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Literate games: Roman urban society and the game of 'alea.'


Clever Palamedes found me as a distraction during the Plague.

The game was invented by the ingenious Palamedes to while away the dull and difficult moments of the Trojan War.(1) But its later history was colourful too. The emperor Claudius played it in a specially modified litter, and went so far as to write a book about how to do it well.(2) The emperor Augustus incautiously wrote of his excitement about winning at it in a letter to a relative, claiming that this achievement would bring him nothing short of "divine renown" -- which appealed to the ironic eye of the biographer who published the document a hundred years later.(3) The emperor Caligula retreated from the public eye to take his mind off the funeral of his beloved sister Drusilla -- by playing alea (and on other occasions enriched the imperial treasury by gambling on it).(4) An unsympathetic visitor to Rome in the fourth century A.D. describes the characteristic but repellent sight of the poor of the city playing alea aggressively, making a loud and distinctive snuffLing and snorting by sucking in air through their nostrils as they concentrated intently on the game.(5)

All these stories refer to a Roman game. They show that it had a history and a mythology, establishing it from the outset in an arresting category among games. Its name, alea, designates a type of play for two people, in which a random numerical principle, invoked through the use of one or more dice, was combined with a system of moving pieces on a board. Some introduction to the practice and explanation of technical terms are desirable.

Play involving chance is a very common human activity and requires no special comment. Various forms of throwing of objects with more than one face were in use in ancient societies from an early date. The three principal types are: naturally irregular objects, particularly the knucklebone (astragalos, talus, arra) but also shells; many-sided artefacts, especially the cubical die (kubos, tessera, talus) though dice of various shapes, such as dodecahedral, are known; and two-sided artefacts, including rectangular and circular counters (pettos, kleros, calculus, tessera). The most famous case of the simple form of the activity is the soldiers at the foot of the Cross.(6)

Throwing lots is complicated and enriched by the addition of a spatial dimension, either for the calibration of the result of the throw according to where it lands or for the movement of symbolic objects -- closely related in size, shape and function to the objects thrown -- in moves related to the random outcome of the throw. The important aspect of this is that it adds an element of skill and experience to the outcome of impartial luck.

Both chance-throwing and its optional spatial dimension are basically relatively simple activities, and in themselves can be, and often are, essentially trivial; they may be performed by young children, and are usually classified under the heading of "play". The high cultural standing of chance and competition, on the other hand, make them ready recipients of deeper significance: the obvious religious connotations were of some importance in the ancient Mediterranean (cf. n. 82).

This effect was greatly heightened by two additional considerations. First, these activities became a principal location for gambling, and gambling itself became an increasingly important and varied phenomenon culturally as ancient urban society became more complex. Secondly, they lent themselves to a particular sort of cognitive intricacy because of their mathematical and geometrical implications. The numerical sophistication of ancient gambling may ultimately be related to the patterns of ancient literacy, and it is one instance of that that this article hopes to elucidate.

For all these reasons, the throw and the play-space linked with it acquired considerable symbolic complexity. Thus in the Greek tradition the throws in the game of knucklebones came to have allusive and learned labels.(7) The types of play and the shapes of all the objects involved were subject to great variation, and scholarship since the Renaissance has been beguiled by the fascination of discerning order and pattern in the chaotic evidence for the rules. I have preferred to take the more synoptic view, which asks why these activities were surrounded with so complicated a cultural cocoon and what the diversity of form itself might mean. The focus of the enquiry is the Roman concept alea.

Alea exemplified all these basic elements: the random principle of the lot, the contribution of skill in the moving of pieces, the expression of intense competition (through all three of the common board-game patterns: duel, race and hunt), the connection with a culture of gambling, and the complex symbolic overburden. The names of particular games are evocative: latrunculi (Little Robbers), reges (Kings), duodecim scripta (Twelve Writings).(8) The concept alea is attested by an interestingly abundant and coherent body of Roman literary evidence, ranging from the comic theatre of the early second century B.C. to early Christian invectives against gambling. This article is about the general concept, and its cultural setting. The picture would be sharpened if we knew more about the specifics of the more important rule-sets and play-patterns but, even without that information, there is much interest for the historian in the social setting of the game, and especially in its links with gambling. The material remains of the setting of play (including graffiti from the Vesuvian cities and decorated paraphernalia for playing the games) refer to various subsidiary types of play, and the source which has made it possible to write this article is the inscribed stone gaming-boards (tabulae lusoriae) which were used in Roman cities of the imperial period for a particular version of the type of alea called duodecim scripta. We shall also repeatedly come across the dice-pot (pyrgos, fritillus), game-board (abacus, tabula, alveolus) and counter (tessera).

The discussion which follows is thematic, since the evidence does not lend itself to diachronic treatment. The progression from aristocratic divertissement to popular entertainment is intended to be more a conceptual ordering, a rationalizing association, than something which actually happened through time. The attitudes to and associations of the game in the Roman period shed some light on the values and priorities of the life of Roman cities. But the material invites a more ambitious response than a social history of alea. It encourages questions about the reasons for the complex reactions to the various forms and associations of alea on the part of the milieux from which our evidence derives -- questions, that is, of cultural and intellectual history. The study of games -- the amphitheatre being another obvious example, with numerous points of contact with our subject in this essay -- is one of the very few openings that the ancient historian has into this sort of enquiry. The resulting discussion must touch on dozens of complex areas, from Anatolian dice-oracles to the nature of numeracy, many of which are surprisingly underresearched. My treatment of some of these will frequently appear cursory, but I hope at least to stimulate further interest in the zone where social and intellectual history abut in antiquity, to make some tentative suggestions about how these Roman games fit in to the wider context of the history of play, and to use that investigation in turn to illuminate the central problems of the culture and society of ancient Rome.



Dicer, footloose, foodie, pushy: you're the worst of the very worst.(9)

Alea was for Suetonius the worst vice of the emperor Augustus. He distinguishes charges made against the founder of the empire which could be (more or less) officially refuted from two climactic and unanswerable allegations: his sexual indulgences, especially his fondness for deflowering maidens provided by Livia, and finally dicing, "which he never denied and about which he showed no shame whatsoever".(10) The extreme badness of alea in the mainstream discourse of elite morality at Rome makes a helpful starting-point even for an analysis with wider aims. In what follows the ancedotal material is deployed to illustrate attitudes and responses; the veracity of the numerous accusations is obviously neither ascertainable nor very significant.

In the mid-second century B.C. C Titius, defending the traditional values protected by a sumptuary law under threat of abolition, gave a colourful portrait of the young senators of the day playing "alea with professional interest [studiose--a word to observe], smeared with cosmetics, tarts on hand all round".(11) His language and satire derive from comic drama.(12) In this tradition these vices are closely linked with the phenomenon of the hopeful dependent scrounger, the paraseitos (scurra in Latin). Penelope's suitors in the Odyssey are the prototype paraseitoi of literature, and Homer shows them occupying their time with a version of pessoi, the Greek equivalent of alea.(13) The rich scholastic imagination of later times envisaged the game as a microcosm of their suit, with fifty-four of them per side competing for control of a central piece named Penelope!(14) The paraseitos was typically a man on the fringes of the elite seeking the means of a comfortable existence and upward mobility through pandering to the tastes of the wealthy and making the most of conspicuous consumption, especially on the part of the young. His existence became a symbol of the hopeful, mobile, opportunistic life of ancient cities in general.(15) In the Greek world gaming, linked as it was with wastrel aristocratic youths, received unfavourable comment, but condemnation was not universal. Depictions like the fifth-century B.C. painting of a dicing-scene from a club-house in the sanctuary at Delphi, involving Ajax, Palamedes -- who invented the game -- and that other significant Homeric prototype of the scurrilous world, Thersites, reflect a lack of real anxiety about elite morality.(16)

At Rome, however, it is hard to find any positive presentation of dicing. The serious qualitative difference of ethical attitude is important: it indicates a quite different function for the practice as an identifier of social milieu. The world of the urban plebs of Rome became strongly "scurrilous" in the literal sense, and on a scale undreamed of in any Greek polls. No clearer proof of that is needed than the way in which the game, which never serves an ethnic purpose in Greek discourse, came to be regarded as a quintessentially Roman form of behaviour. A flatterer of Roman cultural pretensions could argue in the first century B.C. on the basis of the dicing of the Suitors that the Homeric poems could only have been composed by a Roman!(17)

In the invective against alea the two main areas of complaint are sex and symposia, the characteristic concerns of the paraseitos. Hence the place of games in Ovid's facetious amatory strategies and the strange, contrived texts purporting to be letters of young high-livers to their friends which Greek writers turned out in the middle empire and later. Aristaenetus has a plaintive description written by Mr Checkmate to Mr Dicelover about how he has a twin passion for a girl and for gambling and how both have similar bad effects on him.(18) There is an important emphasis in the hostile tradition on the supporting cast for the depraved playacting of the elite: the courtesans, slaves and entertainers who ministered to both these facets of aristocratic life.(19) Thus in the classic Roman political diatribes, Cicero's attacks on Mark Antony and Catiline, the aleator is part of a coterie of gluttons, perfumiers, procurers, prostitutes, mime-actors, dancers, drunkards and debauchees.(20) The same portrait was subsequently used to characterize certain emperors: Caligula, Domitian and Commodus, and above all Lucius Verus, portrayed by the Historia Augusta as a kind of latter-day Antony.(21) The satirists explicitly criticize the double standard involved in this high life, confirming that status anxieties are central to the ethical discussion: "gaming is a disgrace, and so is adultery--for ordinary folk. When it's done by Them, they are called smart and funny".(22) Surviving playing-counters provide further illustration: their words of jocular abuse bridge the gap between the literary themes and the boisterous life of the tavern: moiche (adulterer [Gr.]), ebriose (drunkard), vapio (spoiled brat), cunulinge, patice (catamite [Gr.]), vappa (wreck), cunnio (cunt-fancier),fututor (fucker), lupa (tart), amator lover).(23) The sarcophagus of a late Republican member of the yens Salvia, a rich municipal family from Ferentium in Italy which was shortly to produce the emperor Otho, contained two of this kind.(24)

