hist-games: Pre-15 Centure Dice

David KUIJT kuijt at umiacs.umd.edu
Sat Apr 21 08:36:11 PDT 2001

On Sat, 21 Apr 2001, Teceangl wrote:

> I exhausted local dice resources awhile back for an arts project.  All I
> found for dice materials was bone (I learned many htings to NOT do if making
> bone dice, by the way) and wood and nothing else.

About a decade ago, or a little more, I did some research while in

The Roman baths at Caerleon have a half-dozen surviving Roman dice
(Caerleon was a Roman military base for about two hundred years in the
third and fourth centuries); some of the dice are bronze.  I don't
remember if all of them are; I'll look for my notes after Tuesday. 

Viking dice at the Jorvik Viking center in York are made of ivory, bone,
and jet.  Many of these dice are parallelopipeds rather than cubes, and
not all faces are the same size -- very crude.  And some very large.

The backgammon set of Mary Queen of Scots has gold and silver dice (I
think this is in Edinburgh).

All dice I found, from Roman to Mary Queen of Scots, had opposite sides
add up to seven, same as modern dice.  Pips were almost invariably a dot
with one or two rings.  Such a design is easy to make by spinning a small
tool in a hand drill; I made one by smooshing the end of a small metal bar
then filing it to shape. 

Modern dice invariably have the 4-5-6 sides go in one direction.  If you
look at the corner where the 4-5-6 sides meet (and with opposite sides
adding to seven, there will always be such a corner), going from the 4
side to the 5 side to the 6 side will take you counterclockwise around the
corner.  Pre-modern dice don't do that -- there was no system; sometimes
the 4-5-6 side went clockwise, and sometimes counterclockwise.

David Kuijt/Dafydd ap Gwystl

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