Alea Evangelii 19x19

Tafl rules
Adam
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Re: Ludus latrunculorum

Post by Adam » Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:11 pm

Hi Sybil, if you or any of your latin students are interested, there is a lovely manuscript depicting a poorly understood version of hnefatafl called alea evangelii. I have been unable to find a complete translation of all the annotations on and around the very enigmatic diagram of the board, and I have a hope that they may shed some light onto the hnefatafl game in general, and its links to Ludus latrunculorum in particular. The full manuscript can be viewed in high resolution here: MS. 122 'The Corpus Irish Gospels', 12th century. http://image.ox.ac.uk/show?collection=c ... ript=ms122 The page showing the game board is about 5 pages in. I have read that it is an esoteric text using the game as a metaphor for the gospels. However, I suspect that with some clever reverse engineering we who have played the game for many years might find some hints for game play and rules.

Adam
Posts: 115
Joined: Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:28 pm

Re: 13x13 Tafl

Post by Adam » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:31 pm

Thanks for the link to the English alea text! It really doesn't throw much light alas, but its great to finally have a grasp of what it's all saying.

Hagbard
Posts: 402
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:07 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii 19x19

Post by Hagbard » Fri Jan 24, 2014 9:06 pm

Marco wrote:
Adam wrote:Hi Sybil,

if you or any of your latin students are interested, there is a lovely manuscript depicting a poorly understood version of hnefatafl called alea evangelii. I have been unable to find a complete translation of all the annotations on and around the very enigmatic diagram of the board, and I have a hope that they may shed some light onto the hnefatafl game in general, and its links to Ludus latrunculorum in particular. The full manuscript can be viewed in high resolution here:

MS. 122 'The Corpus Irish Gospels', 12th century.

The page showing the game board is about 5 pages in.

I have read that it is an esoteric text using the game as a metaphor for the gospels. However, I suspect that with some clever reverse engineering we who have played the game for many years might find some hints for game play and rules.

Hello everybody,
I subscribed to this forum mainly because I have an interested in the Alea Evangelii game. I am certainly interested in the subject proposed by Adam!

First of all, I must say that I am not a game expert and I am completely new to tafl games. I have an interest in ancient allegories and in particular in allegorical games, above all games with Christian symbolic meaning. I have read what I have found online about the Alea. Of course, the best resources are the manuscript and its transcription and translation. Another resource that I greatly appreciated is “The greatest hnefatafl”, a 2010 paper by Andrew Perkis published in the bulletin of the British Chess Variant Society:
Variant Chess issue 6, pag.5 (numbered 145).

A few notes (partly based on Perkis' paper):
* the manuscript has been forced into a standard tafl game, which is only partly justified by the text and the diagram in the manuscript;
* the manuscript provides a very detailed description of how the pieces on the board are to be assigned to the four evangelists, but attackers and defenders are mentioned only briefly (If any one would know this game fully, before all the lessons of this teaching he must thoroughly know these seven: to wit, dukes and counts, defenders and attackers, city and citadel, and nine steps twice over); by the way, does the mention of "dukes" ("duces") suggest a direct reference to the Ludus Latrunculorum?
* the assignment of the pieces to the four evangelists is also detailed in the diagram by the complex but detailed notation of one, two, three, four dots associate to each piece;
* the diagram in the manuscript contains some minor errors with respect to the content of the written text.

It is possible to reconstruct the logic by which 67 pieces are associated to each of the four evangelists through the Eusebian canons (or Eusebian tables). The elegance of this design is noteworthy (at least for my interest in weird ecclesiastic speculations) but the most important effect of it is reproduced in the dot patterns on the manuscript board. To these 67 pieces, four more pieces are added (the “varios viros” or “variegated men”, which an inscription at the left of the board labels as related to the passion of Christ (significat haec figura in alea passionem christi): they are assigned to Mark and John (two pieces each). A last piece (which I marked in white) is not assigned to any of the evangelists. Each corner and each side of the board is assigned to one of the evangelists.