Moral preoccupations with luxury were in part concerned with status and social mobility. Alea had a particularly significant contribution to make to this way of thinking: money was the most important underpinning of status, and the game was about money, and the point of playing was profit, lucrum. It was a central feature of alea that money was staked on it. In Roman society bets were made on other issues too, most noticeably the outcome of races in the circus (which shares, as we shall see, a social context with alea); but the dice and board were the location of gambling par excellence.(25) The possibility of winning large amounts of money engendered avaritia. The greed of the aleator is a standard target of Roman satire: Juvenal has his profligates bringing money chests to the gaming table, and slave cashiers standing by the players like esquires at a warriors' duel.(26) Gambling made alea both deceptive and violent: so playing without wagers was more acceptable (Augustus' letter in Suetonius shows his forbearance in collecting his winnings, while hinting that it was not his invariable practice); the poem in honour of the early imperial aristocrat Calpurnius Piso which describes his skill at alea states that he does not play for money.(27) Losing in such a frivolous pursuit was bad in itself: Seneca contrasts the honest loss of borrowed money in a fire or a robbery with the state of having disposed of it in the pursuit of sex and gambling.(28)

But allusions to the effects of losing on your position in society show clearly the link that was made between winnings at alea and the role of wealth in maintaining status.(29) Charitable use of a win might therefore absolve the player from guilt, and fines for gambling saw to it that money was properly relocated.(30) The emperor--the fountainhead of all patronage--is depicted, in accordance with this line of thinking, as the man who plays with livelihoods (even Juvenal's gambler only lost 100,000 sesterces). Anecdotes show Augustus dealing with sums of 20,000 and 50,000 sesterces and Nero staking 400,000, the census-qualification of the second property-class.(31) In accusing Caligula of using alea to raise state revenues, the sources caricature the princeps as an extravagant, pushy, hopeful plebeian, who can get away with obvious cheating.(32)

Another central part of the problematic of alea in society concerns a more subtle status-indicator: time. By the second century B.C. the question of the nature of the duty of the potentially influential political agent towards the body politic and the practice of statecraft had become pressing. We cannot examine the reasons why here; they include the rapidly expanding concerns of Roman power, and the continuous challenge to hereditary power from those on its fringes, producing a clash between professionalism of a sort and family rights to rule; and an atmosphere of innovation and change and increasing reflection on the characteristics of the system. The resulting debate included the use of time: the day was more and more closely calibrated during the third and second centuries, and the perceptible measurement of time became a characteristic of Roman city life.(33) The issues of otium, leisure, developed into a distinctive, though always problematic, ingredient of Roman thought and social definition.(34) Though arising out of pre-existing Greek reflections on the ethical problems of leisure (we note Sophocles' Palamedes, inventor of the "pleasurable cure for idleness, counters and dice"(35)), the Roman complex of polarities -- otium was the opposite of both private business (negotium) and civic responsibility -- came to bear a lot more of the weight of elite self-expression and definition. Cicero's attack on Mark Antony laid particular emphasis on his mismanagement of time, and the humble issue of the rights and wrongs of gaming serves as a sidelight which throws into silhouette for our observation some of the contours of this complex pattern.(36)

The dissolute lifestyle of Titius' aristocrats would not have been so reprehensible if it had not become visible in a public setting and conflicted with the practical requirements of that setting. Antony, on Cicero's analysis, likewise augmented the disgrace of his private life by bringing its inherent depravity across the boundary which separated the domestic from the public. As tribune of the plebs he used his authority to restore to full civic rights a former drinking and dicing companion called Licinius Lenticula. Lenticula, described by Cicero with the utmost distaste, is one of the two people known to us who were condemned for dicing under the ancient laws whose provisions C. Titius had been defending: all we know is that Lenticula had dared actually to play at alea in the Roman Forum!(37) Games in a domestic context were considerably less reprehensible.

Festival days for games (ludi), whose numbers markedly increased during the second century B.C., form a particularly revealing case of how the increasing sensitivity to time was handled. The legal ban on alea which was part of the supervisory duties of the junior magistrates called aediles was relaxed during the great festivals, especially the Saturnalia in December.(38) Martial evokes the atmosphere: "Now the schoolboy puts away his walnuts and is ordered back by his bullying teacher, and the gambler, badly let down by the harmless-seeming dice-pot, is chucked out of the obscurity of the tavern, drunkenly begging the aedile for a few more hours. Every minute of the Saturnalia is up".(39) This underlines the worry about the wasting of time. If otium was officially sanctioned, alea was less of a problem; there was therefore a graded set of times for playing, as there was of places. For Augustus to play during the Quinquatrus festival of Minerva was nearly acceptable; Domitian's characteristic vice emerged in his gaming "not only on working days, but even in the morning".(40) If one was prevented from working by the circumstances of travelling, alea was allowed: hence we hear of playing alea on a river-boat and even in a litter.(41)

The topsy-turvy Germans are described paradoxically in Tacitus' Germania as "playing at dice when sober, considering it part of their serious business".(42) For the Roman, it is quite the reverse. Juvenal attacks the misdirected skill and energy of the noble aleator, asking: "What is the point of the long rows of military forebears if the descendant plays at dice all night in front of the images of the conqueror of Numantia; if, as the morningstar rises, you fall asleep--just the time when they were shifting camp and raising the standards?". The paramilitary element in the game of alea makes the point still more ironic.(43) Horace similarly portrays the free-born boy who cannot stay on a horse and is too nervous to hunt; what he can do is roll hoops in the Greek manner and, worse still, he is expert at alea.(44) Note once again the emphasis on misdirected expertise: alea as a perverse studium, a malign art, aspects which will prove important in my concluding section below. Seneca is explicit: "It would take too long to examine all those who have wasted their lives with boardgames or ball-playing or acquiring a really good sun-tan".(45) These are the most pointless and truly leisurely forms of leisure: they can even be invoked as ways of achieving actual oblivion.(46)

If, however, the otium is reasonable -- as on public holidays or on long journeys -- then much of the stigma of gaming disappears. Some otium, for instance, is permitted to the ruler who is genuinely energetic in his statesmanship. The tradition that Q. Mucius Scaevola augur, the great legal expert and politician of the late second century B.C., was a great enthusiast for both ball-playing and alea could be made to redound to his credit -- it was necessary relief, physically and spiritually, after his phenomenal labours in religious and legal administration.(47) We are more readily convinced by this argument than were the Romans; this passage has a defensive and hollow ring, and turning the contrast of negotium and otium to Scaevola's advantage here smells of sophistry. Scholars in the early modern period, intent on opposing gambling, were puzzled too.(48) But the clinching argument for Valerius Maximus is that Scaevola "played the human being" (hominem agebat) fully in both serious and lighthearted matters. Caligula, dicing during Drusilla's funeral, is the exact opposite: "that person who could neither rejoice nor mourn in a fashion suitable for a princeps" (is homo qui non magis dolere quam gaudere principaliter posset).

The two most detailed descriptions of acceptable gaming on the part of a ruler are from late antiquity: Agathias' poem on the table game of the emperor Zeno and Sidonius' letter describing the terrifying experience of playing alea with Theoderic, king of the Visigoths. The latter is a fairly conventional encomium, and again makes the excuse that such a pastime is better than midday sleep and a reasonable interlude in the affairs of state (by the ninth hour "that burden of reigning is renewed", recrudescit molis illa regnandi). Theoderic, moreover, is not just seeking gain (though he is very eager to win), since if he succeeds in his strategy the other player has a good moment to present petitions. One wonders if Sidonius was consciously reminded of Ovid's hopeful amatory strategist who deliberately loses to gain a point in a more frivolous pursuit!(49)

Success at alea was an omen of rule.(50) Plutarch's Life of Antony makes good use of the place of dicing in his subject's lifestyle. Cleopatra's flattery took the form of sharing his gambling, drinking, hunting and fishing, and a joke she played on him in the fishing-boat enables Plutarch to attribute to her the famous sentiment "your catch is cities, kingdoms and continents". It is significant, a few paragraphs later, that we hear, in the discussion of Antony's destiny, that in both competitive lot-drawing and dice (and in quail- and cock-fighting) Octavian always beat him. Dicing is one of a group of activities which display risk and reveal fortune.(51) It suggests, given the preoccupation of otium-theory with time-discipline, control of even the most potent of opponents, Time. As for the cautious morality which forbade alea, we may note that deliberate hypocrisy in relation to moral norms can serve to stress the singularity of absolute power, and in late medieval and Renaissance courts gaming seems at certain times to have had this nuance.(52) Their indulgences help present rulers as accessible up to a point: alea, at its worst when played in public, could be taken as a sign of comitas, of warm hospitality, in the recesses of the house.(53) Even so, otio prodimur ("we are revealed by our leisure activities"), and the proper use of spare time even at home clearly does not for most people in most cases include gaming.(54)

Also partly immune from the stigma of alea are those who have otium by nature, most notably through being female or old. So Pliny on the not unacceptable pleasure of the grande dame Ummidia Quadratilla in the lusus calculorum.(55) The link between old age and alea is more prominent. Traditional in the Greek world too, this surfaces in Cicero: "let us old men be allowed to keep, out of so many forms of amusement, the knucklebones and the dice"--which comes at first sight oddly from the pen of the denouncer of the activities of Antony.(56) For Augustus too the play of the Quinquatrus was done "in the style of old men" (gerontikos); perhaps there is a touch of the apologetic here.(57) Not that this too cannot be turned upside down. Old men were laughable and often reprehensible, and the obsession with alea is a clear ingredient in the systematic presentation of Claudius as a caricature of the feeble-minded superannuated buffoon: his inveterate laziness, segnitia, deprived his playing alea of any excuse (he was also too keen on it).(58)

Historians of other periods have explored the way in which games and their ideology serve to delineate the boundary between what is important and what is trivial. The ambiguous indicator of alea marks out the category of what is serious on the political agenda. There were times when the refusal to be involved in the res publica by deliberately and ostentatiously opting for otium was wholly praiseworthy: if the ruler of the state was evil and despicable. It is very likely that this is why so much space is given to the expertise at alea of Calpurnius Piso by the author of his verse eulogy, if he is indeed to be identified with the leader of an important but doomed conspiracy against Nero.(59) His inaction is to be compared with the fame of what principled opponents of that regime like Thrasea Paetus deliberately did not do. A further example is the moving scene of the arrest of Julius Canus during the reign of terror of the insane Caligula: "he was playing latrunculi, when the centurion arrived, leading a file of the condemned, and ordered Canus to join them. When he received the summons he counted his pieces, turned to his companion and said, `Make sure that you don't, when I am dead, claim to have won this game!', and, catching the centurion's eye, `You can testify that I was one piece up"'.(60)

These last instances demonstrate how questions of time and its use, no less than the issues of wealth and its display, locate the function of alea in the discourse of elite morality in a wider social context. We now turn to that context and the unexpected evidence which illuminates the place of alea in the Roman city.



