si per me misit, nil nisi vota feret.
throw the dice, has thrown them through me, he will
achieve nothing beyond prayers.
Now the ultimate cure for cheating dicers of all types was created by the Romans and it was the pyrgus, which was a hands-free dice rolling device we call a dice tower. This clever device had baffles inside to mix up the dice as they descended by gravity and then they rolled down a stair, randomizing them even more to obtain fair throw. Additionally, some pyrguii had little courtyards or enclosures at the base to keep the dice that tumbled down the tower from rolling out father into the play area. Remember back when you were gaming and you had players throwing dice into a box top to keep them constrained when some gamers were notorious wild throwers. This courtyard was the ancient cure for enthusiastic or wild throws. Nobody wants their miniatures knocked about by errant dice.
Clearly the Pict reference on the tower suggests it was owned at some time by a Legionaire or officer who served on the frontier against the Picts, possibly at one of the forts on Hadrian’s Wall. Who knows how long it was used and changed hands until it was carefully hidden away in its box in the waning years of the Roman presence in Germania, 400 miles from Hadrian’s Wall, having crossed the channel from the British Isles. Given the proximity of its final resting place near a villa close to the Roman super-fort on the Rhine, my guess is that the dice tower with its military reference had a closer association with Castra Bonnesis or was owned by a retired officer who was given land in Germania as reward for service. Then again, it might have been won in a dice game.
I suspect the most common dice towers were more than likely wood, probably with bone or ivory inlay according to taste and pocketbook. But it’s not beyond the realm for a really wealthy person to have one in silver or even gold, but given the chances of one in precious metal surviving being melted down would be pretty slim. About the only material that probably wasn’t used in a dice tower is terracotta as there have been no fragments found. Although there are only two identified, complete dice towers discovered, the one in Germany and the other in Egypt (probably Ptolemaic or Roman era) housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo . Archeologist R. E. Cobbett suggests that decorative bone fragments found at the Richborough Roman fort in the UK are fragmentary remains of a wooden dice tower used in ancient Britain .
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