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Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game - Wibold and His World

Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University)

Wibold and His World

The chronicler Balderic (c. 1017-1095), in his history of what is today northern France, introduced Wibold and his Canonical Game in this way  [2, Chapter 88]:

Wibold, Archdeacon of the church at Noyon, a man evidently given sufficient instruction as much in secular as in ecclesiastic studies succeeds [upon the death of Ansbert]. Accordingly he has skillfully constructed a canonical game for the clerics who are fond of dice games. Namely, by exercising themselves with learned leisure, they may become accustomed to overcome vices with charity, and evade a worldly and quarrelsome form of dicing.

Balderic included a lengthy description by Wibold himself of the aims and rules of his game, which we shall present in succeeding pages.

Little is known of Wibold's life. He was born at Cambrai toward the beginning of the 10th century. As archdeacon of Noyon, he supervised and had the power to discipline the clergy of the diocese. The unified acclaim of the people and its clergy caused him to be recommended in 965 for the bishopric of Cambrai and Arras. His position was accepted by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I without difficulty. However, Wibold believed that he needed to take himself to Otto in order to receive some sort of investiture. So he traveled to Italy at the height of the summer of 966. It was there that Otto presented to him authority over Cambrai, an office which then remained in Wibold's family for generations. Unfortunately, the strain of this travel was too much for him and he died shortly after returning to Cambrai [1].

Cambrai, where Wibold was born and named bishop, is located in northern France near today's border with Belgium in a region then known as French Flanders. To the northwest lies Arras and, ultimately, the Straight of Dover at Calais. Noyon, which lies approximately midway between Cambrai and Paris, was an important city in Wibold's day – Charlemagne was crowned at its cathedral in 768; Hugh, first in the House of Capet, received his crown there as King of the Franks in 987.

All was not calm in mid-tenth century northern France. Charlemagne's empire had collapsed by this time. During the previous century, the Norse had invaded and ravaged Noyon and Cambrai. Magyars entered the region from central Europe, burning villages surrounding Cambrai in 954. But despite these problems, Cambrai and Arras both thrived as centers of trade.

Otto I, who defeated the Magyars in 955, was crowned Holy Roman Emperor by Pope John XII at Rome in 962. The region about Cambrai then became part of his empire. To establish his influence, Otto granted the bishop at Cambrai temporal powers over the city. In 1007, during the reign of Henry II, it became a small state within the empire and was governed by its bishop.

This period marked a low point for the Church and papacy in Europe. Political corruption within the Church led to calls for significant reform. One such movement was led by St. Odo, who became abbot at Cluny in 927. Odo's reforms spread throughout France, Italy, Spain and England. An important aspect of these reforms was to remove interference by the local rulers in the monasteries. Nonetheless, for several centuries thereafter rulers throughout Europe successfully manipulated bishops and popes for political gain.

Note on Sources

Our source for Wibold's game is a history of the bishoprics of Arras and Cambrai, communities in northern France. The history was compiled by a certain Balderic or Baudri (Latin Baldericus, c. 1017 - c. 1097), who was known as cantor of Thérouanne [3]. His work, Chronicon Cameracense et Atrebatense (Chronicle of Cambrai and Arras), covered the period from the time of Julius Caesar to the year 1075. It was first printed in the year 1615 [2]  under the editorship of George Colvener (1564 - 1649), a Flemish theologian who was provost and chancellor at the University of Douay. In 1834 a new edition was published based upon a comparison of three manuscripts by André Le Glay [13]. The following year a French translation by Faverot and Petit appeared as Chronique de Balderic [16]. The best edition is that found in Monumenta Germaniæ Historica VII (series editor Georg Pertz, 1846) where it is entitled "Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium," edited by Ludwig Bethmann [4].

Richard Pulskamp (Xavier University) and Daniel Otero (Xavier University), "Wibold's Ludus Regularis, a 10th Century Board Game - Wibold and His World," Loci (June 2014)