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Card player with Austrian tarot cards (Industrie und Gluck pattern) Tarockkarten in der Hand eines Spielers.jpg
Card player with Austrian tarot cards ( Industrie und Glück pattern)
Trumps of the Tarot de Marseilles, a standard 18th-century playing card pack, later also used for divination Print, playing-card (BM 1904,0511.47.1-78 3).jpg
Trumps of the Tarot de Marseilles, a standard 18th-century playing card pack, later also used for divination

The tarot ( /ˈtær/ , first known as trionfi and later as tarocchi or tarocks) is a pack of playing cards, used from at least the mid-15th century in various parts of Europe to play card games such as Tarocchini. From their Italian roots, tarot playing cards spread to most of Europe evolving into a family of games that includes German Grosstarok and more recent games such as French Tarot and Austrian Königrufen which are still played today. In the late 18th century, French occultists began to make elaborate, but unsubstantiated, claims about their history and meaning, leading to the emergence of custom decks for use in divination via tarot card reading and cartomancy. [1] Thus there are two distinct types of tarot pack: those used for playing games and those used for divination. However, some older patterns, such as the Tarot de Marseille, originally intended for playing card games, have also been used for cartomancy.


Like the common playing cards, tarot has four suits which vary by region: French suits are used in western, central and eastern Europe, Latin suits in southern Europe. Cartomantic packs have their own symbols derived from the Latin suits. Each suit has 14 cards: ten pip cards numbering from one (or Ace) to ten, and four face cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Jack/Knave/Page). In addition, the tarot has a separate 21-card trump suit and a single card known as the Fool. Depending on the game, the Fool may act as the top trump or may be played to avoid following suit. [2] These tarot cards are still used throughout much of Europe to play conventional card games without occult associations.

Among English-speaking countries where these games are not widely played, only specially designed cartomantic tarot cards are readily available and they are used primarily for novelty and divinatory purposes. [2] The early French occultists claimed that tarot cards had esoteric links to ancient Egypt, the Kabbalah, Indic Tantra, or the I Ching and these claims have been frequently repeated by authors on card divination ever since. However, scholarly research has demonstrated that tarot cards were invented in northern Italy in the mid-15th century and confirmed that there is no historical evidence of the use of tarot cards for divination until the late 18th century. [2] [3] In the occult tradition, tarot cards are referred to as 'arcana'; with the Fool and 21 trumps being termed the Major Arcana and the suit cards the Minor Arcana. [4] However, these terms are not used by players of tarot card games.

Tarot cards, then known as tarocchi, first appeared in Ferrara and Milan in northern Italy, with a Fool and 21 trumps (then called trionfi ) being added to the standard Italian pack of four suits: batons, coins, cups and swords. [5] Scholarship has established that the early European cards were probably based on the Egyptian Mamluk deck which followed the invention of paper from Asia into Western Europe and was invented in or before the 14th century. [6] By the late 1300's Europeans were producing their own cards, the earliest patterns being based on the Mamluk deck but with variations to the suit symbols and court cards. [6]


The use of tarot playing cards was at one time widespread across the whole of Europe with the exceptions of the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula. Having fallen into decline by the 20th century, in recent decades they have experienced a renaissance in some countries and regions. For example, French Tarot was largely confined to Provence in the 18th century, but took off in the 1950s to such an extent that, in 1973, the French Tarot Association (Fédération Française de Tarot) was formed and French Tarot itself is now the second most popular card game in France. [7] [8] Tarock games like Königrufen have experienced significant growth in Austria where international tournaments are held with other nations especially from eastern Europe that still play such games, including Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. [9] Denmark appears to be the only Scandinavian country that still plays tarot games, [9] Danish Tarok being a derivative of historical German Grosstarock. The game of Cego is growing in popularity again in the south German region of Baden. [9] Italy continues to play regionally popular games with their distinctive packs. These include: Ottocento in Bologna and Sicilian Tarocchi in parts of Sicily. [9] Meanwhile Troccas and Troggu are still played locally in parts of Switzerland. [9]


Milanese tarocchi, c. 1500 Tarot-cary-collection-ita-sheet-3s-c1500..jpg
Milanese tarocchi, c. 1500

Playing cards first entered Europe in the late 14th century, but the origin is unknown. The first records date to 1367 in Berne and they appear to have spread very rapidly across the whole of Europe, as may be seen from the records, mainly of card games being banned. [10] [11] [12] Little is known about the appearance and number of these cards; the only significant information being provided by a text by John of Rheinfelden in 1377 from Freiburg im Breisgau, who, in addition to other versions describes the basic pack as containing the still-current 4 suits of 13 cards, the courts usually being the King, Ober and Unter ("marshals"), although Dames and Queens were already known by then.

