When and where were playing cards invented?

Playing cards have been traced back as far back as 800 AD, when they were popular in India, and from there they seem to have spread both east and west. Playing cards are said to have come in Europe when the Crusaders learned about them from the Saracens. The ancient packs of cards varied widely in different countries. Some of them had as many as then suits, as in India, where the suits symbolized ten incarnations of their God Vishnu. Modern four suits, clubs, diamonds, hearts and spades, were meant to portray a three-foil leaf, diamonds, hearts and swords. Spade comes from the Italian word for sword. The court cards, or face cards, at first consisted of only masculine figureheads, as the early card games were supposed to be a sort of play warfare, in which women had no part. The double-headed court cards came into use in about the 13th century, to avoid the risk of revealing information about one’s hand by turning the face card.
The pack as we know it, with four suits of thirteen cards, is thought to symbolize the year of fifty-two weeks divided into lunar months, or perhaps to symbolize a pack of hounds, which also consists of fifty-two members. At one time the four kings were supposed to represent Charlemagne, David, Alexander and Julius Caesar. In fact the symbolism attached to playing cards has been extensive.
The history of card playing has a dark side. For centuries cards have been employed in gambling games. To most people, however, they furnish pleasant and harmless entertainment, and there are endless variations of games that may be played with them.

Additional reading:
Playing card (Wikipedia)

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