp your mind.

No matter if you were the offspring of a eupatrid (member of the nobility of ancient Athens, or the child of a farmer, the Greeks had the opportunity to stand out for their ability to win "battles" and lead. In this endeavor, strategic thinking was the most valuable asset.

This is why ancient Greeks designed a series of highly educational board games, through which the youngsters sharpened their minds and developed critical thinking. It is no coincidence that Lysimachus, tutor of Alexander the Great, devised a game for the latter to practice. He was encouraged to play the role of Achilles, and the latter gradually became an archetypal figure (that of the "noble warrior") in the youthful mind of Alexander the Great. What Alexander the Great did next is well-known all over the world.

Selected Bibliography


Brouwers, Josho (2020). Ancient Greek heroes at play, Ancient World Magazine.

Kowalski, Wladyslaw. (2004). Board Games of the Ancient World. P Art and Culture. Autumn. 2-25.

Kurke, L. (1999). Ancient Greek Board Games and How to Play Them. Classical Philology, 94(3), 247-267.

Metcalfe, Tom (2018). 16 of the Most Interesting Ancient Board and Dice Games, Live Science.

Schädler, Ulrich. (2009). Pente grammai -- the ancient Greek board game Five Lines.

Woods, Stewart (2012). Eurogames: The Design, Culture, and Play of Modern European Board Games. p. 17. ISBN 9780786490653.

Λάζος, Χρήστος Δ. (2002). Παίζοντας στο χρόνο: αρχαιοελληνικά και βυζαντινά παιχνίδια 1700 π.Χ.-1500 μ.Χ., Εκδόσεις Αίολος.

Plato. The Republic, written around 375 B.C.

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A 39 x 5.5 cm cylinder package made of recycled material, 26 pillars (or pieces) made of cherry and linden wood, board game made of canvas, wooden "λάχνισμα" (a type of ancient dice), a pouch made of knitted linen, game rules printed on recycled paper.

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Made mainly with materials available during antiquity such as cherry and linden wood for the pieces, paper for game rules, canvas for the boards, hand knitted linen for the pouches, et cetera.

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Petteia of Achilles & Plato