hist-games: Long Lawrence - markings with parallels

Peter Michaelsen PMI at KM.DK
Thu May 17 16:29:31 PDT 2007

Concerning the 10 crosses and the W on the L.L. described by Easther, I discovered some parallels when I wrote my article for BGS 6.
I quote from my own article:
"The South-West Norwegian 'abeseditt' from Valestrand has the (Roman?) numbers 100, 50, 20 and 10. (Hordaland og Bergen i Manns Minne, Oslo 1974, p.35). Similar values are known from West Flanders (de Cock, A. and Teirlinck, Is.: Kinderspel & Kinderlust in Zuid-Nederland III, Gent 1903, p.47f.). The 'wiep' used in the game 'wiep-slaan' has the (Roman?) numbers 100, 50, 25 and the word 'wiep', or as an abbreviation, the letter W. The similar stick used in 'dutzend-slaan' had the following signs: 10 crosses, meaning 100, 5 crosses, meaning 50, the Roman numeral 25 and 'niets' that is "nothing" (sometimes marked with a cross or V)."
I have found one more Norwegian example from Vik in Sogn, very near Valestrand: 'slå kjil' in which the 'kjil' (dice stick) had the numbers X (10), XX (20), F (50) and H (100) (Asbjørn Brekke, in Barnas eget lekehefte, Sparebankforeningen i Norge, c.1980).

The South-West Norwegian and West Flemish games are obviously closely related, despite of having rather different names.
In these games the signs on the sticks directily indicate the number of points scored. This is also the case with the Faroese 'exebiti' described by Johan Christian Svabo in 1781/82, but the numbers are here much lower (I, II, X and XII).
Another Norwegian group of dice stick games have much lower values (X=0, II, IIII and VI); here the numbers decide the number of strokes that one one the two teams are entitled to make. The numbers on the Scotch 'strac agus cat' are again different (I, II, III and IV).

The first four examples mentioned are the most interesting, what the Long Lawrence concerns. They all have 100 as the highest value, and in at least one of the two Flemish examples this is shown by 10 crosses (while, on the other hand, one of the two Norwegian examples has the letter H in stead).  In the two Flemish examples we find words like 'wiep' or 'niets' or the letter W, an X, or V on the side of the dice stick (probably all with the value zero).
The ten crosses and the W is also found on Easther's L.L.
I do'nt think that  this parallel is quite accidental, and suppose that Easther's L.L. borrowed these features from a game similar to the Flemish dice stick games, while it seems less likely that the latter should have borrowed this feature from Easther's L.L.
'Wiep-slaan' was the name of one of the Flemish games, and I do'nt see that the W could have any meaning in the English put-and-take game. Similar game names like 'vippa' was used in Scandinavia, referring to other stick games without dice (first testified in a Swedish source from the 17th c.).
The associations that turned the 10 crosses into the gridiron of St. Lawrence, have parallels in the Danish and North German dice sticks (and dice tops) used for 'put-and-take'. Here the letters N, T and P (originally 'nihil'm 'totum', and 'pone') on the sides of the dice could be interpreted as "Nikolaus", "Thomas", and "Peter", respectively. Even if such folk etymologies did exist, the original Latin name for the dice sides (in more or less distorted forms) have often been preserved in the various English, Danish, Frisian and German dialects. This indicates that this game tradition may very well have a Medieval, and perhaps even Roman origin.
In Leo van der Heijdt: Face to face with dice (p.117), two Gallo-Roman wooden dice are shown, dating from c.100-300 A.D. They were moved by means of a handle - probably the predecessor of the spinning top. They were marked with 1-6 spots, not with letters or Roman numerals, and can be seen at Musée Archéologique de Saintes (France).

Best wishes,
Peter Michaelsen

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