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Chess in Aztec Culture – Patoli

Was Patoli a version of Chess in Aztec Culture?

Exploring the Elegance of Aztec Chess – Its History and its Popularity

To begin with, the Aztec version of chess was called Patolli. 

It was a board game that had religious significance in Aztec culture. It is compared to an early version of Chess played by Aztec.  

See here if you are interested in how other ancient Aztec Chess Sets looked like

The board of Patolli was shaped like a cross and had a total of 52 points. 

The points were arranged in four rows, and each row contained 13 points. The game was played with beans, which were either black or white, and were used as dice.

Aztec Chess Patoli​ - FAQ

Aztec Chess Patoli - Rules

Patoli is a strategic board game, similar in some ways to backgammon or parcheesi. 

To play Patolli, a cross-shaped board is required, which is typically divided into 52 squares.

 Players use beans, seeds, or even small stones as game pieces, and a set of dice or casting sticks is used to determine the movement of the pieces. 

The objective of the game is to move all one’s pieces around the board and eventually remove them, while also strategically blocking the opponent’s progress.

Unlike modern-day chess, Patolli was a game of chance rather than a game of strategy.

The players would toss the beans and move their pieces according to the results of the toss. The goal of the game was to reach the center of the board before your opponent did. 

The game was played with two or four players, and it was often played for gambling purposes.

chess in aztec empire

Popularity - How popular was chess among the Aztecs and which classes of people were most likely to be involved in it

The game is believed to have had a profound spiritual significance in Aztec society. 

It was often played during religious festivals and ceremonies, and sometimes even accompanied by gambling or other sacred rituals. 

Patolli was associated with the god Macuilxochitl, the deity of games and music, and playing the game was considered a way of paying tribute and seeking favor from this deity.

Was Patolli banned ?

When the Spanish arrived in the Aztec Empire in the 16th century, they banned the game of Patolli, considering it a pagan practice.

However, the game has survived in some rural areas of Mexico, where it is still played today.

One of the most interesting things about Patolli is that it was not just a game, but a way to connect the Aztec people to their religious beliefs. 

The game was often accompanied by chants and prayers, and it was believed to have a direct connection to the gods.

 The board of Patolli was sometimes adorned with images of the gods, and the game was believed to be a way to communicate with them.

Aztec Chess Patolli - Conclusions

Chess in Aztec civilization was not just a game, but a way to connect with the gods and to express the beliefs and values of the culture.

 Patolli was a unique version of the game, where chance played a more significant role than strategy. The board and the pieces of the game were imbued with religious meaning, and the game was considered a ritual rather than a simple pastime.

Although the game has been banned by the Spanish, it has survived in some areas of Mexico, serving as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the Aztecs. 

Studying the game of Patolli can provide us with valuable insights into the worldview of this ancient civilization and shed light on their fascinating way of life.


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