On the shore at Alea with a lucky reed, catching fishes.(61)

The life of debauchery which we have glimpsed in the attack on alea was characteristic, in slightly different ways, of both the high life and the low life of Rome. That is not so much of a paradox: by the late Republic the style of living of the populace of the city of Rome and to some extent of other Roman cities had been deliberately improved as a sign of the generosity of the Roman elite and as a reflection of the power and magnificence of Rome. The dissemination of the life of leisure and luxury took certain rather stylized forms, such as architectural setting, the life of the baths, the world of the spectacles and the amenities of the tavern.(62) The populace of the privileged city came to expect, and to be defined by, a kind of check-list of "perks" (commoda). It was as one of these that alea came to be so characteristic a plebeian activity: for the first-century writer on agriculture, Columella (a provincial, we note), the urban plebs was "a lazy and snoozy race of slaves, habituated to leisure, suburban promenades, the chariot-races, the theatres, dicing, cookshops and brothels".(63) It was as a sign of status that all these entertainments were diffused in the ancient city. As Roger Caillois wrote, "play is a luxury and implies leisure. The hungry man does not play".(64) The polarity between political virtue and vicious leisure examined above drew force from the growth of an association between the forms which the latter took and the mass of the urban population.

The literary sources provide some details. Particularly interesting are the extended attacks on Rome in the fourth century A.D. of the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, describing the gatherings of thieves and robbers, bound in unhealthily hectic friendships in a city where true friendship is unknown, loitering in wineshops. The "crowd of the lowest sort, and of the poor . . . strive with each other at dice aggressively, making a loud noise with the unpleasant sound of breath being sucked in through snuffling nostrils", their other main occupation being the endless discussion of "the smallest details of the good and bad points of charioteers and horses".(65) The unusual antipathy showed by the ancients to snorting remains mysterious, but is linked in the texts with popular boorishness, quarrelsomeness and the sexual licence of the daily life of the tavern.(66)

Ammianus was no Christian; but the energy with which he attacked alea is mirrored in early Christian thought. Strikingly, the principal witness, a treatise once ascribed to St Cyprian, Adversus aleatores, also comes from the epicentre of ancient urban complexity, the city of Rome itself, and is now often ascribed to a second-century pope, Victor 1.(67) The perhaps inevitable embroilment of the nascent urban religion with the ancient urban game may also have been largely responsible for the preservation of a further major collection of historical evidence on the subject. No deeper analysis of alea than the marshalling of the literary testimonies would be possible if it were not for the survival of a source of a different kind, which has been largely overlooked by historians.(68) Inscribed stone slabs for the playing of certain variants of alea have survived in quite large numbers from Italy and North Africa, with a sprinkling from the north-western frontier and one striking new example from the east.(69) A large majority, however, comes from the city of Rome, where many examples survived as building material, and especially because they were reused for Christian funerary inscriptions in the Catacombs. In the light of the hostility of the early church to alea, some have taken this reuse to be a deliberate gesture of conversion.(70) At any rate the high standard of scholarship in the study of Christian epigraphy in Rome makes this material readily accessible to the historian.

The boards are decorated in various ways, according to the various types of dice, counter and board-game that fall under the general-heading of alea, but the most eloquent historically are the ones which mark out the thirty-six spaces required for playing with the letters of an inscribed slogan. The layout is very stereotyped, and arranges the letters in six groups of six (see Figure). The aphoristic inscriptions aim to suggest the mood of the players: their prominence in the paraphernalia of play invites explanation (see Section IV).

The board-inscriptions appear to offer more direct contact than the literary evidence with the snorting plebeians, Ammianus' "crowd of people of the lowest condition and the poor".(71) Indeed it is now possible to report the discovery in Phrygia of a gamingboard which for the first time attests in this milieu precisely the snorting which so disgusted Ammianus: its decoration is Christian, and its injunction is "let the snorter be covered in soot [i.e., go to Hell]".(72) In general, they provide three broad types of insight into the mentalities of playing: the position of chance, luck and economic accident in city life; the nature of aspirations for commoda of various kinds; and the place of literacy and the art of play in the urban social milieu (which gives this article its title, and is discussed in Section IV). The attitudes of the sources and the distribution of the inscriptions suggest that these games were considered typical of an urban milieu; that is strongly confirmed by the evidence of what the inscriptions say.

"I won at Nuceria, playing alea, 855 1/2 denarii--honestly!"(73) This contented graffito records the sort of windfall that could be expected--sometimes. The sum, 3,422 sestertii, would have bought the graffitist enough grain to support fifteen to twenty adults for a year. 2,000 sestertii bought a freedman the honorific office of the sevirate in Italian towns; this sum was more than a third of the usual entry fee required from new town-councillors.(74) It does not matter if this is an invention or a freak: the aspiration is what counts. Even with much smaller wins very substantial changes of fortune could be made, changes of fortune in the literal sense.

The windfall was a basic feature of the economics of the Roman city. Urban society was monetized, and there was a widespread notion of the importance of profit, lucrum, but accident remained central to economic experience in urban production, retailing and commerce. The closeness of the association between alea and other forms of economic behaviour may be unexpected from the modern viewpoint (though we may compare the efflorescence of the lottery and other games of chance in the commercial atmosphere of early modern Venice), but is readily understandable: the board-inscription VICTOR VINCAS NABIGES FELIX SALBUS REDEAS, "may you win victoriously, make a successful voyage, and come home safely", likens the winnings of alea to the lucrum to be gained in seaborne trade.(75) When Varro satirizes the greed of the nouveau riche agricultural profiteer Q. Axius, he makes him use what must be a colloquial term for a quick profit, a "killing", though it is not attested elsewhere. The term comes straight from the tavern: it is bolum, a "throw".(76)

The hopes of the urban poor for survival and advancement depended on the sudden access of cash. The range of opportunities brought together what we would readily accept as "economic" behaviour (such as the pursuit of employment on the day-to-day labour-market), the criminal (the chance to steal or cheat), the world of civic benefaction (such as a special hand-out from a patron or from the emperor, or the provision of the grain-ration, the annona) and the wholly accidental (such as a find of something very valuable: people kept their eyes open for treasure). Winning at dicing -- or at competitive sport -- belongs in this last category, and was seen as integral to city life.(77) In a splendid celebration of the relationship between alea and the pursuit of ready cash, Petronius envisages the use of coins for counters in a game of alea.(78) The ear of corn which decorates the centre of one of the alea-boards is a reminder of how much the corn-supply belonged in the nervous world of hoped-for but somewhat unreliable benefits. Under the law, one version of playing for the means of survival was licit: you could stake items of everyday food ("things that are set out at a shared meal for nutriment", qued in convivio vescendi causa ponitur).(79) The wagering of cash, as we have seen, was where the moral problems started. Some of the board-inscriptions adopted an improving tone: "reject profit: mad greed overturns sanity" (SPERNE LECTRUM VERSAT MENTES INSANA CUPIDO); "play without worry: keep your money in your moneybox" (LUDTTE SECURI QUIBUS AES EST SEMPER IN ARCA).(80)

In this atmosphere of easy-come, easy-go the perils of loss ran hand-in-hand with the real or imaginary opportunity of gain; not just on the board, since the whole of life could be thought aleatory, at the mercy of the divinities who control Luck. Hence the apotropaic plaque showing a dice-pot alongside the phalli of hoped-for good fortune (and the avoidance of bad luck).(81) Formal oracles could take the form of interpretation of the throw of dice.(82) It was worth dedicating the boards to the gods.(83) The rather tame literary versions of these aphorisms in the Latin Anthology include the sensible NULLUS UBIQUE POTEST FELICI LUDERE DEXTRA, "no one can play with lucky right hand on all occasions".(54) As usual the mood of the actual tabulae is less measured and polished: real alea was in deadly earnest. "Even the skilled player [and this is quite a challenge, as we shall see] is compelled by the grudging spite of the points on die and board to depend on luck": lNVIDA PUNCTA IUBENT FELICE LUDERE DOCTUM.(85)

The symbolism of luck included hunting and fishing. As precarious, marginal means of winning a livelihood they represented a contrast to the desired commodum of city life that was the more poignant for its aleatory nature. The hunter, fisherman and birdcatcher lived by their wits and by the favour of Fortune: the poignancy of their lot appealed both to the aristocrat bon viveur who was genuinely safe from the need to do either and to the townsman whose aspiration was to share in the outward perquisites of aristocratic taste. In one version of the origin myth, Palamedes himself had been drowned while out fishing.(86) The players who used the board whose inscription heads this section were not just hoping for the luck to win the means to partake in the most luxurious villegiatura (though the resort/gambling nexus is one which is not unfamiliar to the modern mind); Baiae was a place of exciting licence, of moral audacity, appropriate to the louche atmosphere of dicing, and luck at fishing was particularly suited to the urban setting of the gaming-tavern. The play itself was a kind of pursuit of game (in the other sense): "the fowler makes a catch: the thrush doesn't know what is happening: it's caught, and cries (AUCEPS CAPTAT TURDUS STUPET CAPTUS CLAMAT).(87) The better player is out hunting the weaker, to catch him in a snare. This sums up life itself: "hunting, bathing, playing, laughing: this is living (VENARI LAVARE LUDERE RIDERE OCCEST VIVERE), says the text forming an area-board on the pavement of the Forum at Timgad. In the Roman city the central expectation was the baths, the tavern providing the opportunity for alea, and the spectacle of the hunt--not only on the aleatable (Figure) but in the arena.(88)

The spectacula are closely linked with alea. They too are a constitutent of the otium of the privileged which I discussed in the previous section, activity which is primarily reserved for the holiday. It is not surprising to find cross-fertilization between the two: CIRCUS PLENUS CLAMOR POPULI [GAUDIA] CIUIUM ("the circus is full: the shout of the people [goes up]; the citizens are enjoying themselves").(89) One rather unusual board seems to have come from an establishment aimed at the huntsmen who staffed the imperial menagerie in Rome, and takes the form of an appropriately gamey menu: [H]ABEMUS IN CENA PULLUM PISCEM PERNAM PAONEM ("we have for dinner: chicken, fish, ham, peacock").(90) It is also reasonable to plug the merits of performers in another popular sport on the area-board: EUGENE EUGENI DECTES MILIES FACIAS BENETO ("noble Eugenius, go on and make a million for the Blues").(91) The prize-money involved in chariot-racing is compared with the winnings of the individual aleator (decies mikes is almost a proverbial sum). "The game-board is a Circus: retire when you're beaten: you don't know how to play!" (TABULA CIRCUS BICTUS RECEDE LUDERE NESCIS) makes the connection in a self-referential way.(92) Aleatores themselves could become popular heroes: a horoscope described by an astrological writer applies to "a gambler who is conspicuous in common knowledge".(93)

The representation of the game as hunt resembles one for which there is much more evidence: the game as war. The myth of its origin made it the relaxation of warriors; the agonistic character of the play linked it with any attitudes to fighting that exalted the duel and its ideology. The nature of the moves was linked to the art of military tactics already in the fifth century B.C.(94) We have seen above the contrast between the real military exploits of the old Romans and the fictive equivalents of their decadent offspring in our reading of the tradition hostile to alea. It is against this background that we should set the inclusion of the great gaming-board of King Mithridates as a set-piece of the triple triumph of Pompey on 29 September 61 B.C. Four feet by three and comprising two slabs of precious stone, it was also adorned with a moon of gold weighing thirty pounds.(95) Eastern luxury and lore, but also the royal gamer out-gamed.