One early pattern of playing cards that evolved was one with the suits of Batons or Clubs, Coins, Swords, and Cups. These suits are still used in traditional Italian, Spanish and Portuguese playing card decks, and are also used in modern (occult) tarot divination cards that first appeared in the late 18th century. [13]

The first documented tarot decks were recorded between 1440 and 1450 in Milan, Ferrara, Florence and Bologna when additional trump cards with allegorical illustrations were added to the common four-suit pack. These new decks were called carte da trionfi, triumph cards, and the additional cards known simply as trionfi, which became "trumps" in English. The earliest documentation of trionfi is found in a written statement in the court records of Florence, in 1440, regarding the transfer of two decks to Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta. [14] [15]

The oldest surviving tarot cards are the 15 or so Visconti-Sforza tarot decks painted in the mid-15th century for the rulers of the Duchy of Milan. [16] A lost tarot-like pack was commissioned by Duke Filippo Maria Visconti and described by Martiano da Tortona probably between 1418 and 1425, since the painter he mentions, Michelino da Besozzo, returned to Milan in 1418, while Martiano himself died in 1425. He described a 60-card deck with 16 cards having images of the Roman gods and suits depicting four kinds of birds. The 16 cards were regarded as "trumps" since in 1449 Jacopo Antonio Marcello recalled that the now deceased duke had invented a novum quoddam et exquisitum triumphorum genus, or "a new and exquisite kind of triumphs". [17] Other early decks that also showcased classical motifs include the Sola-Busca and Boiardo-Viti decks of the 1490s. [2]

In Florence, an expanded deck called Minchiate was used. This deck of 97 cards includes astrological symbols and the four elements, as well as traditional tarot motifs. [2]

Although a Dominican preacher inveighed against the evil inherent in cards (chiefly owing to their use in gambling) in a sermon in the 15th century, [18] no routine condemnations of tarot were found during its early history. [2]

Because the earliest tarot cards were hand-painted, the number of the decks produced is thought to have been small. It was only after the invention of the printing press that mass production of cards became possible. The expansion of tarot outside of Italy, first to France and Switzerland, occurred during the Italian Wars. The most prominent tarot deck version used in these two countries was the Tarot of Marseilles of Milanese origin. [2]


Three cards from a Visconti-Sforza tarot deck: Ace of cups, Queen of coins and the Knight of batons Viscontisforzatarot.jpg
Three cards from a Visconti-Sforza tarot deck: Ace of cups, Queen of coins and the Knight of batons

The word "tarot" [19] and German Tarock derive from the Italian Tarocchi, the origin of which is uncertain but taroch was used as a synonym for foolishness in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. [20] [21] The decks were known exclusively as Trionfi during the fifteenth century. The new name first appeared in Brescia around 1502 as Tarocho. [22] During the 16th century, a new game played with a standard deck but sharing a very similar name (Trionfa) was quickly becoming popular. This coincided with the older game being renamed tarocchi. [2] In modern Italian, the singular term is Tarocco, which, as a noun, refers to a cultivar of blood orange. The attribute Tarocco and the verb Taroccare are used regionally to indicate that something is fake or forged. This meaning is directly derived from the tarocchi game as played in Italy, in which tarocco indicates a card that can be played in place of another card. [23] [24]

Playing card decks

A French tarot game in session Joueurs de tarot.JPG
A French tarot game in session

The original purpose of tarot cards was to play games. A very cursory explanation of rules for a tarot-like deck is given in a manuscript by Martiano da Tortona before 1425. Vague descriptions of game play or game terminology follow for the next two centuries until the earliest known complete description of rules for a French variant in 1637. [25] The game of tarot has many regional variations. Tarocchini has survived in Bologna and there are still others played in Piedmont and Sicily, but in Italy the game is generally less popular than elsewhere.

