"The Merels Board Enigma. With the worldwide census" (Marisa Uberti -Translate by Gianluca Toro)

 (from my last omonimous essay [1])

The literature leads us to put in evidence two important schools of thought: the one that considers the Merels Board a game and the one that considers it a symbol. Now, after many years of research, we think that one cannot investigate without considering both the aspects, that cross and complement each other. In antiquity and also afterwards in the learned élites, the ability and strategy games weren’t ever played with levity. "Each game represents a problem of knowledge for which we have to find a suitable solution", Josè Luis Echeveste writes in the "Las claves ocultas de los juegos" (The hidden keys of the games). We’ll better consider it in the course of this essay.

In Italy, the research meant to investigate the Merels Board is in full development, especially with regard to the symbolic aspect, representing one of its values. But it’s very probable that he who was on the point to put the term "Triplice Cinta" (as the Italians call the Merels Board of type a) in the modern virtual search in the web, invariably runs into the few websites (among which there is ours) dealing with it. Nevertheless, it’s enough to move in the ludible field to warrant better results. Making a virtue of necessity, one has therefore to enclose a certain dose of cunning, keeping in mind that our subject is known more as a gaming table [2] than as a potentially sacred symbol. Thus, one has to set up the searching with the criteria taught by the experience. In fact, different names have been popularly attributed in Italy to the Merels Board (type a): filetto, mulino, mulinello, smerelli, trija, grissia or marredda (this latter in Sicily). And who knows with how many other epithets it is known at a regional level or in even more little human aggregations. Then, in foreign countries the name is notably different, passing from French merelle to English Nine men’s morris and to the German Műhlerbrett, while in Spain Merels Board is locally called alquerque de nueve ("square of nine") and the Italian "tris" and "alquerque" are called respectively alquerque de tres ("square of three", see type b) and alquerque de doce ("square of twelve", see type c), on the ground of the number of pieces employed in the game and the adopted rules. It’s to be noticed that to put three pieces in line, aim of the little merels game or tres-en-raya for the Spanish, foresees for these latter to say in a loud voice the Trinity names. Clearly there have to be a hidden reason for this (see chapter 3 paragraph 7).

Even if it seems a negligible fact, the etymology is of basic importance, because if one searches for a word instead of another, one runs the risk of finding absolutely anything and thinking that no one attends to the Merels Board, while things are different at all. In order to find the higher possible number of data, it’s therefore very useful to know the denominations given locally to the Italian "filetto", because unexpected worlds will be opened by searching with the right word. The only care is to translate the respective works written in English, Spanish, French or German, but with a good dose of will and good dictionaries it will certainly not be a big obstacle to "knowledge".


                      a                                           b                                             c


From 2008, one of the most important novelties has been the design of a further instrument for data collection (besides the bibliographic and field research), in the form of a blank to be filled in, through which a feed-back between the undersigned and my website readers has been set up. Here follows the blank fac-simile.


                 MERELS BOARD CENSUS

Attention: in case of more than one located exemplar, fill in a corresponding number of blanks and send them to the e-mail  info@duepassinelmistero.com

Personal data of the signaller

Christian and family name:…………………………………………..............................................

Contact (email and/or telephone number):………….…………………………………………….

Data on the finding


Province:…………………………………. Region:…......……………………………………….  Nation (if different from Italy):…………………………………………………………………...

Kind of building: Civil Religious Other (specify):…………………………………………….

Brief description of the context (optional but welcome):….…………………………………...

Position of the Merels Board: Horizontal Vertical Other (specify):..…….…………..……..……...


Photo(s) and/or drawing(s) enclosed . Yes No

In the first case, send the photo(s) separately with a maximum size of 200 KB each)

If the photo(s) or the drawing(s) isn’t (aren’t) clear enough, it’s indispensable to specify if the exemplar has less than 3, 3 or more than 3 concentric squares:…………………………..and if it has Diagonals Central hole Other (specify):……………………..…

Near presence of other engravings/graffiti or graphic characters (symbols, numbers, letters, marks, etc.: Yes No

In the first case, which ones? Description:……………………………………………………

Are there local oral witnesses of persons that remember having played with the Merels Board? Yes No I don’t know

Are the specific local names for this scheme? Yes No

In the first case, which ones? List:………………………………………..

Further free notes:………..



The blank can be downloaded from this website  and can be accompanied by other iconographic material. In different cases, the signaller has showed a remarkable competence, inserting data not even foreseen in the blank and/or personal impressions evoked by the finding place, historic news, etc., showing an enthusiastic involving in the present study.

This essay is made up by two parts and two Appendices. More than half is represented by the world-wide census, an integral cataloguing work that represents an absolute novelty since, until today, there were only partial inventories. Moreover, for the first time a statistical analysis with graphs is presented, allowing to set the starting point for the study on the subject, from which to continue for future updatings.

