The origin of the word Baccarat
History of the word “Baccarat”
The origin of the word Baccarat cannot be pinned down with complete certainty. As with so many gambling games, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact time and place. However, both Italy and France have a foot in the door regarding the word. Baccarat, in fact, means “zero” in both languages.
To shine a light on this, it’s important to examine the word’s history. And how it eventually became tied to the game of chance with cards as we know it today.
The Romans and the word Baccarat
As is so often the case, you have to go to the Romans for the origin of a word. To expand their empire, they were in constant battle with other peoples. In Northern Europe, these were mainly Germanic tribes. Rivers were especially important to the Romans as crossing points. For example, in the year 254 a major battle against “barbarians” occurred. The Romans were forced to give up settlements along the Rhine.
However, they managed to push back the barbarians. Then, around 260, they built a bridge near the river Meurthe (in France). A fortress with about 600 Roman soldiers was built to defend this bridge. Around the fort, there also arose some houses. This settlement was given the name Bacchi-ara. This is quite close to the word Baccarat.
Some sources refer to the riches of the fort Bacchi-ara. It is, therefore, interesting to look at why it received this name. For example, a link is to be made with the Arabic word baqarat. This means cows. Cows were widely used as a means of exchange and therefore associated with wealth. The French word baccara can also refer to cattle and wealth, but in this case, the word means “nothing at all.
Perhaps some of the treasures of the Romans were kept in Bacchi-ara. During excavations around this area, many coins were found. Some of these are the oldest Roman coins ever found. It is difficult to imagine that the name came about by chance. Therefore, the word Baccarat has traditionally been associated with riches.
The first mention of Baccarat
The empire of the Romans also came to an end. Nevertheless, bacchi-ara continued to develop even after the Romans. It initially went from being densely populated to sparsely populated during this period. However, for the settlement, a time of wealth came again. In those days, wealth did not always mean money, but mainly serfs, estates, and livestock.
The year is 1200, and the area’s power falls to one family. The family members call themselves De Salm, Van Lorraine, and De Blamont. They own several estates, including castles and the civil county of Deneuvre. In 1291, after a war, a treaty was drawn up. This was between Bishop Bouchard d’Avesnes and Ferry of Lorraine. This treaty contains the first mention of the word Baccarat. ”I (Ferry) must return to the bishop – to the castle in Deneuvre, called Baccarat.”
Baccarat as a Settlement
After the treaty, the former Roman settlement on the Meurthe River continues to grow. For the serfs of Henry de Blamont, working in Deneuvre, there were houses in Baccarat. Over the years, documents have mentioned other variants of the word, for example, in 1310 Baccquarat, 1314 Bakaroit, 1353 Backarrat, 1407 Baccareat, and in 1433 Baccaratum.
There is also a parallel here with the various names of the card game Baccarat. The settlement had a whirlwind history in which ownership of the area changed hands several times. An area that can now be found in peace in the east of France. But how exactly did the settlement end?
From bridge to the village
The name given to the settlement in 1332 is Baccarat. This is when the bishop of Metz, Aldémar de Montil, buys over a tower and part of the area. He does this from Henry III de Blamont. The tower, a remnant of the Roman fortress, was named Tour de Bacha. Near the tower, the bishop had a castle built which he named Little Baccarat.
A village also arose in the area named Baccarat. The current residents of the town, therefore, consider Aldémar to be the founder. From bridge and fortress to settlement for serfs, castle and village. The Roman bridge was unfortunately lost in a flood in 1656. But, on the other hand, parts of the tower can still be admired.
The card game Baccarat
The word has an interesting history and takes you through the Roman Empire and successive landowners. But what about the card game Baccarat? There are two conflicting theories on this one. One side placed it in Italy in the 15th century. The theory goes that it was then brought to France by Italian soldiers.
Historians on the other side of the conflict point to the earliest mention of Baccarat as a card game. This appeared in 1847. Several variants often appear in the history of card games, each with its own name. Then it comes together to form a common name that becomes known to the wider public.