The 18th century saw tarot's greatest revival, during which it became one of the most popular card games in Europe, played everywhere except Ireland and Britain, the Iberian peninsula, and the Ottoman Balkans. [26] French tarot experienced another revival beginning in the 1970s and France has the strongest tarot gaming community. Regional tarot games—often known as tarock, tarok, or tarokk—are widely played in central Europe within the borders of the former Austro-Hungarian empire.

Italian-suited decks

Tarocco Piemontese: the Fool card The Fool with zero, from Vergnano Tarot (cropped).jpg
Tarocco Piemontese: the Fool card

These were the oldest form of tarot deck to be made, being first devised in the 15th century in northern Italy. Three decks of this category are still used to play certain games:

Italo-Portuguese-suited deck

The Tarocco Siciliano is the only deck to use the so-called Portuguese suit system which uses Spanish pips but intersects them like Italian pips. [27] Some of the trumps are different such as the lowest trump, Miseria (destitution). It omits the Two and Three of coins, and numerals one to four in clubs, swords and cups: it thus has 64 cards but the ace of coins is not used, being the bearer of the former stamp tax. The cards are quite small and not reversible.[9]

French-suited decks

The illustrations of French-suited tarot trumps depart considerably from the older Italian-suited design, abandoning the Renaissance allegorical motifs. With the exception of novelty decks, French-suited tarot cards are almost exclusively used for card games. The first generation of French-suited tarots depicted scenes of animals on the trumps and were thus called "Tiertarock" ('Tier' being German for 'animal') appeared around 1740. Around 1800, a greater variety of decks were produced, mostly with genre art or veduta. The German states used to produce a variety of 78-card tarot packs, originally using Italian suits, but later switching to French suited cards; some were imported to France. Today, there are only two: both are French-suited patterns of Cego packs - the Cego Adler pack manufactured by ASS Altenburger and one with genre scenes by F.X. Schmid, which may reflect the mainstream German cards of the 19th century. Current French-suited tarot decks come in these patterns:

German 'Tarock' cards

From the late 18th century, the south German states manufactured German-suited packs labelled 'Taroc', 'Tarock' or 'Deutsch-Tarok'. Today these survive as 'Schafkopf/Tarock' packs of the Bavarian and Franconian pattern. These are not true tarot packs, but standard 36-card German-suited decks for games like German Tarok, Bauerntarock, Württemberg Tarock and Bavarian Tarock. Until the 1980s there were also Tarock packs in the Württemberg pattern. There are 36 cards; the pip cards ranging from 6 to 10, Under Knave ( Unter ), Over Knave ( Ober ), King, and Ace. These use Ace-Ten ranking, like Klaverjas, where Ace is the highest followed by 10, King, Ober, Unter, then 9 to 6. The heart suit is the default trump suit. [2] The Bavarian pack is also used to play Schafkopf by excluding the Sixes.

Spanish-suited decks

Spanish-suited playing cards have four suits, and a deck is usually made up of 40 or 48 cards (or even up to 52 in the oldest versions). It is categorized as a Latin-suited deck and has strong similarities with the Italian-suited deck as both were derived directly from the Mamluk cards. The oldest mentions date back to the 14th century making it one of the oldest in Europe.

Spanish-suited cards are used in Spain, southern Italy, parts of France, Hispanic America, North Africa, and the Philippines. The four suits are bastos (clubs), oros (literally "golds", that is, golden coins), copas (cups) and espadas (swords). However, the suits vary in style depending on the region and time. The following patterns (and their suits) are derived from the oldest Spanish-suited deck: the castillian pattern, the Spanish national pattern (old Catalan pattern), the new Catalan pattern, Franco-Spanish pattern (Suit Piacentine and Suit Romagnole), Madrid pattern (Suit Sicilian and Suit Neapolitan), Sardinian pattern and the extinct Portuguese pattern.

