The games people play…

 

A bone domino with bronze pins to attach it to a thicker base, probably made from wood

A bone domino with bronze pins to attach it to a thicker base, probably made from wood

With football, tennis and cricket in full swing my mind turns to games. Not in terms of field games but more sedate board games and pastimes.

 Whether we are excavating trenches or looking under floorboards, we come across those lost counters, dice and cards from the games we probably all still play today. But some of the pieces may not be what we think, it is thought that they could also have been used as theater tickets, or counters for use  by accountants, and as tokens for gambling. Some of the objects like the domino above or playing cards are more obvious than the rounded stones, glass, pottery or bone objects.

Roman glass gaming counter

Roman glass gaming counter

We can be sure that this roman glass counter is for playing games, as a set of very similar counters were found on top of the remains of a board at Lullingstone roman villa, in  Kent. The pattern and colour of dots on each counter is different, but they do form two sets, the actual game is not known, but it is thought that it may have been something similar to backgammon.

Roman glass counter black with white and red marks

Roman glass counter black with white and red marks

 We only found this one the rest are probably still in the field scattered by many years of ploughing. From the same fields we found stone counters, one with decoration on the edge and thinner and finer than the other two.

The plain ones maybe counters from gambling games and the finer decorated one looks more like a board game piece.

Boards for these games can be wooden or scratched lines on stone or tiles. The wooden ones only survive in wet or very dry conditions and often only the metal corners survive in situ. 

Three stone counters or gaming pieces from the Kingston Lacy Estate
Three stone counters or gaming pieces from the Kingston Lacy Estate
clos up of decoration on the fine stone piece

close up of decoration on the fine stone piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 At Chedworth roman villa there is one architectural stone
slab with an incised chequer board, in one corner. In the collection are a couple of possible gaming pieces or counters. There may have been more but if they were very basic objects they may not have been recognized by the Victorian excavators as interesting and worth keeping.

 We sometimes find die and dice on sites, often made from bone and in various sizes, they are always worth a more detailed look. Sometimes when bone dice are x-rayed you can see inserts of lead so that the roll of the die is effected, this suggests that they were probably used for gambling and by a cheat!

At Corfe Castle we excavated a very small bone die from the outer gate house guard chamber. We have not x-rayed it as it shows clearly its quirks! 

A very small bone die from Corfe Castle outer guard chamber

A very small bone die from Corfe Castle outer guard chamber

 

A drawing of the Corfe Castle bone die showing the alterations to the dot numbers

A drawing of the Corfe Castle bone die showing the alterations to the dot numbers

When you look closely at the dots you can see that it was probably a usual die that has been altered by adding dots, the side with six dots is the only one you cannot change, and five was the largest number that all the other sides could be changed to. Was it part of a dice game were other die had changed numbers or once again was it a way to cheat. The die is very small and if used inside the guard chamber it would have been dark and may not have shown up very well especially if the owner of the die had a good sleight of hand!

 

 

One thought on “The games people play…

  1. Pingback: The games people play... | Classics Collective ...

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