Alfonso X's Book of Games

Alfonso X's Book of Games
Alfonso X's Book of Games

The famous book of chess, dice and boards, better known simply as the Book of Games and whose real name is actually Various games of chess, dice, and boards with their explanations, ordered by order of King Alfonso the sage is one of the best-known illuminated books of the Gothic era.

It seems that the work must have been completed shortly before the death of the monarch around the year 1283, however little is known about the date on which it was started, probably in the early sixties. It is a miniatured Gothic-style book that is about forty centimeters high and nearly a foot wide and consists of ninety-eight parchment sheets in addition to the sheepskin binding.


The piece was commissioned by the monarch Alfonso X el Sabio from a scriptorium in Seville. Alfonso X (1221 – 1284) is one of the kings who has most promoted culture throughout the history of Spain. Under his mandate, a good number of both scientific and literary works were carried out, and he was also concerned with aspects as diverse as chance, astronomy or legal law.

On this occasion the manuscript that concerns us here, collects the instructions, moves and some of the most relevant problems of the time around the games of chess, the alquerque – the precedent of the current game of checkers- dice games and board games.The book appears divided into seven well-differentiated parts, leaving a blank page between each of them, something unusual for the time due to the scarcity of parchment. In this sense, it is necessary to highlight how the fact that the book is divided into seven parts does not seem at all fortuitous, since almost all the works in which the monarch intervened appear in one way or another a strange symbology regarding this number.

As for the composition, the work contains more than one hundred and fifty miniatures, ten of which are full-page representations; to these must also be added the capital letters that adorn each beginning of the page. For its part, the text appears aligned in two columns and written in a Gothic font following the stylistic canons of the time.

Special mention deserves the section dedicated to chess – the longest of the seven parts into which the manuscript is divided – which has sixty-four pages explaining the rules of the game and various moves. It does not seem by chance that this part consists of the same number of pages as there are squares on a chessboard. In many of the illustrations in this section the miniatures represent the chess game between two men, it seems that this could be a game played by the monarch himself.

Currently the Book of Games is preserved in the Library of the Monastery of El Escorial, Madrid.

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