Like the Italian-suited tarot, the deck is used for both game playing and cartomancy. The Spanish deck has been widely considered to be part of the occult in many Latin American countries, yet they continue to be used widely for card games and gambling, especially in Spain.

Card reading

Deck of the 22 Major Arcana cards inspired by the Tarot of Marseilles, but with the author's graphic style The Major Arcana by Roberto Viesi.jpg
Deck of the 22 Major Arcana cards inspired by the Tarot of Marseilles, but with the author's graphic style

The earliest evidence of a tarot deck used for cartomancy comes from an anonymous manuscript from around 1750 which documents rudimentary divinatory meanings for the cards of the Tarocco Bolognese. [28] [29] The popularization of esoteric tarot started with Antoine Court and Jean-Baptiste Alliette (Etteilla) in Paris during the 1780s, using the Tarot of Marseilles. [30] French tarot players abandoned the Marseilles tarot in favor of the Tarot Nouveau around 1900, with the result that the Marseilles pattern is now used mostly by cartomancers.

In occult usage

Etteilla was the first to issue a tarot deck specifically designed for occult purposes around 1789. In keeping with the unsubstantiated belief that such cards were derived from the Book of Thoth, Etteilla's tarot contained themes related to ancient Egypt. [30]

The 78-card tarot deck used by esotericists has two distinct parts:

The terms "Major Arcana" and "Minor Arcana" were first used by Jean-Baptiste Pitois (also known as Paul Christian) and are never used in relation to tarot card games, which operate by a distinct set of rules. [31] Some decks exist primarily as artwork, and such art decks sometimes contain only the 22 Major Arcana.

The three most common decks used in esoteric tarot are the Tarot of Marseilles, the Rider–Waite–Smith tarot deck, and the Thoth tarot deck. [30]

Aleister Crowley, who devised the Thoth deck along with Lady Frieda Harris, stated of the tarot: "The origin of this pack of cards is very obscure. Some authorities seek to put it back as far as the ancient Egyptian Mysteries; others try to bring it forward as late as the fifteenth or even the sixteenth century ... [but] The only theory of ultimate interest about the tarot is that it is an admirable symbolic picture of the Universe, based on the data of the Holy Qabalah." [32]

With the development of psychology, some people today use Tarot cards as a tool for self-exploration and development and some psychologists use Tarot cards as a complementary care therapy. Through Tarot cards, it is claimed that the exploration of the inner self leads to greater freedom within the individual. [33]

Tarot in literature

The tarot deck has inspired imaginative writing, notably:[ citation needed ]

See also


  1. "Diligence and Fortune" is the contemporary meaning of the phrase Industrie und Glück. See, for example, Placardi, Carl (1766). Das Kaiserliche Sprach- und Wörterbuch, Cölln am Rhein: Metternich, pp. 72 and 83.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarocchini</span> Tarot card games popular in northeast Italy

Tarocchini are point trick-taking tarot card games popular in Bologna, capital city of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and has been confined mostly to this area. They are the diminutive form of tarocchi, referring to the reduction of the Bolognese pack from 78 to 62 cards, which probably occurred in the early 16th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Major Arcana</span> Trump cards of tarot decks in occult practices

The Major Arcana are the named or numbered cards in a cartomantic tarot pack, the name being originally given by occultists to the trump cards of a normal tarot pack used for playing card games. There are usually 22 such cards in a standard 78-card pack, typically numbered from 0 to 21. The name is not used by tarot card game players.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Italian playing cards</span> Playing card decks used in Italy

Playing cards have been in Italy since the late 14th century. Until the mid 19th century, Italy was composed of many smaller independent states which led to the development of various regional patterns of playing cards; "Italian suited cards" normally only refer to cards originating from northeastern Italy around the former Republic of Venice, which are largely confined to northern Italy, parts of Switzerland, Dalmatia and southern Montenegro. Other parts of Italy traditionally use traditional local variants of Spanish suits, French suits or German suits.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarot of Marseilles</span> Standard pattern of 78 cards

The Tarot of Marseilles is a standard pattern of Italian-suited tarot pack with 78 cards that was very popular in France in the 17th and 18th centuries for playing tarot card games and is still produced today. It was probably created in Milan before spreading to much of France, Switzerland and Northern Italy. The name is sometimes spelt Tarot of Marseille, but the name recommended by the International Playing-Card Society is Tarot de Marseille, although it accepts the two English names as alternatives. It was the pack which led to the occult use of tarot cards, although today bespoke cards are produced for this purpose.

