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Why did Romans use “crooked” dice to play?

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Roman dice
Roman dice

Two researchers of ancient items believe they may have solved the mystery of why people living during the Roman Empire used “crooked” dice in their games. In their article published in the journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, Jelmer Eerkens and Alex de Voogt describe their research on bones.

Back in the days of the Roman Empire, people played a game very similar to backgammon, which involved throwing dice. The dice were usually made of bone, metal or clay, and had symbols that represented numbers, as with modern dice. However, they differed greatly in shape. Roman bones were usually elongated or had other odd shapes that made them asymmetrical.

As part of the study, the researchers checked more than 28 genera and found that 24 of them were asymmetric. They found a pattern in the irregularity – icons depicting one and six were often on larger opposite surfaces. Previous research has shown that dice asymmetry makes you more likely to land on a given side and number.

What was the purpose of making such bones? With high probability, we can assume that the legionnaires, while “fraternizing” and playing with the local population in the conquered areas of the empire, wanted to earn extra money. They taught the locals the game and then bet on various ornaments made of precious metals, money, wine, etc. Most of the inhabitants had no idea that they were being cheated. This method could not be used too often on the same person, because she could guess; and this probably led to fights and sometimes murder.

Author: Adrian Jesionowski (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Photos :
  • Hall, M. Whose Game is it Anyway? Board and Dice Games as an Example of Cultural Transfer and Hybridity. Archéol. Hist. Ancienne 2019

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