hist-games: Roman wheel patterns

M Winther mwi9 at swipnet.se
Thu Jun 12 09:09:03 PDT 2008

I have tried out wheel patterns as merels (three in a row) and as diverse
war games. But either it doesn't work or is meaningless.

*But* the three wheel patterns I have tried out actually function as Bear
games: three hunters try to enclose a bear. The simplest pattern is a
mechanical win, however, but it could have been attractive to ancient
man anyway. It seems to have had other uses than a game, namely as
a mandala.  The most complex diagram is a fine Bear game. A human
brain wins it faster than Zillions does. I have also implemented one that
was carved in the temple of Apollo. In this, too, it seems like the hunter
party needs only encroach upon the bear to win, more or less. Perhaps
it is somewhat ritualistic. Judge by yourself. You can download the
preliminary version of my Zillions program here:

Probably, then, the wheel patterns were bear games originally, but many of
them became stylized and less functional, or perhaps more ritualistic in
character. Then they became protective charms, etc. Perhaps it was
essential to ancient people that the game worked as a bear game (even
if it was trivial) for it to have a spiritual attraction. The fact that the game
works means that there is a spirit trapped in the diagram, i.e. an idea of
three hunters capturing the elusive fourth bear spirit.

Note that I have already implemented another wheel pattern in my "Bear
games". A thanks to Peter Michaelsen for sending me the information about
these patterns.

Mats Winther

Den 2008-06-04 09:09:40 skrev <u.schaedler at museedujeu.com>:

> Hi Mats,
> the circular roman "wheel pattern" boards are very problematic. We do not
> know what kind of game was played on/with them. The assumption (raised by
> Murray 1913 and Carl Blümlein 1918) that it's a round version of merels
> should be descarded, 1) since the game doesn't work, 2) because nowhere on
> the planet is such a version attested. Moreover, during my studies I am
> actually carrying out at ancient Ephesus one finds so many of these patterns
> and often in strange positions (for example in the middle of the street, in
> the middle of an entrance or a threshold, or even on vertical (!) surfaces)
> that we should be careful to draw conclusions on the basis of these
> patterns. See also Charlotte Rouché's interpetation of these patterns as
> "topos markers", based on the findings at Aphrodisias, i.e. markings for
> certain people's positions during official ceremonies (recent article in I.
> Finkel, Ancient Board Games in Perspective, London 2007).  This explanation
> seems to work also for a certain number of these patterns in Ephesus. Others
> simply seem to be symbols of luck or apotropaeic symbols. Not to forget:
> they could have served also as betting tables for dice games, which were
> very popular in Roman times.
> I do not know whether the unique board from Augst was definitely a game
> board, but the parallel to the modern Italian bear game and your
> reconstruction of a rule that works may corroborate such a hypothesis. Nota
> bene: Roman arenas weren't rectangular but oval.
> Best
> Ulrich Schädler
> -----Message d'origine-----
> De : hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com [mailto:hist-games-bounces at www.pbm.com]
> De la part de M Winther
> Envoyé : mardi, 3. juin 2008 19:11
> À : hist-games at www.pbm.com
> Objet : hist-games: Bear games
> Roman bear games(?) as described by U. Schädler, implemented in Zillions.
> And they function finely, but one seems very difficult. Notice that the
> rectangular boards are roman arenas where three 'bestiarii' gladiators fight
> a bear. As in reality, on the short sides are the stands for the nobility,
> who got the best view. I wonder about roman merels games, whether some of
> them weren't really bear games.
> http://hem.passagen.se/melki9/beargames.htm
> (the images don't show correctly now, I don't know why)
> Mats
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