I am very interested in reading more on the subject and your opinions of this wonderful ancient document.

Here I have colored the pieces according to the assignment to the evangelist as described in the text and labeled by the dot patterns in the diagram.

Hagbard
Posts: 402
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:07 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Hagbard » Mon Jan 27, 2014 8:22 pm

Marco wrote:

Hello everybody,
I have read the amazing work that this community has done on Linnaeus Tablut rules: I am impressed and I am certain that with your help it will be possible to understand something more of the mysterious Alea Evangelii game.

I have written a few preliminary notes in another thread.

In the manuscript, immediately above the illustration of the board, there is the sentence that seems to be the most directly related to the rules of the game (I follow the translation and transcription on tafl.cyningstan .org, adding two of the seven items that were lost in the transcription):
Si quis voluerit scire hanc aleam plene, illi ante omnia hujus discipline documenta hec .VII. scire animo necesse est: duces scilicet et comites, [propugnatores et impugnatores], civitatem et civitatulam, et .IX. gradus bis.

If any one would know this game [aleam] fully, before all the lessons of this teaching [hujus disciplinae documenia] he must thoroughly know [scire animo] these seven: to wit, dukes and counts, defenders and attackers, city and citadel, and nine steps [gradus] twice over.
I have not found on-line any hypotheses on the meaning of these seven points. Does anybody have ideas on all or at least most of them, or can you point me to some page discussing these seven items in detail?

I add here what I have understood of the labels on the board diagram: it's not much, but I hope it is enough to start a discussion. The numbers with the cross are related to the Eusebian canons, and are well explained in the text. Here is what I understand of the rest:

1A – Resurrectionem [et?] regnum . [???] adfiadar matha
“Resurrection and kingdom” - the last two words do not seem Latin to me (any ideas anybody?), but (by analogy with 2A, 3A and 4A) I think they mean “as written by Matthew” or something similar.

1B – Tres t[er] bis e[t] bina adiectione hic intelliguntur [?] in matheo
“Here one understands twice three three times with two addictions (3*3*2+2=20) in Matthew”
As explained below in the manuscript, Matthew has 20 “men” i.e. pieces in the game.

2A – Nativitas in luca
“The Nativity in Luke”

2B – Tres t[er] bis cum singulam dediactione hic intelliguntur [?] in luca
“Here one understands twice three three times with a single subtraction (3*3*2-1=17) in Luke”.
As explained below in the manuscript, Luke has 17 “men” i.e. pieces in the game.

3A – ioha[nni?] gene[a]logia in iohan[n]e
“The genealogy of John [the Baptist?] in John[/i]

3B – Tres [???] [???] utroque [???] [?] in iohan[n]e
I cannot read this sentence. By analogy, I think it explains why John has 15 pieces.

3C – Adiectio et detractio
The :- sign seems to link these two words to “utroque” in 3B.
“By both addition and subtraction”

4A – Perfecta [profecta?] in Marco
“Completed in Mark”

4B - Tres [???] [???] utroque [???] [?] in marco
This seems the same sentence as 3B. This would make sense, since Mark and John has the same number of pieces (15, or 17 counting the “variegated men”).

5 – Signifi[c]at haec figura in alea passionem xpi [christi]
“This symbol represents on the board the passion of Christ”
The symbol associated to this label is that of the “variegated men” (“varios viros”). I think that a better translation would be “different men”. The manuscript says “varii sunt et non nigri sicut ceteri”: they are different, not black like the rest.

In conclusion:

Inscriptions A seem to underline some peculiarity of each gospel. They also label the corner of the board belonging to each evangelist.

Inscriptions B summarize what is described in the manuscript. They also label the side of the board belonging to each evangelist.

Inscription 5 is the most interesting to me, since it adds a symbolic meaning to the variegated (or different) men.

Adam
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Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Adam » Fri Jan 31, 2014 12:13 pm

Hi Marco, really exciting stuff. I have been looking hard at this too just recently. I will have a good read of both your posts and then post my thoughts. I too have spent some time trying to decode and colourcode the manuscript. I'll post my work in progress ideas when I have a bit more time!

