Measurements: larger: 1.4 cm − height, smaller: 1.2 cm − height


Description: A pair of Roman cubic ox bone dice, each with ring-and-dot spots arranged on each facet, numbering one to six. The word dice derives from the Latin datum, meaning 'something which is given or played'. Dice such as these were used by soldiers across the Empire, who would use them to play games in their free time and to cast lots. In John 19:24, soldiers, after they had crucified Jesus, took his outer garments and cast lots to decide whose the clothing should be. The use of dice to settle disputes or distribute goods impartially is a common occurrence in the Bible. Gaming was also a favourite pastime at banquets and other social occasions. Small boxes were used as throwing cups to prevent manipulation of the dice. Like modern dice, the opposite sides of Roman dice always added up to seven. Dice games were popular in all strata of Roman society; the emperor Commodus, according to the Historia Augusta (Commodus 2.8), was said to have enjoyed playing dice in the Imperial Palace. In Herodotus's Histories (1.94), he alleges that the Lydians "invented the games of dice and knuckle-bones" as remedies for their famine. However, dice have been used since before recorded history. The oldest known dice were excavated at the Burnt City site in Iran, estimated to be from between 2800 and 2500 BC.


Reference: Christie's sale 5488, lot 303.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Period: 1st - 4th century AD


Condition: Very fine, intact. Three sides of the larger die have deteriorated, with the numbers 'one' and 'two' barely visible. This die has encrustations over the whole, mostly within the ring-and-dot markings. The smaller die is perfectly legible, with one chip to the 'six' facet, and encrustations over the whole, mostly within the ring-and-dot markings.



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