From the inscriptions it seems that this preoccupation was not wholly historical. PARTHI OCCISI BRITTO VICTUS LUDITE ROMANI ("the Parthians have been killed, the Briton conquered; Romans, play on") says the better example, from Trier (rather unusually).(96) That it is not a freak is shown by the example from the neighbourhood of Rome which makes the same point more generally: VIRTUS IMPERI[I] HOSTES VINCTI LUDITE ROMANI ("The empire's strength! The enemy is in chains; let the Romans play").(97) HOSTES VlCTOS ITALIA GAUDES ("Italy, you rejoice in the defeat of the enemy") makes a similar point on an unusual twenty-four-point board.(98) One of the most striking finds in the archaeology of alea is the recently published ornate metal dicepot from Germany, in the shape of a military tower, with latticework inscription modelled on those of the inscribed boards: PlCTOS VlCTOS HOSTIS DELETA LUD1TE SECURI ("The Picts defeated, the enemy wiped out; play without fear").(99) The aggressive underpinnings of the ideology of the commoda are clearly to be seen here. The clients of the taverns were well aware what their privileges meant, and on what they rested. The play is an overt metaphor for the circumstances of actual conflict, and the fanciful retrojection of its origin to that golden age of the personal duel, the Trojan War, was expressive. From its origin-myth on, alea was mime as well as metaphor: the competitiveness of the battling heroes is mirrored in the trivial diverting rivalries of the gaming-board. It is not surprising that alea is well attested in military contexts. The gamer was a soldier, and his war was play; his play-equipment had meaning in both worlds. After the sack of Corinth in 146 B.C. the Roman soldiers played alea on the panel-paintings of the ancient Greek masters. (100)

The game was the sport of kings: the messages of the inscribed boards illuminate the interest of the great in alea, which betokened risk and good fortune at the level of war and conquest as much as at the level of survival in the cutthroat world of the pursuit of commoda. The most famous instance is Caesar's crossing of the Rubicon and the aleatory terms in which he is said to have described it.(101) Stressing Caesar's careless, plebeian insouciance in the face of fortune fits a hostile source well enough in the light of the attitudes discussed above in Section II, but we can now see that the gesture would have had an appreciative audience too, the plebs urbana both at Rome and under arms. Winning at dice, like winning in the hunt, was a gauge of good fortune. The special nature of games of chance raised the prospect of insight into a hidden order of things to which rich and poor alike are subject, creating the opportunity for fantasies of social promotion and levelling.

For poor and rich alike the play itself mimicked reality. The violence portrayed on the board was present to the players too. The circle is completed by the personal violence, the brawling and quarrelling, which was characteristic of disputes over the game and much affected its reputation, and helped it to be seen as a counterpart of violent spectacles and as a miniature of war.(102) A vivid pictorial graffito from a Pompeian tavern shows a dispute over alea and what follows: the landlord throws the brawlers out. The high-minded opposition to the violence suggests that there was something more to oppose than a simple abuse of a relatively harmless normal practice: the dangerous breakdown of restraint was exciting and, like the noise, made alea more of a spectacle, and was valued as such.(103) There is some evidence that the elite liked to experience the coarseness of plebeian life, and sometimes its risks; and the literary representations have a certain spice. The paintings on tavern walls are a come-on as well as a warning; and even the prim poems of the Anthology include the threatening INICIO FURIAS EGO SUM TRIBUS ADDITA QUARTA ("I set the Furies on you, and am a fourth added to the three of them"); in real life this taunting was characteristic. The tavern was the abode of dangerous mockery--the moral threat lay in the risk of being made a sport, and the shame that it would bring. A Roman jurist ruled: "if someone makes sport of my slave or my son, even with his consent, I am thought to suffer damage--if, for example, someone takes him into a popina, if he plays at alea". (104)Versions of "the winner is rejoicing, the loser weeps" are more normal, or "you are trapped/finished/out, move over for another player", and above all "LUDERE NESCIS", quite the commonest boardphrase, "you don't know how to play".(105) The ignoble strife and sordid alliances of Ammianus Marcellinus' city are not that author's invention.

"You don't know how to play . . . ". It may not be very remarkable that abuse and aggression are central features of what we can recover of the atmosphere of alea in the Roman town; but it is striking that intellectual failing, the want of skill, in the opponent should be the standard brag. That brings us into very deep water with the question of the intellectual, even psychological, nature of the game; and to the next section where some aspects of that question are tentatively put forward for consideration.



Single-handed regulating the remedies of forgetfulness, creating vowels, consonants and syllables, I discovered the knowledge of letters for mankind.

Palamedes, son of Nauplius, who fought in the Trojan War, invented the game which the Romans called alea. He also discovered numbers, tactics and, in one important tradition, the alpha bet.(106) Framed by Odysseus--less of a benefactor to humanity but, as he was eager to prove, Palamedes' superior in spiteful cunning--he was wrongly put to death, a helpless victim, like the bird in the fowler's toils, for treason to the Greek cause. The innocent benefactor perfectly set up by his enemies, the clash of hostile intelligences, the playing-out of the terrible story with the revenge of Nauplius who wrecked the homeward-bound Greek fleet with an illusory beacon, all made this myth an appealing subject for Greek literature in the classical age.(107) The sophist Gorgias, at the end of the fifth century, made Palamedes speak in his hopeless defence: "who was it, then, who made human life passable where it had been pathless, and gave order to what wholly lacked it?".(108)

Alea, numbers, tactics, the alphabet and the shaping of human life: our task is to attempt to make sense of the nexus of ancient thought in the moulding of the myth and its various versions.

We must begin with a consideration of the idea of play. At the risk of oversimplification, we might identify two principal divergent approaches to its history. The older takes its starting-point from Johan Huizinga and identifies play as the antitype to all that is rational, systematized and controlled (note his opening words, "Play is far older than culture . . . "), an inevitable weft bound with the orderly warp of the social tissue.(109) The second, represented by Roger Caillois, may be regarded as analogous to the classic Durkheimian treatment of religion: forms of play are embedded in and tightly involved with the structures and patterns of social arrangements.(110) Where the followers of Huizinga see a major conceptual divide, therefore, this other approach makes its main analytic effort: the revealing points of contact between the game and the social forms with which it is entangled.

This second view avoids a universalistic psychological categorization of play in the human species which might impose preconceptions of a scientific kind on the raw material of social history and unacceptably distort the particularities of an individual milieu. If Huizinga calls alea, or Greek tragedy or football "play", however seriously he takes the play-phenomenon, the object has been subtly demoted. The other approach invites the use of play-behaviour in the central historical project of tracing in a social system complex systems of oppositions: between "real" or "unreal", "true" and "false", "fictive" and "literal", "humorous" and "serious", "relevant" and "irrelevant", "important" and "trivial" -- and thousands more according to the individual case.(111)

Aspects of the Roman hostility to alea undoubtedly remind us of Huizinga (not least, one supposes, because of the considerable cultural influence of Cicero, Seneca, Juvenal and the others). But in Section II above frivolity, silliness and the triviality of play did not seem to be enough to explain the intensity of disapproval, and the links with time and status which began to emerge seem better adapted to the Caillois approach. Above all, it is hard to reconcile Huizinga's view with the unavoidable fact of the perverse stature of alea. Alea, the game with a history and a mythology of its own, was an ars, a technical skill.

This status is certain. Technical treatises were composed on the subject, of which the most famous was written by that avid aleator, the emperor Claudius.(112) But this was one of the principal themes of the critics, and Publilius Syrus is explicit: "the better the aleator is at the technical side of the game, the worse person he is".(113) Even if area-games could sometimes approach the intellectual demands of draughts or backgammon, so extreme a judgement is not likely to mean only speed at thinking through the logic of the next few moves.

I should like to suggest, on the contrary, that the ars aleatoria is essentially a cultural skill. The surrounding of quite simple games with complex intellectual paraphernalia is a familiar phenomenon. The passionate and exclusive detail with which the culture of the racegoer or football supporter is maintained, forming a kind of parody-academic system, is an obvious case; it might be seen as a calque on a fact-based education curriculum as the perverted numeracy of the train-spotter is on the elementary mathematics and science of the same educational philosophy.

The cultural panoply of the game of alea is likewise an offshoot of the world of elite literary culture, or literae.(114) Alea therefore has (at least in one late writer), its own Muse, Tabliope.(117) The link turns up most explicitly in a late horoscope: the same astrological conjunction produces the aleator and the man extraordinarily proficient at literae.(116)

The intellectual frills start early. A bingo-like enthusiasm for numbering the throws and naming the numbers goes back to Greek play with knucklebones in the fifth century. The lexicographers and scholiasts of late antiquity pass on a great deal of the impenetrable technical vocabulary.(117) The names of the throws and their associations, with places like Chios or Cos, with Hellenistic history and astronomy like "Berenice's hair", with literature like "Euripides", represent an elaborate and highly learned system.(118) This is where Palamedes the Inventor becomes relevant. An eight, ogdoas in Greek, is also the Stesichoreus iactus, "Stesichorus' throw", alluding to the belief that the sixth-century B.C. poet Stesichorus was the first to emphasize the inventive achievements of Palamedes.(119) A type of board was indeed called Palamedean: precisely the thirty-six-space board represented in the examples we have been examining.(120) It is with Palamedes' letters in the more precise sense that the main cultural complexity of alea lay.