Hagbard
Posts: 402
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:07 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Hagbard » Fri Jan 31, 2014 8:28 pm

Marco wrote:
Adam wrote:Hi Marco, really exciting stuff. I have been looking hard at this too just recently. I will have a good read of both your posts and then post my thoughts. I too have spent some time trying to decode and colourcode the manuscript. I'll post my work in progress ideas when I have a bit more time!
Hello Adam,
thank you very much for your reply!
I am thrilled at the idea of discussing this subject with people more knowledgeable than myself in the field of ancient boardgames! I am looking forward to read the preliminary results of your research!

I want to add a comment about a specific point. I have read in a few interpretations of the game (for instance on the bredband.net page by Sten Helmfrid) that the “primary man” (“primarium virum”) is identified with the king at the center of the board:
Sten Helmfrid wrote:In the description, we are told that there are 72 men, called viri in the manuscript, and one primarius vir. These numbers are almost consistent with the number of playing pieces in the drawing, and the primarius vir, placed on the central intersection, of course corresponds to the hnefi.
Actually, the text says that there are 67 men associated to the Eusebian canons, four “variegated” or “different” men and a “primary man” for a total of 72 pieces. In addition, there is a “unary man” (“unarius”) which “in the middle of the alea signifies the indivisible substance of the Trinity”.

The position of the “primary man” is described in the context of Canon IIII, the last of the canons composing the line of men surrounding the central 16 men of Canon I. This “primary man” is the one I marked in white on the board. It is highlighted by a label which unluckily I cannot read. Canon IIII is described from the bottom to the top (the description goes clockwise through the “circle” composed of Canons 2, 3 and 4).
Can 4 begins with Mt in the first angle of the triangle under a cross and the no. 4, with Mc on his right and Jo on his left. [In the diagram the cross and no. 4 have been wrongly placed at the preceding triangle.]
Now we pass the variegated man, and we find Mc in the first angle of this triangle, with Mt on the right and Jo on the left. In the first angle of the triangle which is turned the other way we have Jo with Mc on the left and Mt on the right. And here next Mt is the place of the "primary" man.
The “primarius” is next to a piece belonging to Matthew (a black square marked with a single dot) and one of the "variegated men", at the end of Canon 4, closing the circle with Canon 2. It is distinct from the “Unarius” at the center of the board.
Last edited by Hagbard on Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Adam
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Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Adam » Sat Feb 08, 2014 8:20 am

Thats exactly right. And by a remarkable coincidence I came to the same conclusion some weeks ago! I finally read carefully through translation Damien Walker had posted. So the primary man, who is singled out for special attention may be a special piece, or the one who makes the first move, but is certainly not the king in the centre.

Have you managed to decipher the abbreviated codings next to the 'variagated men'? Are they simply references to the gospels again?

Hagbard
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Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:07 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Hagbard » Sat Feb 08, 2014 6:48 pm

Marco wrote:
Adam wrote:Thats exactly right. And by a remarkable coincidence I came to the same conclusion some weeks ago! I finally read carefully through translation Damien Walker had posted. So the primary man, who is singled out for special attention may be a special piece, or the one who makes the first move, but is certainly not the king in the centre.
Hello Adam,
I am happy to know that we came to the same conclusion! I have no idea about the possible special gaming role of the "Primary Man", but I am sure that it is important to understand that he is distinct from the King.
Adam wrote:Have you managed to decipher the abbreviated codings next to the 'variagated men'? Are they simply references to the gospels again?
v200.jpg
The four "different" or "variegated" men are labelled "mr", "io", "io", "mr" which stand for Mark, John, John, Mark. In this manuscript, lower case 'r' looks something like a 'p' or 'n': it is difficult to read. The text says twice that those four pieces are assigned to Mark and John:
Add then together 20 of Matthew, 15 of Mark, 17 of Luke and 15 of John, and they make 67. Add on the four "variegated" men, who belong to Mark and John
"Atque his junge . IIII . varios viros qui a Marco et ab Iohanne possidentur"
mr_io.png
Now the four variegated men who are seen at separate points belong to Mark and John. They are variegated, and not black like the rest, because Mark and John put forth no canon without another Evangelist.
While the assignment of the other pieces is simply indicated by the dot patterns, for these "different pieces" a more explicit labeling has been provided.
Last edited by Hagbard on Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Adam
Posts: 115
Joined: Fri Mar 20, 2015 1:28 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii 19x19

