hist-games: dice pips question

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Thu Oct 21 12:13:40 PDT 1999

On Thu, 21 Oct 1999, Wayne Ross wrote:

> A question for this most knowledgeable list: When did the sum of the pips on
> opposite sides of die start to be unifomly added to 7 (6+1, 5+2, 4+3)? I
> guess what I actually am asking is: how recently in time was this
> configuration standardized?
> Wayne Ross
> Dallas, Texas

About ten years ago I was in England checking on this very subject.

Every die I found in Museums in England added up to 7 on opposite sides.
Every single one.  That includes several dozen Roman examples (at
Caerleon, the London Museum, and York), half a dozen Viking examples
(York), a few Medieval examples, all the way to Mary Queen of Scots'
backgammon set (dice of gold and silver) in Edinburgh.

The "4-5-6 clockwise" orientation was _not_ standard, however.  On all
dice where opposite sides add to 7 you can look at one corner and see the
4,5,6 faces all at once.  In virtually all modern dice the sequence 4,5,6
is clockwise.  On medieval, Viking, and Roman dice it appeared random
(sometimes clockwise, sometimes not, even on die that were used at the
same time).

Note that opposite sides adding to 7 is not entirely standard even now.  I
have a cheap modern plastic die (1/2") in my drawer here at work where the
6-1 are opposite, but the 4-5 and 2-3 are the other opposite pairs. 

David Kuijt

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