The Greek alphabet is a conceptual system of equivalences between signs and sounds: but it is also an inscription, a sequence with its own order, shape and permanence. This sequence, conventionally known as an abecedarium, is to be distinguished from the alphabetic phenomenon itself.(121) The abecedarium, scratched on pots or stone, is a phenomenon of Greek writing from the first, and can be regarded as a written utterance despite the lack of encoded semantic content. Surviving abecedaria are not simply exercises in the art of writing: they are the symbol of writing, a potent sign not just of alphabetization, but of system, regularity and pattern.

Because the Greeks used letters for numbers, the abecedarium is a numerical pattern; because Greek inscriptions long took the form of a notional chequer-board (how else to put it!) with each letter occupying the centre of its own square, it is a spatial entity as well: the sequential line, running in and out of spaces and defining them, and the series of parallel rows of squares, are alternative systems, but the definition of space through patterned writing is common to both.(122) The disjoining of number, space and letter, characteristic of our thought, should not be uncritically superimposed on other cultures.(123) In fact the abecedarium makes passable the pathless (it has unilinear sequential ordering) and gives order to what had lacked it before. The sense of ordering, therefore, whether it is indicated by points, spaces or letters, is part of a single set of ideas attested clearly in the Palamedes myth.

Letters in antiquity are, then, inevitably numerological, and the power of number in games is still further enhanced by the use of dice. The ambiguities are well illustrated by the difficulty often encountered by archaeologists in telling an abacus from an abacus, a playing-board from a counting-frame.(124) We are not far, as Palamedes was not far, from the "belief that every word is a number and every number a word". Letters, alongside patterns of dots or pebbles, were early used to form sequences of arcane significance which were used in both numerology and the first systematic Greek mathematics.(125) Even English calls pessoi, calculi "counters". It is not far-fetched to adduce the spread of numerology and the popularity of word squares of various kinds in graffiti in ancient sites. In alea number ruled, and was playfully made to control even the ethical discourse which so criticized the players: the abusive messages on the counters with which latrunculi was played are calibrated according to the points they give -- moeche (adulterer) is only a 3, perjure (cheat) 4, cunulinge 6, pathice 8; at the other end of the scale are clear-thinker 15, swift 18, benevolent 24 or 30, lover 30, felix (lucky and happy) 45.(126)

The number-fetishism at work in the learning associated with alea at its most extreme combined with the theology of chance to make the game nothing less than a microcosm of the universe: Isidore of Seville gives details of how the three dice could be taken as symbols of past, present and future, and the division of the board into three lines as an allusion to the ages of man. There were other similar flights of allegory, taking as their starting point the already arcane world of alea and its obvious connection with fate, fortune and time.(127) Palamedes was the tamest inventor postulated for gaming: it was attributed also to the god Thoth and to the Devil.(128)

The allusions of ars aleatoria to literary scholarship and mystical numerology are important, but more interesting still is the use of the letters of the alphabet on the Palamedean abaci for Twelve Writings which have been so fortunately preserved in Rome and elsewhere. On the talking area-board, the Romans played at letters, in a potent evocation -- and an appropriation -- of the most significant hallmark of the ancient elite: not hunting, not bathing, not wine, not free love, not even the literae that are Homer and Euripides and Plato, but the letters that are the elements of all written utterance: literacy.

The letters, their shapes, the spelling of the words, and the ways in which they are abbreviated and distorted show that the milieu which used them was on the edge of literacy as a practical skill. More interestingly, the inscribed boards can tell us something of the location of literacy itself, of its reception as a concept and of reactions to it. This version of alea sends up and celebrates the alphabet, either by simply displaying letters or by using them to form inscriptions which the player "reads" by his play.(129) In the quasi-monumental form of the inscribed stone, the game also alludes to the monumentality of the most prestigious uses of writing in the city, in public or funerary texts on stone or bronze. More generally, the tavern-pursuit is thus infused with a different sort of intellectuality. We see here instantiated the perception "culture . . . is communication, so is play . . . and game".(130)

Included in the medium of communication which was celebrated in alea were the associations between number and the calibration of wealth in the monetized city, and the implications of the combination of number and letter in the changing conceptualization of time: both themes which appeared abundantly with somewhat different emphases when we examined the literary evidence for gaming.(131) In promoting cultural uniformity, the establishment of agreed norms of importance and triviality, work and leisure, and the other oppositions propounded by play on the Caillois-type analysis, was also important. The very special and unusual evidence of the gaming paraphernalia, however, enables us to discern and delineate a still more far-reaching feature of the society of the Roman world. Through a game which mirrored and satirized the serious elements of social exchange and communication as it disseminated them we can discern the promotion of a cognitive homogeneity which was encouraged and maintained by culturally complex interaction. Partly founded on rudimentary literacy, this structure of unification operated to establish a social cohesion in some social strata outside the elite in the great urban nucleus of the empire, the city of Rome, and those parts of the social continuum which were best able to imitate it, such as the army and some of the more privileged cities of Italy and the provinces. What alea here traces for us is one of the ways in which the astonishing solidity and longevity of Roman imperial society was maintained.

Jack Goody wrote, "Greece and Rome were unique in keeping literacy largely secular, in rejecting . . . the attractions of an exclusive cult, and in avoiding the inhibiting effects of religious literacy".(132) In fact there are various occurrences in antiquity of what Goody calls "literate magic", not least in the subject-matter of this essay; but it was indeed not a religious secrecy that inhibited the spread of literacy in antiquity.

It was a distinctive contribution of the elite in Roman imperial society to extend outwards to certain strata of ordinary society experience of the culture which defined them. Participation in this acculturation mapped hierarchy outside the elite, with the result that lore and information could express status acutely. As one board-inscription eloquently puts it: FRAUDE CARETE GRAVES IGNARI CEDITE DOCTIS ("be sober and abstain from deceit; ignorant folk, make way for the learned").(133) Gaming was closely linked with the formation of cohesive and protective structures for the disadvantaged within the anonymity of a fluid masssociety, and directly reflected the special circumstances of the Roman city: the precariousness of daily life and the unrelenting need for cash. But it was also one of the principal signs of closeness to the truly fortunate reflected in the privileged world of the urban commoda, the spectacles, the beneficence of the powerful and the lure of the little luxury of the tavern. That is why it provided a simulacrum of controlled elite agonistic conflict, warfare, the hunt and politics. The appreciation of all these things finally required some cultural homogeneity mediated by the phenomenon of literacy, even in those milieux to which literacy was only a symbol. Not that any of these transactions was safe or predictable, which is why the institutionalized uncertainty of alea expressed them so perfectly, and why it was in all its facets so constantly linked conceptually with the renegotiation of social status.

The perpetuation of this world was always a source of controversy and anxiety to the elite, who thus despised and condemned the secret knowledge in which the plebeians were adepts, the expertise at alea to which all the sources are so hostile: the more so because it was ultimately an emanation from, a take-off of, the high culture on which their own self-definition depended. The intensity of their feeling reflected the unavoidable fact that they were implicated in this world as participants, and an understanding of the aleatory nature of status. So Ammianus, in emphasizing the arcane skill of the aleator, remarks on how badly the gambler takes it when his malign friendships go wrong and produce social snubs -- "you would think it was Cato not getting elected to the praetorship".(134)

