The Ancient Greek Board Game of Five Lines

Updated on October 3, 2019
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

The Parthenon as it would have looked.
The Parthenon as it would have looked.

Five Lines: A History

Five lines is the modern name for a board game that comes from Greece. We have no record of it ever having a name in ancient times. Pollux mentions the game in his Onomasticon but does not give it a name. The earliest written reference to the game is from 600 BCE in a verse by Alkaios. The earliest examples of actual game boards are from grave goods dating back to the 7th century BCE. It is nowhere near the oldest known board game, but it is still old.

It is interesting to note that this is a game that is frequently ignored by both history and game scholars. Very little information is available about the game beyond the game board finds. Any attempt to recreate the rules is purely speculative. That being said, let's speculate.

This is an example of a five lines board that I created. The decoration is made using wood burning techniques.
This is an example of a five lines board that I created. The decoration is made using wood burning techniques. | Source

How to Play

Game Materials

Five lines is a two-player game. The game consists of ten "men" (usually rocks or stones of two differing colours) that are divided between the players (five men per player), the board, and one die.

Gameplay and Movement Rules

Each player starts out with five men that are placed with one man on their side of each of the lines. The men move counterclockwise around the board, and the goal is to get all of your men on the sacred line. The players take turns tossing the die and moving their pieces that number of times. Only one man can be moved per turn, and a man can only occupy the sacred line or an empty space.

If a move can be executed, it must; therefore, if you have a man on the opposite sacred line but when you roll your only valid move is to move that man off the sacred line to an empty spot, you must do so. The only time a player can skip a turn is if he or she has no valid moves.


The player who gets all five of their men to the opposite sacred line at the same time wins.

How a five lines board game looks and the path a player takes.
How a five lines board game looks and the path a player takes. | Source

Double Variant

The game can also be played with eleven lines (and eleven men each). The only difference in game play is that the third, sixth and ninth lines are sacred lines. It is presumed that, when playing double, two dice are used and the player may choose to move either two men (one moves the number die one shows, and the other moves the total die two shows), or one man for the total of the two dice.

© 2014 Jeff Johnston


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