Heritage100

Norman Tableman

carved walrus-ivory counter

...found down a well on the Isle of Wight in 1732

A carved walrus-ivory counter from a Norman board game, dating from between 1150 and 1199. Sometimes counters like this are known as draughtsman, but it is far more likely that they were used for playing a game called tables, which is why our counter is called a tableman.

Tables was a game similar to backgammon. This tableman features a Norman knight in his mail armour, standing on the drawbridge of a medieval castle. It was found down a well on the Isle of Wight in 1732, made its way to Norwich Castle Museum, and then returned to Carisbrooke Castle Museum on the Isle of Wight in 1960.

This tableman would have probably been one of a set of 30 pieces, so it would have belonged to someone with both wealth and leisure. It has been suggested that this tableman represents Samson from the bible. More than 200 tablemen with figurative designs survive, and many of the designs are based on biblical or mythological subjects.

Quick Facts

  • Made in 1150-1199
  • Made of Walrus ivory
  • Dimensions Diameter 7.1cm, Thickness 1.4cm
  • Style School of St. Albans
  • Found in 1732
  • Found down a well on the Isle of Wight
  • Accession number NETCC: 1985.2963

Facts

  • The game of tables was derived from the Roman game of tabula and a similar Muslim game. The board was comparable to a modern backgammon board and was known as ‘a pair of tables’. Each ‘table’ had six points along its opposite edges. There were many variations of the game, some requiring two dice and some three. All the variations involved moving men along the board according to throws of the dice; single men were vulnerable to capture, but piled men were secure and prevented an opponent from occupying the point.

Did you know?

A complete set of tablemen and a tables board were found in excavations in Gloucester in 1983. There were 30 pieces and they were made of bone and antler rather than ivory. The board was made of wood and bone.

Gallery

carved walrus-ivory counter

Fact Sheets

  • Information about the tables game found at Gloucester can be found in British Archaeology No. 32 March 1998: Letters at www.archaeologyuk.org
  • Tablemen in the V&A can be found on their website at www.vam.ac.uk

Things to Do

  • Why not visit Carisbrooke Castle Museum and see the tableman on display.

    At the Museum and Castle you can also look for features which are on the tableman including: mail armour, helmet, stones used in castle building and Norman windows.

Give us your comments and stories!

Have a story about "Norman Tableman", or simply want to tell us what you think?
Add your thoughts below. You can sign in with Google, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo! to get your story posted straight away - or just post a comment to be published later.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Where is this item?

Why not make a day of it?

Let us help you plan a route and make a visit