Minchiate is an early 16th-century card game, originating in Florence, Italy. It is no longer widely played. Minchiate can also refer to the special deck of 97 playing cards used in the game. The deck is closely related to the tarot cards, but contains an expanded suit of trumps. The game was similar to but more complex than tarocchi. The minchiate represents a Florentine variant on the original game.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trionfi (cards)</span> Playing cards from Italy

Trionfi are 15th-century Italian playing cards with allegorical content related to those used in tarocchi games. The general English expression "trump card" and the German "trumpfen" have developed from the Italian "Trionfi". Most cards feature the personification of a place or abstraction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarot card reading</span> Using tarot cards to perform divination

Tarot card reading is a form of cartomancy whereby practitioners use tarot cards to purportedly gain insight into the past, present or future. They formulate a question, then draw cards to interpret them for this end. A traditional tarot deck consists of 78 cards, which can be split into two groups, the Major Arcana and Minor Arcana. French-suited playing cards can also be used; as can any card system with suits assigned to identifiable elements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bourgeois Tarot</span>

The Bourgeois Tarot deck is a mid-19th century pattern of tarot cards of German origin that is still used for playing card games today in western Europe and Canada. It is not designed for divinatory purposes. This deck is most commonly found in France, Belgian Wallonia, Swiss Romandy and Canadian Québec for playing French Tarot; in southwest Germany for playing Cego and Dreierles; and in Denmark for Danish Tarok.

The Tarocco Piemontese is a type of tarot deck of Italian origin. It is the most common tarot playing set in northern Italy, much more common than the Tarocco Bolognese. The most popular Piedmontese tarot games are Scarto, Mitigati, Chiamare il Re, and Partita which are played in Pinerolo and Turin. This deck is considered part of Piedmontese culture and appeared in the 2006 Winter Olympics closing ceremony held in Turin. As this was the standard tarot pack of the Kingdom of Sardinia, it was also formerly used in Savoy and Nice before their annexation by France. Additionally, it was used as an alternative to the Tarocco Siciliano in Calatafimi-Segesta, Sicily. Outside of Italy, it is used by a small number of players in Ticino, Switzerland and was used by Italian Argentines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Animal Tarot</span>

Animal Tarot is a genre of tarot decks used for playing card games that were most commonly found in northern Europe, from Belgium to Russia, only one of which has survived: the Adler Cego pattern in south Germany. A theme of animals, real and/or fantastic, replaces the traditional trump scenes found in the Italian-suited tarot packs such as the Tarot of Besançon. The Sküs plays a musical instrument while the Pagat is represented by Hans Wurst, a carnival stock character who carries his sausage, drink, slap stick, or hat. They constitute the first generation of French-suited tarot patterns. Prior to their introduction, tarot card games had been confined to Italy, France, and Switzerland. During the 17th century, the game's popularity in these three countries declined and was forgotten in many regions. The rapid expansion of the game into the Holy Roman Empire and Scandinavia after the appearance of animal tarots may not be a coincidence. In the 19th century, most animal tarots were replaced with tarots that have genre scenes, veduta, opera, architecture, or ethnological motifs on the trumps such as the Industrie und Glück of Austria-Hungary.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarot card games</span> Card games played with tarot decks

Tarot games are card games played with tarot decks, that is, decks with numbered permanent trumps parallel to the suit cards. The games and decks which English-speakers call by the French name Tarot are called Tarocchi in the original Italian, Tarock in German and various similar words in other languages. The basic rules first appeared in the manuscript of Martiano da Tortona, written before 1425. The games are known in many variations, mostly cultural and regional.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarocco Siciliano</span> Tarot card deck

The Tarocco Siciliano is a tarot deck found in Sicily and is used to play Sicilian tarocchi. It is one of the three traditional Latin-suited tarot decks still used for games in Italy, the others being the more prevalent Tarocco Piemontese and the Tarocco Bolognese. The deck was heavily influenced by the Tarocco Bolognese and the Minchiate. It is also the only surviving tarot deck to use the Portuguese variation of the Latin suits of cups, coins, swords, and clubs which died out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tarocco Bolognese</span> 62-suit deck of tarot cards

The Tarocco Bolognese is a tarot deck found in Bologna and is used to play tarocchini. It is a 62 card Italian suited deck which influenced the development of the Tarocco Siciliano and the obsolete Minchiate deck.

