The Ancient Origins of Dice Games

Dice were once seen as tools of fate or divine intervention. Before Galileo and others started mathematically analyzing dice in the 16th century, people generally believed they came down in such ways due to fate or divine intervention.

Researchers conducted an in-depth investigation of 110 medieval dice from museums and archaeological depots across the Netherlands and cross-compared them with modern dice, uncovering subtle changes over the course of centuries.


Dice games don’t have a clear beginning. Archaeologists have discovered them in both Egyptian tombs and Roman ones; most were usually cube-shaped dice but people have also used two-, four- and eight-sided polyhedron dice for play.

Early precursors to modern dice were likely knucklebones with numbers on them. While most had three sides marked like dice, others featured four-sided markings similar to what can be found in senet games.

Cubic-shaped dice date back to 2500 BCE and were popular in Egypt and ancient India; written records have mentioned them both times. Romans loved a gamble too and used many different types of dice, including their signature cube-shaped structure with ramps along which dice were rolled off of. Unfortunately, though, archaeologists have discovered weighted dice which made certain numbers appear more often.


Dice were originally made from animal knucklebones, carved bone, and ivory carvings. Later on, Romans adopted four-sided spotted dice called Tali as well as standard six-sided sets called Tesserae for use in games of chance.

Nowadays, dice can be found made of various materials and shapes and sizes. Some people collect dice while others simply play them for fun.

Dice have become such a hit that museums now regularly display and sell them, offering a great opportunity for learning more about their history. Dice can provide a fascinating window into how people change their worldview; for instance, one recent study of 110 cube-shaped dice produced before 400 or Roman times varied greatly in both shape and material composition; around 1100 this changed significantly; perhaps to limit any attempts by unscrupulous players who might manipulate odds by adding or subtracting numbers from dice.


Dice are often thought of as games of chance, but their predecessors likely served a more important function – fortune-telling. Knucklebones or astragals from sheep, goats, deer, horses and other hoofed mammals could be used for fortune telling and carving with numbers as precursors to later dice-like objects made out of various materials in ancient Greece and Rome – these being called ‘Tali” or ‘Tesserae”.

Before the 16th century when scientists like Galileo started analyzing how things happened in nature, earlier civilizations may not view luck as an objective scientific phenomenon – instead believing dice to fall the same way due to fate or some sort of supernatural order. Perhaps this explains why British intelligence officers would use trick dice during World War II prisoner-of-war camps so as to win more games and gain trust of their captors before finally managing an escape plan.


Ancient dice could be created from bone, ivory, bronze and precious stones for gaming and divination purposes. Lewis and Clark made significant contributions to this history during their epic adventure across America; Native Americans loved playing dice too and often made them out of bone, shells or fruit pits, enjoying these games just as much as men did. Women especially found these games exciting!

Dice began evolving around the 14th century when they became more uniform in shape and size – likely as an attempt by unscrupulous players to ensure they always landed on their desired number.

Due to Dungeons and Dragons’ revival, polyhedral dice sets have seen an upsurge in popularity as well. These come in various shapes and colors for realistic simulation, providing another layer of depth in any tabletop game although their use may not always be random!

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