Post by Adam » Wed Feb 12, 2014 11:09 am

Thanks Marc0, that clarified things for me.

So, my main angle for looking again at Alea, is that the presently accepted proposed set up for the game leads to a dull game where white is hopelessly surrounded from the start. My idea is that the variagated men can be thought of as squares with special properties, like a throne square in hnefatafl, and not as 'pieces' at all. This could fit in quite nicely with the variagation idea, as a throne square can be used in a capture by either side. This could also fit with the reference to city and citadel, which implies to me board zones, or physical structures. The citadel might be the central part of the board, the city the board as a whole with the corners as its exits. I have a theory that the hnefatafl board is inspired by the layout of viking trelleborg earthworks. The Alea board set up actually mirrors this layout even more accurately. A fact that I find rather compelling. I will post some pictures showing the boards and a trelleborg superimposed.

I am also looking at ways of incorporating other types of playing piece with reference to the dukes and counts. My main source of inspiration for this is Aage Nielsen's Berserk Hnefatafl, which in turn was inspired by some enigmatic glass hnefatafl pieces from Bergen Museum in Norway. They seem to show special pieces, which Aage has used to create the commander and knight pieces in Berserk, whose special moves are based on both tafl reconstructions and roman latrunculi type games. Take a look at the post in 'strategy and rules' called 'Berserk Hnefatafl' where Aage has explained his careful logic, with a picture of the glass pieces.

I am also assuming that the Alea manuscript shows a game which is underway, so 7 pieces have been removed from the board. I also take account of the pieces that are given special labeling, using this as the starting point for the special pieces on both sides.

I feel its important to say that while what I am working on could be called a reconstruction, and while all my choices have their starting points in the historical sources, that this would be a modern interpretation of the game, with the primary goal of making a game that is entertaining to play, and robust enough for tournament play, just like Copenhagen rules or Berserk rules, and not claiming to be historically accurate. At some point one has to take a leap and fill in some blanks, using hnefatafl play experience (23 years in my case), and the many excellent and keen players on this site, to fill those blanks in.

I will post some pictures presenting these ideas for discussion.

Hagbard
Posts: 402
Joined: Sat Mar 14, 2015 6:07 pm

Re: Alea Evangelii

Post by Hagbard » Fri Feb 14, 2014 8:36 pm

Marco wrote:
Adam wrote:Thanks Marc0, that clarified things for me.

So, my main angle for looking again at Alea, is that the presently accepted proposed set up for the game leads to a dull game where white is hopelessly surrounded from the start.


Hello Adam,
given the limited information we have about this game, it makes perfect sense to evaluate reconstructions on the basis of the quality of the resulting game. Being very ignorant of these aspects, I am very happy to have the opportunity to discuss Alea Evangelii with you!
Perkis (I attach his paper) considers the reconstructed game to be unbalanced in favor of the defenders:
Andrew Perkis wrote: We found that 19x19 Hnefatafl, when played according to the general interpretation of the rules as handed down since Murray, can easily be won by the royal player, even, as it turns out, if the more difficult objective of reaching a corner point is adopted.