But the anatomy of the culture of alea also involved a half-consciousness among the elite of what was being done in the cultural politics of Roman urban life. They could understand that sharing in the commoda worked both as a favour to an inferior and as a source of social promotion, and their generosity was tempered by hostility to social climbing. They could sometimes be aware that the social life of cities beat to a rhythm that they could control, and if literacy never spread very widely, it was their grudging attitude which inhibited it. Just occasionally some may have had a more positive view. Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the most renowned scholar of gaming, the emperor Claudius, was also notorious for his attempt to add three new letters to the alphabet.(135) (*) I am particularly grateful to Ross McKibbin for drawing my attention to the significance of this subject, and for many useful suggestions; thanks also to Emily Kearns, Donald Russell, Malcolm Davies and Richard Rutherford, and to the audiences of versions of this article given at McGill, Columbia and Princeton Universities, at the British School at Rome, the Institute of Classical Studies, London, and the University of Natal, Pietermaritzberg. (1) Etymologicon magnum, 666, 17, heure so/phos lim/ou me pa/raipha/ien Pal/amedes; see also n. 69 below. (2) Suetonius, Claudius, 33; see also n. 112. (3) Suetonius, Augustus, 71, 3, benignitas mea me ad caelestem gloriam efferet. (4) Seneca, Polybius, 17, 4. (5) Ammianus 14, 6; see also nn. 65-6. (6) Ballontes kleron: Matt. 27.35, Mark 15.24, John 19.24. (7) The scholiast on Plato, Lysis (Scholia platonica, ed. W. C. Greene (Haverford, 1938, repr. Ann Arbor, Mich., 1981), pp. 456-7), has a convenient summary of the origins of the names of the throws in dice and knucklebones: "some were names of Gods, some of heroes, some of kings or prominent men, some of courtesans; while some were named after particular events either out of respect or in mockery". J. T. Voemel, "De Euripide casu talorum", Philologus, xiii (1858), pp. 302-12. (8) R. G. Austin, "Zero's Game of table (AP IX 482)", JI. Hellenic Studies, liv (1934), pp. 202-5; R. G. Austin, "Roman Board Games, I", Greece and Rome, iv (1935), pp. 24-34; R. G. Austin, "Roman Board Games, II", Greece and Rome, v (1935), pp. 76-82. H. Lamer, "Lusoria tabula", Pauly Wissowa, xiii (1927), cols. 1900-2029. For the three game-types, see R. G. Austin, "Greek Board-Games", Antiquity, xiv (1940), pp. 263-6. (9) Naevius 118 (Ribbeck), pessimorum pessime, audax, ganeo, lustro, aleo. (10) Suetonius, Augustus, 68-71. (11) Macrobius, Satires, 3, 16, 13. (12) For alea in Roman comedy, see Plautus, Miles gloriosus, 164; Curculio, 354-6. (13) Odyssey, 1.107. (14) Athenaeus 6.16e-17b, from Apion of Alexandria quoting Cteson of Ithaca. (15) For scurrae, P. B. Corbett, The Scurra (Edinburgh, 1986); also J.-M. Andre, L'Otium dans la vie morale et intellectuelle romaine des origines a l'epoque augusteenne (Paris, 1966), pp. 82-3. Pliny, Historia naturalis, 14, 140, for the guest at a debauch "who drank all his winnings"; note also Horace, Satires, 2, 7, 15-18, the through-and-through scurra Volanerius whose arthritis got so bad that he could no longer load his own dice-pot, so that he paid a daily wage to an assistant to do the job for him! (16) Lamer, "Lusoria tabula", is the standard discussion of Greek games too; also Austin, "Greek Board-Games"; and W. Kendrick Pritchett, "`Five Lines' and IG [I.sup.2], 324", Calif. Studies in Class. Antiquity, i (1968), pp. 187-215. Painting in the Cnidian lesche: Pausanias 10, 31, 1. (17) For the Romanness of gambling, see Aristodemus of Nysa in Vitae Homeri, ed. T. W. Allen, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1931), v, p. 251. (18) Ovid, Ars amatoria, 2.206, 3.353; Aristaenetus 1.23, possibly alluding to Plato, Gorgias, 481-2. (19) The debauched luxury of alea contrasts with decent -- and more effectively distinctive socially -- cultural pursuits: Macrobius, Satires, 1.5, no abacus or latrunculi but "serious narratives and exchanges of conversation"; Cicero, Pro Archia, 6 (13), contrasting studia with both requies animi and the voluptates such as alveolus. (20) Catilinarians, 2, 23, cf. 2, 10.; Philippics, 13, 24; 3, 25; 8, 26. (21) Caligula n. 4; Domitian n. 40; Commodus, Historia Augusta, Commodus, 4, 9, 1; but it is a little extreme to claim that Commodus "turned the Palace into a regular Monte Carlo" with Rodolfo Lanciani, "Gambling, Dicing and Cheating in Ancient Rome", North Amer. Rev., cxlv (1892), p. 104; L. Verus, Historia Augusta Verus, 4, 6: he went off the rails in Syria, turned the palace into a popina and sat up all night playing alea. The declasse urban lifestyle is clearly part of the point, as at Dio 64, 2, 1, on Vitellius' addiction to "taverns and gaming-houses". (22) Juvenal 11.176-8; cf. Persius 3.48-50. (23) These examples are from Inscriptiones latinae selectae (hereafter I.L.S.), 8625; cf. Corpus inscriptionum latinarum (hereafter C.I.L.), 11, 6728, including details of a large collection from near Perugia. For their use, C. Huelsen, "Tessere lusorie", Romische Mitteilungen, xi (1896), pp. 227-37 (identifying the game as latrunculi). (24) Notizie degli Scavi, 1921.215 ff.; cf. Monumenti dell'istituto, 4, plate LIII, n. 46; Notizie degli Scavi, 1887.397 f: vapio and fatue. Erotic scenes on lead counters: R. Mowat, "Les Spintriennes", Rivista italiana di numismatica, xi, fasc. 1 (1898), pp. 39-42, with a nervous plea that these should be taken seriously rather than written off as a relic of Tiberian orgies, though he does not go beyond alluding to the throw Venus. (25) Betting at the Circus, Tertullian, De spectaculis, 16, 1; Juvenal 11, 201-2; Petronius, Satyricon, 70, 13; Martial 11, 1, 15; on gladiators: Ovid, Ars amatoria, 1, 168. Iliad, 23, 485, provides the mythological prototype. For betting on other chances (mainly of the "dare" variety), see Petronius, Satyricon, 58, 8; Seneca, Controversiae, 5, 6; Pliny Historia naturalis, 35, 117; Macrobius, Satires, 3, 17, 15-16. On cockfighting: Columella 8, 2, 5. (26) Juvenal 1.87-93. (27) For Augustus, see above, n. 10; for Piso, see Laus Pisonis: A. Baehrens, Poetae latini minores, 5 vols. (Leipzig, 1879-83), i, 15, 190-208; for an interpretation, E. Champlin, "The Life and Times of Calpurnius Piso", Museum Helveticum, xlvi (1989), pp. 101-24. (28) Loss as ignoble waste, Persius 3.48-50; cf. Horace, Epistles, 1, 18, 21, quem damnosa Venus, quem praeceps alea nudat ("whom ruinous Venus, whom headlong gaming strips"), with a play on the collocation of Venus, sex, as a cause of loss -- expressed in terms of stripping -- with alea, in which Venus, the best throw, is a source of rich gain. Damnosa alea: Juvenal 14, 4. Note also Cicero, Philippics, 2, 67: Antony's drunken alea consumes wealth; with the sneer that even Antony couldn't rely on his luck. Loss of borrowed money: Seneca, De beneficiis, 7, 16, 3. (29) Sale of property, Digest, 44, 5, 2, 1; loss of substance, [Cyprian] 907b-c Migne. Martial (13, 1) likens his poetry to alea; but it brings neither gain nor loss, unlike the pastime for which it substitutes. Quintilian (6, 3, 72) praised the wit of the inveterate gambler Curius who, when upbraided in extravagant terms by his prosecutor for the indigence dicing had brought on him, replied "so I suppose I never won?". (30) King Theoderic would give his winnings to the poor: Sidonius, Epistles, 2, 1, 9. The fines collected from gamblers in late antiquity were used similarly: Codex Iustinianus, 3, 43: fines from lusores to go to opera publica (a suitably urban use): cf. Digest, 11, 5. (31) Suetonius, Augustus, 71.3, Nero, 30; for pre-Roman background, Plutarch, Artaxerxes, 17; cf. Athenaeus 260e. For the value of Roman money, see n. 74. (32) Suetonius, Caligula, 41.2. Compare Julius Caesar at the Rubicon, below, n. 101. (33) For changing Roman attitudes to time, Pliny, Historia naturalis, 7, 212-15; Gellius 3, 3, 5. More recent cases of special times for playing dice, J.-M. Mehl, "Les Jeux de des au [XV.sup.e] siecle d'apres les lettres de remission", in P. Aries and J.-C. Margolin (eds.), Les Jeux a la renaissance (Actes du [xxii.sup.e] colloque int. d'etudes humanistes, 1980, Tours, 1982), pp. 625-34. (34) On otium and feast-days, Andre, Otium, esp. pp. 23-8; on wasting time, pp. 28-32. (35) Sophocles, Palamedes, fr. 479 Radt. (36) Cicero, Philippics, 13.24. (37) Legal ban: Digest 11, 5, 4, with C. Schonhardt, Alea: Uber die Bestrafung des Gluckspiel in alten romischen Recht (Stuttgart, 1885); J. Vaterlein, Roma ludens: Kinder und Erwachsene beim Spiel im antiken Rom (Amsterdam [Heuremata 5], 1976), pp. 8-10. Cicero, Philippics, 2, 55-6; for the Forum as the least suitable place for disgraceful activities, cf. De officiis 1, 145 (singing); 3, 75 (dancing). (38) Immunity during the Saturnalia: Martial 4, 41, 7-9; 5, 84, 3; 11, 6, contrasting the freedom and leisure of the festival which regnator fritillus, "the dice-pot king", commands with the world of work; so he too will not write laboriosi versus, 14, 1-3 Lucian, Saturnalia, 4. Vaterlein, Roma ludens, fig. 2 (p. 112), drawing of table with dice-pot and dice which stands for December in a fourth-century calendar. (39) Martial 5, 84, 3. (40) Quinquatrus, Suetonius, Augustus, 71, 3; Domitian, 21. (41) Sidonius, Epistles, 8, 12, 5. (42) Tacitus, Germania, 24. (43) Juvenal 8, 9-12; 14, 4-5 is a close parallel: if the destructive dice-game pleases the old man, then even before his maturity, his heir plays too and brandishes the same weapons -- in a smaller dice-pot". Petteia as simile for combat, Polybius 1, 84, 7. In Laus Pisonis, the military prowess of Piso's forebears is juxtaposed with his taste for alea, described in very bellicose terms. Pyrgus "tower" (dice-pot) has military overtones: see the example cited, n. 99. (44) Horace, Odes, 3, 24; cf Persius 5, 57, on the varied fortunes of men: "one enjoys the sports of the Campus [Martius], while another is roasted by dicing" (hic Campo indulget, hunc alea decoguit). (45) Seneca, De brevitate vitae, 13, 1: other instances of alea contrasted with worthwhile intellectual skills include Persius (cit. n. 22); Macrobius, Satires 1, 5, 11; John Chrysostom, Homily 33 John 4. If the house is on fire (a characteristic urban peril), no one persists in their mania for alea: Seneca, Epistles, 1, 17. (46) Ovid, Remedia amoris, 145-7. (47) Valerius Maximus 8, 8 (de otio), 2; cf. Quintilian 11, 2, 38: Scaevola's formidable memory of the sequence of moves in duodecim scripta helped his oratory. Piso's gaming likewise a legitimate respite from the legal workload: Laus Pisonis, 139-58. (48) The later manuscripts of Valerius Maximus claimed that Scaevola excelled at scurrilibus lusibus: perplexity, D. Souterus, Palamedes sive de tabula lusoria, i (Leiden, 1625), p. 17. It may not be necessary to delete scurrilis entirely with more modern editions: cf n. 15 above. (49) Anthologia palatina, 9, 482, with Austin, "Zero's Game of table"; Sidonius, Epistles, 8, 12, 5. Ovid's strategy, Ars amatoria, 1, 451. (50) Historia Augusta, Proculus, 13; cf. Artemidorus, Oneirocritica, 3, 1. (51) Plutarch, Antony, 29; 33; with Cicero, Philippics, 2, 67 (n. 28), cf. C. Pelling, A Commentary on Plutarch's Life of Antony (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 206-7. (52) J.