The Philosophers' Game

Rithmomachia in Medieval and Renaissance Europe with an Edition of Ralph Lever and William Fulke, The Most Noble, Auncient, and Learned Playe(1563)
Ann E. Moyer
An exploration of the history of a mathematical board game played in medieval and Renaissance Europe


In The Philosophers' Game, Ann E. Moyer invites us to engage with the forgotten chess-like game Rithmomachia ("The Battle of Numbers"), which combined the pleasures of gaming with mathematical study and moral education. Intellectuals of the medieval and Renaissance periods who played this game were not only seeking to master the principles of Boethian mathematics but were striving to improve their own understanding of the secrets of the cosmos.

The Philosophers' Game, which includes a complete, illustrated Elizabethan rulebook, examines the nature and importance of the game's appeal as well as some of the reasons why it faded into obscurity. Rithmomachia enjoyed a last wave of popularity during the Renaissance before the early Scientific Revolution led to its disappearance. The demise of Rithmomachia forms part of the great transformation of fields of learning and the classification of knowledge that marked the final dissolution of the quadrivium among the traditional liberal arts.

The Philosophers' Game will interest anyone who studies the history of science, mathematics, or education in medieval and Renaissance Europe; the intellectual or cultural history of those eras; or the histories of games, sports, and leisure. It will also interest scholars interested in astrology and magic.

Ann E. Moyer is Assistant Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania.

Praise / Awards

  • ". . . a study of a little-known, but fascinating cultural phenomenon, and an insightful history of the sciences at the medieval and Renaissance university."
    Renaissance Quarterly
  • "In this book, Ann E. Moyer offers the reader a study of the games people played during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. . . . [She] focuses on rithmomachia in the context of medieval and Renaissance education and thereby provides a valuable study of both the history of education and of science."
    Sixteenth Century Journal
  • "In tracing the rise and fall of this curious game . . . Moyer also explores the relationship between mathematics and morality, the role of games like rithmomachia in education, and the continuity of the quadrivium from the medieval period to the Renaissance. . . . The Philosophers' Game is far more than a history of a strange and obsolete game and of the tiny group of Europeans who found it compelling. Moyer clearly demonstrates the vitality and longevity of the quadrivium and its intellectual foundations, challenging those scholars of early-modern science who are accustomed to seeing the quadrivium as a foil for the scientific revolution. Indeed, her arguments for the flexibility and adaptability of the quadrivium over centuries might leave readers wondering why it could not cope with the curricular and intellectual innovations of the early modern period. This is an important question that would merit further study, particularly in light of recent work on mathematics and seventeenth-century science. Nonetheless, Moyer's exploration of the continuities and changes within this five-hundred-year scholarly educational tradition makes this delightful little book a worthy contribution to the histories of mathematics, games, universities, and natural philosophy in medieval and Renaissance Europe."

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Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 216pp.
  • 20 drawings, 15 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11228-9

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  • $89.95 U.S.