Thursday, December 16, 2004


Via the macro setting on my new Canon A85 - this is the first digital image I've ever taken, and I'm pleased I could share it with this subject and you.

This is probably my favorite Roman 'legionnaire' six-sided die, which as I mentioned yesterday became ubiquitous for gaming purposes in the late 1st century AD, when they were such the rage that they were depicted (at a considerable cost) in a mosaic in Pompeii. Most European antiquities dealers have a small handful of these, in bone and ivory (this one has been determined to be the latter, more valuable in the ancient world just as now), since they are found in large numbers in encampment, brothel, and bath sites throughout the Roman Empire. They average about $80 for a decent bone example and $120 for a decent ivory cube on the 2004 market in both galleries and online auctions, though die in exceptional condition, or with excavatory provenance (like this one from Oxyrhynchus, a site in northern Egypt, deaccessioned from a museum) can easily fetch double that.

Special reasons I enjoy this die are that it was the first ancient die I ever purchased, it is in a very good state of preservation, and it has rich ivory toning and oxidation. Also, it has two diagnostic features that I hope will help me some day establish a typology for this common item type, something currently lacking. First, the pips for the 'two' side are parallel to the edge of the die, instead of diagonal across it. This is fairly rare, and may suggest it is one of an early class of this type of dice. Second, we can see in the picture that the two, five, and four face the observer, unlike modern dice. In contrast to our familiar six-sided dice, the opposing faces do not add to seven, which also might help to place this object fairly early on in the development of the conventional cubic die.

I have a few other six-sided dice of various materials that have other numbering systems entirely - I hope to work these into future posts and categories.


Post a Comment

<< Home