-C. Margolin, "Les Jeux a la renaissance", in Aries and Margolin (eds.), Jeux a la renaissance, pp. 661-90, n. 33. (53) Piso's ball-game entertains the clients: Laus Pisonis; cf. Sidonius, Carmina, 23, 490 and 462-6. (54) So Cicero, De finibus, 5, 6; cf. Pliny, Panegyric, 82. (55) Pliny, Epistles, 7, 24, 5. (56) Euripides, Medea, 67-78; Cicero, Cato Maior, 58. (57) Suetonius, Augustus, 71. (58) Suetonius, Claudius, 5; 33; cf. 39; and Vitellius, 4; Seneca, Apocolocyntosis, 12-14. (59) Laus Pisonis, 190-208, with Champlin, "Life and Times of Calpurnius Piso". Alea, as the quintessence of otium, is here the safe alternative to a military career and a reproach, that real military glory is denied the aristocrat; but also a hint of ambition, through the allusive evocation of royal dicers and the spirit of the Rubicon (cf. Lucan, Pharsalia, 226 "te, Fortuna, sequor"). Thrasea's inaction: esp. Tacitus, Annals, 16, 22. (60) Seneca, De tranquillitate animi, 14, 7. Suetonius, Claudius, 39, with black humour, has absent-minded Claudius summon men whom he has executed either to a council-meeting or to a game of dice. (61) LITORE BAIANO FELICI KALAMO CAPERE PISCES, Annee epigraphique, 1949.80 (from A. Ferrua, "Tavole lusorie scritte", Epigraphica, viii (1946), pp. 53-73). (62) N. Purcell, "The City of Rome and the plebs urbana in the Late Republic", Camb. Anc. Hist., ix (1994), pp. 644-88. (63) Columella 1, 8, 2. (64) R. Caillois (ed.), Jeux et sports (Encyclopedie de la pleiade, xxiii, Paris, 1967), p. xv. (65) Ammianus 14, 6, 25-6 (these passages); cf. 28, 4, 21. For noisy aleatores, see Sidonius, Epistles, 219, "aleatoriarum vocum competitiones"; and on conspicuous play, below, n. 103. (66) Thanks to Alan Cameron for help with ancient attitudes to snorting and reference to C. Bonner, "A Tarsian Peculiarity", Harvard Theolog. Rev., xxxv (1942), pp. 1-11, for various "nasal misbehaviour". Cf Synesius, De providentia, 3; Juvenal 7, 73. (67) Pseudo-Cyprian, Adversus aleatores (Patrologia latina, iv 903-11). Adolf Harnack, Der pseudocyprianische Tractat De Aleatoribus (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, ed. Oscar von Gebhardt and Adolf Harnack, v, 1, Leipzig, 1888), pp. 1-125; cf. S. T. Carrol, "An Early Church Sermon against Gambling (CPL 60)", The Second Cent., viii (1991), pp. 83-95. (68) In the indices of the great collections of inscriptions on which Roman social history depends this material is considered low grade or trivial, and publication has often been delayed or omitted, probably skewing the apparent geographical distribution. (69) On the boards, Max Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", in Max Ihm (ed.), Bonner Studien: Studien fur R. Kekule (Bonn, 1890), pp. 223-9; Max Ihm, "Delle tavole lusorie romane", Romische Mitteilungen, vi (1891), pp. 208-20; Lamer, "Lusoria tabula"; Ferrua, "Tavole lusorie scritte"; and A. Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusorie iscritte", Epigraphica, xxvi (1964), pp. 3-44; "Antiche iscrizioni inedite di Roma", Epigraphica, xxix (1967), pp. 62-100 at 64-8; G. Montesano, "Lusoria tabula", in E. De Ruggiero (ed.), Dizionario Epigrafico, IV (fasc. 69: Rome 1980), cols. 2229-43, gives the following rough distribution statistics for inscribed examples: Rome 70, Ostia 8, rest of Italy 7, North Africa 15, north-west provinces 5. Greek abaci bear some inscriptions, but the only 36-space Greek inscription known is from a literary source: see n. 1. (70) The reuse of so many tabulae lusoriae in catacombs might also have some positive significance, with reference to the early Christian theology of play: see H. Rahner, Man at Play (London, 1967). The skilled dicer of I.L.S., 7755a (cf n. 112) was buried in the catacomb of S. Cyriaco; a representation of the soldiers dicing at the foot of the Cross, from the Via Latina catacombs, A. Ferrua, Le pitture della nuova catacomba della Via Latina (Vatican City, 1960); Christian symbols on an area-board: Epigraphica, xxxii (1970), pp. 92-3, no. 142. A late version of a type different from the 36-space boards but common in the Greek world, Corpus inscriptionum graecarum, 8983 (Rome), has an invocation in Greek to Jesus to assist the writer (thus interestingly emphasizing the inscription itself) in his dicing. See also C.I.L., 7, 8407 PATRIS ET FILI SERVUS PLENUS EXIVIT ARATOR, clearly Christian in sentiment whatever it means in detail. (71) Ammianus 14, 6, 25. (72) Monuments from Appia and the Upper Tembris Valley, ed. B. M. Levick and S. Mitchell (Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiquae, x, London, 1993), p. 107, no. 330. (73) C.I.L., 4, 2119 "Vici Nuceriae inalia [sic] * DCCCLVS fide bona". (74) Grain rations: G. Rickman, The Corn-Supply of Ancient Rome (Oxford, 1980), p. 153, with p. 10. Summae honorariae for low public office: R. Duncan-Jones, The Economy of the Roman Empire: Quantitative Studies, 2nd edn. (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 147-55. (75) Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 21. For games at Venice, A. Olivieri, "Jeu et capitalisme a Venise, 1530-60", in Aries and Margolin (eds.), Jeux a la renaissance, pp. 151-62. (76) Varro, De re rustica, 3, 3, 16. The much more common word for chance, casus, with its underlying sense of "falling", has also been linked with alea: Vaterlein, Roma ludens, pp. 11 - 12; cf. E. Sittig, Das Alter der Anordnung unserer Kasus und der Ursprung ihrer Bezeichnung als "Falle" (Tubinger Beitrage, xiii, Stuttgart, 1931). (77) Alea characteristic of the expensive needs of living in the city rather than a country town: Martial 4, 66, 16. (78) Petronius, Satyricon, 33, 2. (79) Digest, 11, 5, 4. (80) Anthologia latina, ii (Riese), pp. 59-61, nos. 495-506 (attributed to the Twelve Wise Men), 498, 502, 506 (pleas for peace). (81) M. Annechino, "Fritillus", Chronache Pompeiane, iii (1977), pp. 198-213, at p. 207; cf. male and female genitalia on the complex area-board: C.I.L., 14, 4125, 4. Palamedes' dice displayed in the Temple of Fortune at Argos, Pausanias 2, 20, 3. (82) Dice-oracles: C.I.L., 1, 267 (Patavium); cf. A. Mau, "Astragalornanteia", Pauly Wissowa, ii, 19, cols. 1793-5; G. Kaibel, "Ein Wurfelorakel", Hennes, x (1876), pp. 193-202; J. Nolle, "Sudkleinasiatische Losorakel in der romischen Kaiserzeit", Antike Welt, xviii (1987), pp. 41-9. Contrast Gellius 14, 1, 24; astrologers cannot predict the outcome of games of chance. (83) Annee epigraphique, 1953.48 (Mactar), APOLLO GENIUS LIBERO PATRIO CERERI CASTAE. (84) Anthologia latina, 503. (85) C.I.L., 8, 79, 98; some parallel in Anthologia latina, 82, 14, "adversis punctis doctum se nemo fatetur"; cf. Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 52, VINCERE FATUM SENSUS DOCUIT TABULA LUDERE (`sense teaches how to play on the board - and destiny how to win"); cf. ibid, 70, CRESCO (PER)CREPAS GAUDEO (PER)PLORAS INVEDE MORERE ("I am winning, you complain (a great deal); I am pleased, you weep (a great deal); envious one, you will die"), making victory apotropaic by assimilating the unlucky opponent to the source of the Evil Eye. (86) Pausanians 10, 31, 1 (the tradition goes back to the Cypria). Fish and dicing in the Greek tradition: Herodotus 1, 62-3. (87) Annee epigraphique, 1965.151 (from Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusorie iscritte"). Cf. ibid., p. 4, SEVERE FURARE QUERES LUDERE NON VIS VENARI (something like "Severus, you are trying to be a thief: you don't want to play, but to hunt!"); Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 19, MERULA CANTAT. (88) C.I.L., 8, 17938 = I.L.S., 8626 f = Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 48. (89) C.I.L., 9, 4907 (Monteleone) = I.L.S., 8626 e = Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 39. (90) Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusoriae iscritte", p. 34, n. 178; cf. Lanciani, "Gambling, Dicing and Cheating in Ancient Rome". (91) Annee epigraphique, 1949.83; cf 1965.151, SEMPER [VINCAS] ESUCHI [OMNIUM] LUSOR O[PTIMUS] ("may you always win, Hesychius, best player of all!"). Hesychius, a noted charioteer, is described with the word lusor, which alludes equally to the user of the board. Cf. on charioteers and alea, Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusorie iscritte". Palm of victory, transposed into a monogram which stood for PALMA FELICITER: L. Bruzza, "Della interpretazione della monogramma PF nei contorniati e nelle inscrizioni", Annali dell'lnstituto, xlix (1877), pp. 58-72. (92) Annee epigraphique, 1949.82; cf; Bulletino della Commissione comunale di Roma, 1887.190, CIRCUS PLENUS CLAMOR INGENS IANUAE TE[ ]; Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusorie iscritte", no. 81, VICTORI PALMA VICTUS SURGAT LUDERE NESCIT ("the palm for the winner, let the loser be off: he does not know how to play"); Annee epigraphique, 1942-3.107, VICTOR CANTAT VICTUS CLAMAT [VICTO]R GAUDET ("the winner sings, the loser cries; the winner is happy"). The term victor immediately suggests the world