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A Roman bone six-sided dice. Circa 1st – 3rd Century AD.

These Roman dice were known as tesserae in Latin. Each face features an incised circle with an incised dot inside, ascending from one to six in quantity.

The Romans were passionate gamblers who enjoyed dicing, which was known as aleam ludere ("to play at dice"). There were two sizes of Roman dice. Tali were large dice inscribed with one, three, four, and six on four sides. Tesserae were smaller dice with sides numbered from one to six, the configuration commonly used today, but unlike the symmetrical cubes that we know, Roman dice were often irregular in shape.

Roman dice were made from a variety of materials—most commonly bone, but also metal (often lead) and clay—and were often squished and lopsided. It is possible, the researchers say, that ancient Romans deliberately used irregular dice because they thought it would help manipulate the roll. But it might also be true that Romans weren’t particularly concerned about the shape of their dice, believing that the outcome of a roll was determined by fate.

However, researchers are certain that the Romans’ wonky dice would have affected how the dice fell. The majority of the asymmetrical dice have the 1 and 6 on opposite sides of the flattened cube in positions more likely to roll ‘up,’ they explain in a study.

Condition: Fine condition, nice ancient surface patina.

Dimensions: 1cm approx.

Provenance: Ex. Private collection, UK. Purchased at UK auction.


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