The opening position for the biggest Hnefatafl, as reconstructed by Murray, and generally accepted since, has one serious flaw. As Alain Dekker has pointed out, Black can easily construct a fortress around his King during the first few moves of the game, and there is nothing White can do about it.
Perkis' proposed solution of the playing problems seems to me rather arbitrary (from the historical point of view). In my opinion, analogy with other tafl games suggests that attackers and defenders are not mixed in the initial layout:
perkis.png
Adam wrote:My idea is that the variagated men can be thought of as squares with special properties, like a throne square in hnefatafl, and not as 'pieces' at all. This could fit in quite nicely with the variagation idea, as a throne square can be used in a capture by either side.
In the manuscript, pieces are called “men” (“viri”). I think the “variegated men” (“varii viri”) are pieces (since they are “men”), likely special pieces, since they are “different” (“varii”).
Adam wrote:This could also fit with the reference to city and citadel, which implies to me board zones, or physical structures. The citadel might be the central part of the board, the city the board as a whole with the corners as its exits.
I agree with your analysis: “Civitas” (city) and “Civitatula” (“citadel” or “small city”) seem to point to two distinct areas on the board. I also agree that the two locations likely include each other, with the Citadel inside the City. A problem is that there are at least four concentric layers in the diagram:
A. the central spot occupied by the single Unary Man
B. Canon I (defined by the position of the 16 central men)
C. the “circle” of Canons 2,3,4
D. the whole board.

I think the Citadel is the “throne” A (or, less likely, B). Also Limneus calls the “throne” “citadel” (although using a different Latin word: “arx”).
The City can be any one of B, C or D.

If (as you suggest) one interprets the Citadel as A and the City as D we are back to standard Hnefatafl, without the need to create new special rules for the two areas. I think this is the most reasonable interpretation.

By the way, an element that we can safely conclude from the City and Citadel mentioned in the manuscript is that the game represents a siege, not a naval battle (as stated, for instance, on boardgamegeek). It is amazing that the text of the manuscript has been so often ignored or misinterpreted.
Adam wrote:I have a theory that the hnefatafl board is inspired by the layout of viking trelleborg earthworks. The Alea board set up actually mirrors this layout even more accurately. A fact that I find rather compelling. I will post some pictures showing the boards and a trelleborg superimposed.
I knew nothing of trelleborg. From the pictures I have found with a google search, your idea seems very promising to me. I am looking forward to see your pictures and to read more on the subject.
Adam wrote:I am also looking at ways of incorporating other types of playing piece with reference to the dukes and counts. My main source of inspiration for this is Aage Nielsen's Berserk Hnefatafl, which in turn was inspired by some enigmatic glass hnefatafl pieces from Bergen Museum in Norway. They seem to show special pieces, which Aage has used to create the commander and knight pieces in Berserk, whose special moves are based on both tafl reconstructions and roman latrunculi type games. Take a look at the post in 'strategy and rules' called 'Berserk Hnefatafl' where Aage has explained his careful logic, with a picture of the glass pieces.
Thank you for pointing out Aage's Berserk Hnefatafl! It is relevant both as an example of a reconstruction from fragmentary evidence and as a parallel for the Alea Evangelii game: both games include special pieces and one could argue that the four evangelists assigned to the board sides are analogue to the four viking boats in Berserk Hnefatafl: ”Four Viking long boats, each with a commander and his crew of warriors, has landed on the coast of a foreign country, near a castle where a king has barricaded himself with his warriors.”

I definitely agree that presence of different kinds of pieces in the original Alea Evangelii game is likely:

* the manuscript mentions “duces” (“dukes”, or “leaders”) and “comites” (“counts”, or “soldiers”);
* four of the pieces are referred to as “different men”.

While MS CCC 122 testifies the presence of special pieces other than the King, their nature can only be conjectured by analogy. Expert gamers like you and Aage are the most qualified to formulate sensible hypotheses.

An economic assumption would be to identify the “dukes” with the “different men” and the “counts” with the ordinary pieces. In this way, only a special kind of pieces is needed.