of the spectacula. For white and red as the oldest colours of the factions, Tertullian, De spectaculis, 10, 5. (93) Firmicus Maternus 8, 25, 3, "erit aleator populari notione perspicuus": cf. n. 116. (94) Gorgias, Palamedes, 30; Aeschylus, Palamedes, 304 (Mette); Sophocles, Palamedes, fr. 432 Radt. (95) Pliny, Historia naturalis, 37, 13. (96) I.L.S., 8626a, tentatively dated to A.D. 296 by Lamer, "Lusoria tabula", colt 2010. The single word ROMA in a prominent position, C.I.L., 14, 4125, 4; cf. n. 81. Contrast, however, the celebration of the monuments and sights of Rome's ancient rival Alexandria on the tesserae known as "contorniates": A. and E. Alfoldi, Die Kontorniat-Medaillom (Berlin, 1990). (97) C.I.L., 13, 3865=I.L.S., 8627a=Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", no. 49. (98) Annee epigraphique, 1891.131. Cf. Inscriptiones Latinae Africae, 290, PATRIA SANCTA FACIAS UT MEOS SALVOS VIDEAM ("holy fatherland, let me see my people return safely!"). (99) H. G. Horn, "Si per me misit, nil nisi vote feret: Ein romischer Spielturm aus Froitzheim", Bonner Jahrbucher, clxxxix (1989), pp. 139-60. (100) Polybius 39, 2, 2 (101) Plutarch, Caesar, 32, anerrhiphtho kubos; cf. Pompey, 60; Appian, Bellum civile, 2, 35; Suetonius, Divus Julius, 33, "iacta alea est", all perhaps originally from the historian Asinius Pollio. (102) Sidonius, Carmina, 23, 444, hilarem ciere rixam ("raising a jolly brawl"). Calming advice: Anthologia latina, 497, 498, 502, 505-6. Note the connection of gaming with immoral or unreliable friendships, above nn. 51 (Antony), 65 (the bad friendships of plebeians in fourth-century Rome): [Cyprian] 907a Migne rabiosa amicitia. For the psychology of the compulsive gambler and its associated social forms in modern times B. P. Davies and D. M. Downes (eds.), Gambling, Work and Leisure (London, 1976), O. Newman, Gambling: Hazard and Reward (London, 1972); suggesting, briefly but plausibly, that these were a feature of the Roman tavern, K. Hopkins, Death and Renewal (Cambridge, 1983), p. 26. (103) On noise, with Ammianus 14, 6, 25-6; Sidonius, Epistles, 2, 9; 5, 17; 8, 12, for the noise of fritilli. For the player as spectacle, J. Ehrmann, "Homo ludens Revisited", in J. Ehrmann (ed.), Game, Play, Literature (Chicago, Ill., 1968), pp. 31-57, at p. 56, the player as at once subject and object of the play. (104) Anthologia latina, 504; for the phrase, see Ovid, Nux, 75-6. The jurist: Paul, Digest, 47, 10, 26. (105) Annee epigraphique, 1953.96 (Lepcis Magna), NULLAM TENERE PARTEM QUERIS LUDERE NESCIS. A very common variant is "make way for a (real) player", DA LUSORI LOCUM: Ihm, "Romische Spieltafeln", nos. 55-64. For the ludere nescis theme, ibid., nos. 22-91; most common is VINCES GAUDES LUDERE NESCIS PERDIS PLORAS in various combinations ("you win, you're happy: you don't know how to play: you lose, you cry") see also Anthologia latina, 333, on the mad gambler who thinks that he can control the dice: 11. 1-2, sed Iadere nescit / et putat imperio currere puncta suo ("but he doesn't know how to play and thinks that the points turn up at his command"). (106) Euripides, Palamedes, fr. 582 Nauck. For pessoi, Sophocles, Nauplius Pyrkaeus, 429 Radt; Palamedes, 479 Radt, with Eustathius, On the Iliad, 228,6. (107) On this tradition, see E. Wust, "Palamedes", Pauly Wissowa, xvii (1942), cols. 2500-12, at 2502-3; Nauck, Tragicorum graecorum fragmenta, at p. 541, quoting esp. Hyginus, Fabulae, 105. (108) Gorgias, Palamedes, B 11 a 30 Diels-Krantz: tis gar an epoiese ton anthropeiom bion porimon ex aporou kai kekosmemenon ex akosmou?. (109) J. Huizinga, Homo ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture (London, 1949 edn.). (110) R. Caillois, Les jeux et les hommes (Paris, 1958), trans. as Man, Play and Games (London, 1961); cf. C. Geertz, "Deep Play: Interpretations of the Balinese Cockfight", in his The Interpretatiom of Cultures: Selected Essays (London, 1978), ch. 15; and with further bibliography, A. Cheska, "The Study of Play from Five Different Anthropological Angles", in M. A. Salter (ed.), Play: Anthropological Perspectives (West Point, N.Y., 1978). (111) See, for example, Ehrmann, "Homo ludens Revisited", p. 56, "play and reality and culture are synonymous", a rather extreme statement of this point of view. P. Aries, "Du Serieux au frivole", in Aries and Margolin (eds.), Jeux a la renaissance, pp. 7-15, speaks of a linear progression from the serious to the frivolous and sees some societies as decisively less serious than others; but it seems better to see a more complex process of constant redefition of the boundary between the two -- as L.-J. Calvet, Leseux de la societe (Paris, 1978) memorably puts it, "les jeux precipitant l'air du temps". (112) Scientific approaches to alea: Suetonius, Claudius, 33, aleam studiosissime ludit, de cuius arte librum quoque emisit ("he played alea with the greatest scholarly attention, and also published a treatise on the discipline of playing it skilfully"); Ovid, Tristia, 2, 471-92, treatises on the "artes quibus alea luditur", the skills with which alea is played; Calvus, quoted by Asconius 93 Clark, et talos pereruditus ("of the highest learning in regard to dice"). Note also the funerary praises of Lucilius Victorinus, "artifex artis tesselarie lusorie ("artist-technician of the counter- and gaming-lab."): I.L.S., 7755a. In the Greek tradition too, skill is emphasized: see esp. Plato, Republic, 333b, 374c, 487b. Memory and alea: n. 47. (113) Publilius Syrus 33, "aleator quanto in arte est potior, tanto est nequior"; cf n. 19. (114) There is a sense in which the elite continuum of literae resembles the "great organizations"--law codes, empires' economic systems, the major world religions, whose relationships to the management of writing are examined by J. Goody, The Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society (Cambridge, 1986). The Romans perceived a relationship between children's play and learning: Vaterlein, Roma ludens, pp. 14-18. (115) Palladas, Anthologia palatina, 11, 303; cf. the positive attitude of Philostratus, Heroicus, 20, 2 (153). (116) Firmicus Maternus 8, 25, 3, "haec autem pars etiam in litteris vehementer peritos efficit". (117) Hesychius and Pollux s.vv. Suetonius' On Children's Games, known only in severely abbreviated Greek translation (revealingly twinned with a similar pamphlet on personal abuse), is an instance of game-scholarship: J. Taillardat, Suetone: peri paidion, peri blasphemion, extraits byzantins (Paris, 1967). Poems playing with riddling interpretations of dice-throws, Anthologia palatina, 7, 422, 427. (118) Hesychius s.vv. (119) Stesichorus fr. 213 Page; note the term stoicheia, rich in the association of letters with other sorts of order. (120) Etymologicon magnum, 666, 13, s.v. pessoi. (121) E. A. Havelock, The Literate Revolution in Greece and its Cultural Consequences (Princeton, N.J., 1982), p. 26, excessively emphasizing the idea of "practicing letters"; B. Powell, "Why Was the Greek Alphabet Invented? The Epigraphical Evidence", Classical Antiquity, viii (1989), pp. 321-50. (122) L. Jeffrey, The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece, 2nd edn. (Oxford, 1990), pp. 43-50, for the geometry of archaic inscriptions; G. Woodhead, The Study of Greek Inscriptions (Cambridge, 1981), pp. 31-2, for grid-layout. (123) P. Keyser, "The Origin of Latin Numerals", Amer. Jl., Archaeol., xcii (1988), pp. 529-46, with bibliography on Roman numerals. (124) Abaci: A. Nagl, Die Rechentafel der Alten (Sitz. Akad. Wiss. Wien, Phil.-Hist. Kl., clxxvii, 5, Vienna, 1914). (125) W, K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, 6 vols. (Cambridge, 1962), i, pp. 242-56. (126) See nn. 23-4 above. (127) Isidore 18, 64; cf. 65-6; Suda also compares it to the universe; cf. the game polis: W. Ridgeway "The Game of polis and Plato's Rep. 422e", Jl. Hellenic Studies, xvi (1896), pp. 288-90. For dicing and fate, see n. 82. (128) Thoth: Plato, Phaedrus, 274 d 1, with G. J. de Vries, A Commentary on the Phaedrus of Plato (Amsterdam, 1969), p. 248; number, letters, geometry and astronomy are again all included in the package. The Devil: [Cyprian] 908b-c Migne. (129) C.I.L., 14, 5317 with Vaterlein, Roma ludens, p. 57; cf. Ihm, "Delle tavole lusorie romane", p. 218. Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusoriae iscritte", p. 12, no. 142, [ABCDEF GHIKLM] NOPQRS TVXYZ ABCDEF GHIKLM; nos. 143-4, ABCDEF ABCDBF ABCDEF ABCDEF ABCDEF ABCDEF; C.I.L., xiv, 3157 (Ostia), BBBBBB CCCCCC AAAAA AAAAA DDDDDD EEEEEE. Garbled in Ihm, "Delle tavole lusorie romane", p. 209, no. 19; SADPAI [ = sapida] STUPID(A) MERULA CANTAT ANCEPS [ = auceps] ACPTAT [ = captat]. REGES: Ferrua, "Nuove tabulae lusoriae iscritte", p. 42, no. 191 and fig. 11c. For an example of marginal literacy, Annee epigraphique, 1930.68. (130) Ehrmann, "Homo ludens Revisited", p. 56. (131) J. Goody, The Interface between the Written and the Oral (Cambridge, 1987), p. 300, "cognitively, as well as sociologically, writing underpins `Civilizatiorl', the culture of cities". For literacy and time, see K. Gough, "Implications of Literacy in Traditional India and China", in J. Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 69-84, e.g. pp. 75-6. For ancient literacy as something between "science" and "magic", see Goody (ed.), Interface between the Written and the Oral, pp. 64-77. (132) Goody (ed.), Literacy in Traditional Societies, pp. 16-18; F. Dornsieff, Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie: Corpus der ABC Denkmaler (Leipzig and Berlin, 1925). (133) Anthologia latina, 496. (134) Ammianus 28.4.21, on the ignobilis artis tesserariae callens arcana ("expert at the arcane of the ignoble science of counters"). (135) Tacitus, Annals, 11.14-15; Claudius' punishment in Hades was to play alea endlessly without result: Seneca, Apocolocyntosis, 14-15. Kaiser Wilhelm II's treatise on ice-skating (Lamer, "Lusoria tabula", col. 1910) is not a good parallel if the argument of this article is correct!
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Author:Purcell, Nicholas
Publication:Past & Present
Date:May 1, 1995
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