Candace Richards, assistant Curator of the University of Sydney’s Nicholson Collection, has always been interested in board games.

As a child she played backgammon, and she was glad to turn this pastime into a study after the University of Sydney uncovered five different board games at the Paphos Theatre in Cyprus. Now, she has a chance to share both her love of  games and archaeology, with Australian audiences as part of the Kafenio events focused on Greek culture through board games and conversation with free talks and hands-on experiences from tonight through to 16 April.

“Games are a great way to connect with history,” she said. “They are absolutely still relevant, and though we’ve lost the rules, we can still reverse engineer these and it is fun to see if we can apply the same rules as now. By getting kids to handle artifacts they recognise and can still use today, by having things like that from the ancient world, helps us all to learn history and connect with the past. That’s the key for lifelong learning and lifelong engagement.”

Ms Richards said that there has been a growing interest in games recently, however the elements of ancient games continue to survive in some of our most popular games today. She points to games from the Greek and Roman period “transformed into games played today, such as merels or nine men’s morris and a kind of tic tac toe that is like noughts and crosses with a little bit of a difference”.

By studying games, modern people can better understand the ancients and how they interacted with each other and socialised. “There were game boards scratched onto the surfaces at the agora and forums, and a game was also found during excavations at Syntagma metro, etched onto the top of an ionic column,” she said.

“They are found in lots of different places and while there would have been versions played at home, a lot were what we call graffiti games, carved onto the pavement at the theatre, nymphaia, agora and anywhere where people socialised. These games tell us how ancient people, much like peope of today, used communal spaces where they gathered and found ways to pass the time together. Even today, from childhood we we never lose the idea of games.”

The first Kafenio hopes to highlight the importance of ancient games and their link to thought, philosophy and history in events run by the Chau Chak Wing Museum in collaboration with the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, and are supported by The Nicholas Anthony Aroney Estate Cultural Program. The free activities run from tonight through to 16 April and include online events.


Thursday 8 April, 6.30pm: Candace Richards talks about the archaeology of board games in Greece and the Mediterranean
Weekend 10 – 11 April: Talks, games and artefact handling- children welcome!
12 – 16 April: School holiday program – Game On! Board games in the ancient world

There will be more Kafenio events to follow including planned focuses on costumes, dance, wine and food, and art through the ages.