search
Archaeology Magazine

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

archaeology
subscribe
Special Introductory Offer!

Dice Have Grown More Fair Over Time

Monday, February 5, 2018

England Roman Dice PASDAVIS, CALIFORNIA—A survey of cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era finds that they were not designed to have an equal chance of landing on different numbers until the Renaissance, according to a report from Science Alert. Researchers based their analysis on 110 different dice, and suggest that the trend toward “fair” dice coincided with the rise of scientific thinking. “People like Galileo and Blaise Pascal were developing ideas about chance and probability, and we know from written records in some cases they were actually consulting with gamblers," said Jelmer Eerkens of the University of California, Davis. “We think users of dice also adopted new ideas about fairness, and chance or probability in games.” Eerkens and colleagues found that Roman-era dice each had a slightly different shape, and many were visibly lopsided. It is possible that those using the dice believed that providence—not the shapes of the dice—determined the results of rolls. Dice dating to the Middle Ages are more regular in shape, but have their pips arranged in what is known as the “primes” configuration, popular in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, in which opposite sides add up to prime numbers—1 opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, and 5 opposite 6. Around 1450, dice shifted to the “sevens” configuration used today, in which opposite sides add up to seven: 1 opposite 6, 2 opposite 5, and 3 opposite 4. For more, go to “Game of Diplomacy.”

Advertisement

Advertisement


Advertisement