Filosofia Cortesana


In 1587 a tratado entitled “La Filosofia Cortesana Moralizada”, was circulated in Spain. The booklet describes the rules of a board game of the same name, Filosofia Cortesana, created by Alonso de Barros (Feros 2002, Martinez Millan 1996). Akin to the modern game titled “Life” or “Chutes and Ladders”, players use pieces to move along the path according to rolls of the die or instructions on the board (Burke 1996, Ruan 2011). The purpose of the game is to show how to survive and advance at court, achieving success among the pitfalls of life as a cortesana (Martinez Millan 1996). The player mimics the progress of an ambitious courtier, handling the ups and downs of their courtly career. The challenges and rewards are reflected in the names of some of the caselle of the game which leads to and ends for the winner at the “Palm of Victory”.


Filosofia Cortesana Class APA


The origin of Filosofia Cortesana is the game called Gioco dell’Oca (Game of the Goose, circa 1570) from Florence:

It is clear that clever men, after the first invention of one thing, adding or changing on the same basic idea, find out other inventions. We know this happened for the Game of the Goose, at the time of our fathers: that game was invented in Florence and, since it was very much appreciated, Francesco de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, decided to send it to his Majesty Philip II of Spain. When it was published there, it gave the opportunity to some smart minds to invent other games little different from the first one, among which there is the game known as Courtly Philosophy, invented by Alonso de Barros from Spain.” – (Carrera 1617, p 25)


The title of the game, Filosofia Cortesana, and the name of the author, Alonso de Barros, are both printed on the board. Filosofia Cortesana is similar to Gioco dell’Oca as they both have 63 numbered cells, arranged in a counter-clockwise circle that spirals inward. Gioco dell’Oca is the oldest dated percourso game in Europe (Carrera 1617). The 63 caselle in Filosofia Cortesana represent “the years of life” (Murray 1952). Instead of oca cells*, there are spaces named for travaglio (work) at numbers 4, 12, 17, 23, 30, 34, 41, 48 and 57. Filosofia Cortesana was presented to Philip II, the King of Spain, as a gift in 1588. The board was so large that de Barros instructed that it be nailed to a permanent table (Martinez Millan 1996).

Pieces called “chips” are used to mark the player on a caselle (Martinez Millan 1996). The chip could be made of metal, bone, or wood just for gaming or it could be a small token, such as a bean, ring, watch, or coin, that identified the player.(Martinez Millan 1996). The player rolls the dice, enters the first space by a “door of public opinion”, and lands on a caselle where he could receive money or be allowed to advance a certain number more (Ruan 2011). Conversely, after a few turns, the player could lose what he had already gained or be made to start the game over at the first space.


Game Board Translation

“Filosofia Cortesana de Alonso de Barros” [Courtly philosophy by Alonso de Barros]. On the left: a dolphin and anchor with writing “Date prisa e espacio” [Hustle and set out or ‘make haste’]. On the right: a female figure with hair half-shaved with writing “No me pierdas” [Do not lose or ruin me].

“Criado del Rey Nuestro Senor/ Con su privilegio/ Con privilegio di Sua Ecc. A per X anni nel Regno di Napoli/ Marius Cartarius inc. Neap 1588” [Created with permission of our Lord the King – With exclusive right by his majesty for ten years in the kingdom of Naples – Engraved by Marius Cartarius -, Naples, 1588]. On the left, before casa 1: “Guarda l’fine” [Watch for the end]. From the swan’s trumpet: “Nosce te Ipsum” [Know thyself]. On the right: a hand points to a clock with writing “Haesta la postrera” [Until the last].

In the Center
At the top on a banner: “Mare di soffrimento / chi pretende hà da soffrire / come chi nasce il morire” – “Mar de suffrimiento/ Quien pretende ha da suffrir/ Como el que nace morir” [The sea of suffering, whoever is ambitious will suffer, just as whoever is born will die]. At the bottom on the right a fisherman that holds a fish in one hand and loses a shoe with the writing: “Mai salirà gran costa / che mira quanto costa “ – “Nunca Subira gran cuesta / Quien mirare lo que cuesta” [He will never gain great heights, who looks at the cost].

To traverse the Caselle/Casa spaces two six-sided dice are required. The youngest goes first. Roll the dice and move your “chip” the same amount of spaces. Follow the directions on the space. For a list of all the original and translated directions on each caselle see my paper here.

*Geese are traditionally printed at spaces 5, 9, 14, 18, 23, 27, 32, 36, 41, 45, 50, 54, 59, and 63 of Gioco dell’Oca


Giata’s Redaction

You Will Need:

  • The game board
  • A pair of six-sided dice
  • A token to represent each player
  • A copy of the translations for each caselle

 If you are playing the gambling version have each player put their wager into a nearby (empty) cup. Whoever wins the game wins the contents of the cup.

If you are playing the drinking version be sure to have consensus on which caselle will require a drink[1].

The youngest goes first. Each player rolls the dice and moves their token the same amount of spaces. The player follows the instructions on the caselle.

When you land on a work space you may advance to the next travaglio caselle before you end your turn, if you are on the last travaglio caselle. When you land on a go to and pay space move your token to the listed caselle.

Buona fortuna!

See the full Filosofia Cortesana KASF Entry for Giata Alberti here.



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