The first stop on the journey to the origins of the card game Baccarat in ancient Italy. Here, Tarot cards instead of regular cards were used for the game. This game occurred in the Middle Ages and was based on a myth. A blonde maiden had to roll a nine-sided die to determine her fate in the myth.
Nine gods watched her do this. The virgin would become a high priest upon rolling an eight or a nine. A six or seven meant she would be banned from future religious gatherings. At a five or less, it was her fate to walk into the sea.
The theory goes that a version of this myth-based game ended up in France in the late 15th century. Probably brought by Italian soldiers. In France, this game was known as Baccarat and Banque and Chemin de Fer. The card game was especially popular with French aristocrats. Because these were mostly aristocrats, it was not only important to possess a lot of wealth. A person’s lineage was also a factor in their status.
This aristocratic element spread throughout Europe, and Baccarat gained an elite connection. And while the assumption with big money and status is still partially prevalent, thankfully, that connection has been diluted. Thus, anyone, regardless of background, can play Baccarat.
The Village of Baccarat
The step from ancient Italy to today is perhaps still too big. To clarify that, a return to the village of Baccarat is necessary. This time around 1450. Around this time, the village derives its income mainly from wine and tailors. The following period is again economically depressed. Many people find themselves without work after the Eighty Years’ War. However, a bishop comes up with the idea of glassworks and proposes it to King Louis the Fifteenth. The king gave permission and in 1764 an art glass factory is established in Baccarat. The production of window and drinking glasses began.
The crystal of Baccarat
The success of the factory did not go unnoticed. Surrounding places also began producing glass, and competition increased. Finally, the manufacturers of Baccarat decided to switch to the production of crystal. The crystal glasses produced were a luxury product intended for nobles and wealthy merchants.
At the beginning of the 19th century, Baccarat became a name strongly associated with high-quality crystals. A crystal popular with every aristocrat in France – and a crystal that could be used in gambling games.
Crystal and card
At the beginning of the 19th century, gambling games rose in popularity. This quickly led to the versatility and convenience of card games in domestic spheres. During this period, gambling was illegal. But, since the aristocrats had plenty of money anyway, perhaps they found other symbols of wealth to bet with.
Perhaps literal symbols of wealth like crystal. And since crystal was virtually synonymous with the word Baccarat, there could be an origin there for the connection. The word means wealth or as a literal reference to wealth in the form of crystal.
Italy or France?
The exact origins of the game Baccarat are subject to many questions. The game about a myth played with tarot cards as the Italians knew it differed from its current form. But as with just about all card games, many variants can be found, and each variant builds on a predecessor. Similarly, a game from Italy can be adopted by the French.
The tarot cards then gave way to regular cards. A twist was put on the game, and new rules were introduced. Each area has its own modifications to the rules and bares a different name. It is quite possible that it came to France from Italy. Born in Italy and raised in France. What is clear is that Baccarat has since become extremely popular in Europe and throughout the world.
Baccarat is a casino game
From time immemorial, therefore, Baccarat has been connected to big money. This used to be in the form of aristocrats who owned luxury crystal. Later, that link remained there. In casinos, there is a lot of money involved. In Macau, a special administrative area of China, Baccarat accounts for 92 percent of the total revenue of all casino games each year. This amounted to over 45 billion in revenue in 2013.
So the popularity of Baccarat and the revenue for casinos are enormous. This also says something about the accessibility of Baccarat. Even in Dutch online casinos, there is plenty of opportunities to play it. Even for novice players, it is easy to get into. Where the game was once for nobility, it is now also for anyone who doesn’t have blue blood.
Conclusions on the word Baccarat
The origin of the word Baccarat lies in all probability with the village of the same name. This began as a Roman settlement: a bridge and a fort to defend it. After changing hands several times, it eventually became known for the production of crystal glass. There is a connection to wealth with both the word Baccarat itself and the village. Not surprisingly, it was mainly played by aristocrats at the time. Because of them, the card game came into being as we know it today.
It is possible that it was based on a card game that originated in Italy. Baccarat remains largely shrouded in mystery for the time being. However, the stories that have emerged from it are endlessly fascinating. The riches of history can become the riches of the present. Give it a shot.