(active 1280s in Castile)

The Book of Games by Alfonso the Wise

Manuscript (PG 22)
Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

The Book of Games (Libro de Juegos) was the first encyclopedia of games in European literature. Alfonso X (1221-1284), the King of Castile (Spain) commissioned the book. The original manuscript is kept in the Library of Philip II (d. 1598) in the Monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, in the foothills of the Guadarra Mountains, about 50 miles northwest of Madrid. It contains 98 pages and over 150 miniatures.

The book is a treatise of how to play three board games: the game of skill (chess), the game of chance (dice) and the game of skill and chance (backgammon). The final part of the book takes the board games to a higher level, giving them an astrological interpretation.

Chess probably originated in India, reaching Europe via Persia and Muslim Spain. It became popular rapidly. The miniature from the manuscript, presented here, shows chess in Muslim Spain, accompanied by a harp-player and attended by a Christian servant.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.