<i>Industrie und Glück</i> Pattern of French suited Tarot playing cards

Industrie und Glück is a pattern of French suited playing cards used to play tarock. The name originates from an inscription found on the second trump card. This deck was developed during the nineteenth century in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The earliest known examples were made in Vienna in 1815. After the collapse of the empire in World War I, it remained the most widely used tarot deck in Central Europe and can be found throughout the former parts of the empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tapp Tarock</span>

Tapp Tarock, also called Viennese Tappen, Tappen or Tapper, is a three-player tarot card game which traditionally uses the 54-card Industrie und Glück deck. Before the Anschluss (1938), it was the preferred card game of Viennese coffee houses, for example, the Literatencafés and Café Central. Even today Tapp Tarock is played sporadically. The exact date when it appeared is not possible to identify; some sources suggest it may have been developed in Austria in the early 19th century, but its mention in caricature operas in 1800 and 1806 suggest it was well known even by then and must have arisen in the late 18th century. The oldest description of the actual rules is dated to 1821. Tapp Tarock is considered a good entry level game before players attempt more complex Tarock forms like Cego, Illustrated Tarock or Königrufen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Triomphe</span>

Triomphe, once known as French Ruff, is a card game dating from the late 15th century. It most likely originated in France or Spain and later spread to the rest of Europe. When the game arrived in Italy, it shared a similar name with the pre-existing game and deck known as trionfi; probably resulting in the latter becoming renamed as Tarocchi (tarot). While trionfi has a fifth suit that acts as permanent trumps, triomphe randomly selects one of the existing four suits as trumps. Another common feature of this game is the robbing of the stock. Triomphe became so popular that during the 16th century the earlier game of trionfi was gradually renamed tarocchi, tarot, or tarock. This game is the origin of the English word "trump" and is the ancestor of many trick-taking games like Euchre and Whist.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Fool (tarot card)</span> Major Arcanum

The Fool is one of the 78 cards in a tarot deck. In tarot card reading, it is one of the 22 Major Arcana, sometimes numbered as 0 or XXII. However, in decks designed for playing traditional tarot card games, it is typically unnumbered, as it is not one of the 21 trump cards and instead serves a unique purpose by itself.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tapp (card game)</span>

Tapp is a trick-taking, card game for 3 or 4 players using 36 French-suited cards that is played in the south German region of Swabia, especially in the former Kingdom of Württemberg. It is the French-suited offshoot of German Tarok and its German-suited form is called Württemberg Tarock in that region. Tapp is one of a family of similar games that include Bavarian Tarock, the Austrian games of Bauerntarock and Dobbm, and the American games of Frog and Six-Bid Solo. Although probably first played in the early nineteenth century, the game of Tapp is still a local pastime in its native Württemberg, albeit in a greatly elaborated form.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Droggn</span>

Droggn, sometimes called French Tarock is an extinct card game of the Tarock family for three players that was played in the Stubai valley in Tyrol, Austria until the 1980s. Droggn is originally local dialect for "to play Tarock", but it has become the proper name of this specific Tarock variant. An unusual feature of the game compared with other Tarock games is the use of a 66-card deck and that there is no record in the literature of a 66-card game and no current manufacturers of such a deck. The structure of the game strongly indicates that it is descended from the later version of Tarok l'Hombre, a 78-card Tarock game popular in 19th-century Austria and Germany, but with the subsequent addition of two higher bids.

Grosstarock is an old three-handed card game of the Tarock family played with a full 78-card Tarot pack. It was probably introduced into the southern German states around 1720 but spread rapidly into Austria and northwards as far as the Netherlands and Scandinavia. It only survives today in Denmark where it is called Tarok.


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Further reading

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