From Babylonians to Boardgames

September 6, 2009

What do the movement of the Earth around the Sun has in common with boardgames like Settlers of Catan? That’s what I found and thought it would be interesting to share.

All this started when I read two following paragraphs talking one about the 360 degrees of a circle and the 365 days of a year the later, I immediately thought that maybe there was a relationship between them and did a little research on the internet.

It turns out that many people say there is a relationship and many more accredited say it’s just a coincidence, but if you read with attention you will notice that it may be a relationship, perhaps not a very direct one, but certainly some type of it.

According to this is all just a coincidence, but as we start to read different sources we can find references to the sexagesimal system developed (or at least used) by the Babylonians and many different theories of how they got to develop it, like in here or here and most interestingly in here, also relating all this to why we have 24 hours in a day and 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute.

All these has several sources backing it up and is widely accepted, but the relationship exists, and let me tell you why: Is not from the Earth movement around the Sun but the other way around, it’s from having a circle divided into 360 pieces and the proximity of that number with the 365+ days of the year. In ancient times is very common to find calendars of 360 days divided into 12 months of 30 days. Knowing ancient cultures and more noticeably the Greeks we know that they have the circle and the sphere as the “perfect” shapes, and combining it with the idea of beginning and end joining at the same point, is not hard to relate that shape with the recording of Time.

And when we look at how astronomers believed the cosmos was shaped, besides believing the Earth was in the center, all of them, until Kepler found the truth, thought that the planets moved in “perfect” circles, and the days are just how many times the Earth rotate on its own axis while traveling around the Sun, a travel that takes a little bit more than 360 of these rotations.

But the paper that impressed me the most was this one which makes a geometric relation between a circle and an hexagon, and from there is that we can relate it with boardgames like Settlers of Catan, as this type of games uses the properties of the hexagon in deciding player movements, because contrary to a square board any hexagon in which you are is at the same distance of any other one in the board no matter the road you choose.

It’s very interesting how, from ancient times and still in today’s world, we are still influenced and ruled by mathematical and astronomical notions even in the smaller things. Perhaps it will amaze you even more if you try to pay attention to little things of every day life like this. As for me, I think I’m going to start ordering my pizzas in 6 or 12 slices instead of 8, you know, for diet’s sake 😉