Why did the early Romans use slanted dice?

Защо ранните римляни са използвали наклонени зарове

A map of the modern Netherlands showing the location of the Roman sites included in this study (the number corresponds to the number of dice measured at each site), along with three examples of dice on the right. credit: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s12520-022-01599-y

Two researchers, one from UC Davis and the other from Drew University, believe they may have solved the mystery of why people living during the Roman Empire used slanted dice in their games. In his article published in Archaeological and Anthropological SciencesJelmer Eerkens and Alex de Voogt, describe their study of dice used during the Roman Empire.

During the time of the Roman Empire, people played a game called taberna (like backgammon), which involved rolling dice. Dice were made of bone, metal, or clay and had symbols displayed on the faces to represent numbers, as with modern dice. But they differed greatly in form. Roman dice were usually elongated or made into other odd shapes that made them asymmetrical.

In this new effort, the researchers examined 28 days of the period and found that 24 of them were asymmetric. They found a pattern in the irregularity—icons representing one and six were often present on larger, opposite surfaces. Previous research has shown that matrix asymmetry can affect probability on a given side face up landing. Based on their measurements, the researchers calculated that the difference in size would change the odds of rolling a given number on average from one in six to one in 2.4.

To find out if the Romans made their dice asymmetric as a means of cheating, the researchers conducted an experiment – they asked 23 students to place marks on reproductions of asymmetric Roman dice. The researchers reasoned that because students would not know the purpose of the experiment and had no incentive to cheat, they would mostly randomize the grades. But this was not the case, the students still put the ones and sixes on the larger sides. When asked why, many said it was easier because starting on a large side meant ending on a large side where they would have to place the most pips—a finding that suggests the Romans weren’t trying to cheat , they were just trying to make life easier for themselves. It also suggests that they were not too concerned about which person was assigned which number because they believed that many random events, such as the roll of dice, were governed by fate. But the researchers also note that smarter people likely figured out over time that some dice rolls were more likely to end up a one or a six, and therefore would choose one or the other.

How to cheat at dice – from a gaming expert

More info:
Jelmer W. Eerkens et al, Why Are Roman Period Dice Asymmetric? Experimental and quantitative approach, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s12520-022-01599-y

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Quote: Why Early Romans Used Lopsided Dice (2022, August 5), Retrieved August 6, 2022, from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-early-romans-lopsided-dice.html

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