One could also take inspiration from other games. For instance (according to this paper) chess “bishops” are named “acclini comites” (“inclined counts”) in the “Versus de Scachis” poem (X Century). Girolamo Vida (Scacchia Ludus, 1527) uses “duces” for chess kings and “comites” for chess pawns. And of course there are the “duces” from “ludus latrunculorum”...
Adam wrote:I am also assuming that the Alea manuscript shows a game which is underway, so 7 pieces have been removed from the board.
Your idea provides an alternative to the assumption that the diagram contains quite a few errors. Still, given that I think that the “variegated men” were “men”, i.e. pieces, I find it difficult to image a sequence of play that would produce the configuration we see in the diagram: the defenders (i.e. the pieces in the central area) are all at their place. It would also be interesting to know if there are analogues for this hypothesis, i.e. ancient manuscripts representing a game situation different from the initial layout. Since the diagram likely is an illustration of the text, and the text describes the initial layout, in my opinion it is acceptable to assume that the diagram also represents the initial layout.
Adam wrote:I also take account of the pieces that are given special labeling, using this as the starting point for the special pieces on both sides.
This seems to me a sound approach, but there is an excess of options, so I guess it will be necessary to choose a subset of the labeled pieces. 22 of the 73 pieces (70, in the diagram) have special labels:

* 1 - the Unary Man at the center (marked with a big I);
* 1 - the Primary Man, in a weird asymmetrical position (marked with an unreadable label);
* 4 - the four “different men” (drawn in red, labeled with Mark / John and associated with the passion of Christ);
* 13 - the men at the beginning of each Canon (one for each of Canons 1..9 and 4 for Canon X); all these (but Canon IX, certainly a copyist's error) are also marked by a cross; another error is the placement of the number and cross of Canon IIII;
* 3 – the other men at the corners of the central diamond corresponding to Canon 1 (the top corner is also marked with the cross of Canon 1; the other three are only numbered II, III, IIII).
ae.png
In general, an assignment of the pieces to attackers and defenders that were consistent with the structure of the Canons would seem to me an improvement with respect to Perkis' proposal.
Adam wrote:I feel its important to say that while what I am working on could be called a reconstruction, and while all my choices have their starting points in the historical sources, that this would be a modern interpretation of the game, with the primary goal of making a game that is entertaining to play, and robust enough for tournament play, just like Copenhagen rules or Berserk rules, and not claiming to be historically accurate. At some point one has to take a leap and fill in some blanks, using hnefatafl play experience (23 years in my case), and the many excellent and keen players on this site, to fill those blanks in.
Yes, this is a very important point. In order to have a playable game it is necessary to fill the gaps, and in Alea Evangelii there are a number of gaps! It is also important to create a reconstruction that is as faithful as possible to the available evidence. A clear idea of what is based on evidence and what is “gap filling” is not something to give for granted. We already discussed how the “Primary Man” has been confounded with the “king”. This remark in the paper that Damian linked here is another example of the issues that can arise when studying the subject:
Lewis wrote:a comparison of the text with the diagram reveals that the alea evangelii required a board containing 18X18 squares... The “king” stood on the central point, and was defended by twenty-four men placed at various points in the middle of the board. Around the edges, forty-eight attacking pieces were disposed. The proportion of the sides is thus the same as in tawlbwrdd and tablut, and there can be little doubt that the Game of the Gospel belonged to the same group.
Lewis makes the error of taking Murray's reconstruction hypothesis as documentary evidence: the proportion of the sides is not specified in the manuscript (neither in the text nor in the diagram). The result is a circular argument:
* by analogy with tawlbwrdd and tablut, Murray assumes that the proportion of the sides must be 2:1.
* according to Lewis, since Alea Evangelii has the same proportion of the sides as tawlbwrdd and tablut, it is proven that the three games belong to the same group.

So, I clearly understand your worries about drawing a clear distinction between evidence and reconstruction. I think that, as long as one does not lose sight of what is evidence and what is not, it is possible to create a reconstruction that is both historically accurate (i.e. consistent with the available documents) and enjoyable when playing.
Adam wrote:I will post some pictures presenting these ideas for discussion.
I am looking forward to read more of your ideas! Thank you again for sharing your thoughts!
Last edited by Hagbard on Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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