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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.



Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Roman board games at the Baths.



After writing about ball games enjoyed by Roman visitors to the baths, we looked at board games played while relaxing beside the various pools.

Counters and dice from the Roman baths at Caerleon, Wales

The Romans played many different gambling and board games using dice, counters and marked boards. Some of these objects have been found when archaeologists have investigated the drains, pools and buildings around their baths. Dice were usually made from bone or wood, while counters were made from bone, pottery, stone or glass. Gameboards were mostly wooden but could be marked onto stone blocks or clay tiles.

Gambling games included Tali (knucklebones) and Tesserae (dice), while board games included Ludus Latrunculi (little robbers), Calculorum (pebbles), Ludus Duodecima Scripta (twelve lines), Tabula (board), and Merels (nine men’s morris). While the Roman rules for these games are not well understood, versions of many of these games are still played today.


Roman tali made of glass and rock crystal. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Tali were originally the knucklebones of sheep or goats but were later made from other materials. They were tossed as a group of four, and each side had a value of 1, 3, 4 or 6.

Tesserae was played with three dice. The numbers on the dice were placed so that opposite sides added up to seven. Some dice have been found which have lead inserted in one side to unbalance them and make them fall to show a particular number.

Ludus Latrunculi was a game of military tactics played with coloured counters on a board marked with squares. Similar to chess, the goal was to surround and capture the other player’s counters.

Calculorum used the same board as Latrunculi but with many more counters. To win the game, a player had to make a row of five counters across, down or diagonally.




Board used for Ludus Latrunculi and Calculorum.

Image: St Albans Museum


Ludus Duodecima Scripta had two players each with fifteen counters. Players threw dice to move counters along marked rows, then off the board. Many counters could occupy the one space and single counters sent back to the start. Tabula was similar but used twelve columns.

A Merels board consisted of three squares joined by extra lines. Two players each placed nine counters in turn on the board and moved them along the lines to make rows of three. This allowed the removal of one of your opponent’s counters. The game was won when a player had taken all but two counters.

Stone carved with Merels game. Image: Creswell Heritage Trust


Nicola Pullan, intern from the University of Sydney

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