  • The first part consists in four chapters. In the first one, a complex, detailed and laborious research is presented, focused on the available archaeological witnesses, aimed at throwing light upon the past and the different cultures which have enlivened it, making fall some "commonplaces" about the dating, notable but not too much, of such not figurative and very spread scheme both in rock-art and architecture. In the following chapters we’ll inquire into the folds of the European Middle Ages, when the symbolic game knew its greatest awakening but also the risk of the stake and we’ll try to understand the reasons. Then we’ll get to the heart of an old matter regarding the Templars, visiting the Castle of Chinon where, instead of certainties, many doubts have risen. In the third chapter we have considered numerous contexts in which it is clear that this ludible scheme has assumed powerful symbolic meanings, much more important than it’s believed. What does the Merels Board has to do with the death of Christ? Why a Knight of St. John made accurately paint eighty Merels Boards on his own sepulchre, and what’s more intercalated by a mysterious saying? Why the chamberlain of the King of France, Philippe-du-Moulin, made it to be immured in the walls of his own castle in Sologne? And why we find a Merels Board, in vertical, on the throne where 32 sovereigns of the Sacred Roman Empire were crowned? Why it is called "the perfect game of god" in Sri-Lanka? Why we find manifold concentric squares on the bath containers of the new-born babies of the Fulani tribe of Nigeria? These and other questions wait to be discovered and clarified through the pages of this book. The chapter IV is dedicated to the anthropological aspect, as well as to the conservation and protection problem of the engraved Merels Boards. At the end, in the last part of the chapter we’ll consider how the Merels Board has been appropiately renewed until to come to our days, when (not considering the ludible use) survives as a recurrent decorative element, apparently unnoticed but as a subliminal message.
  • The second part is integrally dedicated to the world-wide census. This latter has been carried out thanks to both the bibliography and our investigations on the spot, but also to discoveries of different persons. The data are presented in a series of tables, in which exemplars of Merels Board, with its variants, have been reported along with little merels, alquerque, circular and like chess-board gaming-tables, or formed by cup-marks, where they have been pointed out as linked with the Merel Boards. Table 1 concerns Africa, with the few exemplars we have been able to locate; Table 2 and Table 2bis concern North and South America, respectively; Table 3 concerns Asia and the Middle East; Table 4 concerns Europe (Italy excluded); Table 5 exclusively concerns Italy, that has absolutely revealed the highest number of exemplars. Each table is composed by 6 columns, corresponding to the following data: 8
  • Nation (for Italy, in the first column, it will be found the name of the Region)
  • Locality
  • Site, that’s to say the context and the kind of surface on which the Merels Board is represented;
  • Position, that’s to say horizontal, vertical, oblique, etc.;
  • Type/Model, along with the corresponding image for each context and accompanied by the reference number to be consulted in the corresponding Appendix 1. 100 models numbered from 00 to 99, have been listed; the model number is precede by the number of exemplars found in that context (if the exemplar is single, no number has been reported);
  • Association with similar engravings and/or graffiti or other characteristic elements to point out. The numerous cases of "unknown" exemplars or positions are due to the fact that no further information about them has been found other than the data reported in the bibliography. The reader will notice that the data completeness, in many cases comprising numeric measures and other details, corresponds to an active field research.

  • Appendix 1 gathers all the models from number 00 to number 99.
  • Appendix 2 is reserved for the graphs and the statistical analysis, both from the qualitative and the quantitative point of view, allowing acquiring a concise frame of the present situation of the research. How many Merels Board are there in the world? How many ones are there only in Europe or in Italy? Which is the prevailing model? Which is the most frequent position one can found? Which are the contexts where the highest number of Merels Boards has been found? These are some of the data that we have tried to make explicit by means of the graphs. 11 graphs concerning the entire world (part A), only Europe (part B) and only Italy (part C) are involved.

The References have been put at the end of each table, so to make easy their consultation. These "notes" report all the reference sources for a given exemplar, being they literary, from the web, investigations on the spot or discoveries of third party persons, these latter singularly receiving our thanks. The final bibliography/webgraphy refers to some useful work to undertake the study of the Merels Board.

In the text were intercalated some boxes to point out some concepts or deepen other. They are distinguished by a different colour for each chapter.


[1] See the dedicated page. Also available in e-Book format

[2]The goal is to put three pieces in a row (vertical, horizontal or diagonal). The players are two, each with nine pieces of a colour different from that of the opponent. The game starts putting the pieces outside the game board. In turn, the challengers put the first piece anywhere on the game board, where the lines joining the three concentric squares cross or at the vertex. They go on in this way, considering that they will mind both blocking the attempts of the opponent in putting three pieces in a row and putting them by himself always in a row, thus arranging a tris. If the player will succeed in putting three contiguous pieces in any direction allowed by the scheme, he will be able to catch ("eat") a piece of the opponent. This latter will not be able to place again such piece on the game board anymore. The tris so obtained can no longer be effaced. The pieces can be moved according to precise rules, on an intersection or on a free adjacent vertex. When a player remains with only three pieces, he is allowed to move the piece in any position, also not adjacent to the starting position. The winner will be the player who will be able in leaving the opponent with less than three pieces that can be moved.

Argomento: The Merels Board Enigma



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