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Roman Culture and Gambling

Different Forms of Gambling in Ancient Rome

We all know for a fact that mankind has been keen on gambling since the early stages of human civilization. But have you ever wondered what is that impulse that makes us want to play the games based on pure luck? Whatever the motive is, from early ages of Ancient Greece and Rome to the present day, gambling was a popular leisure activity and is nowadays spread across numerous online casinos, all over the globe. In fact, let us take you to Ancient Rome and discover a little bit more about Roman gambling habits!

Gambling as a Popular Activity

During the ancient times, the Romans were passionate gamblers with chronic betting habits, which eventually became their daily routine. Interestingly, all classes participated in gambling, from slaves to emperors; everyone from handicrafts workers to Senator, tried their luck while playing the games.

Whichever their status in the society was, everyone was mad about gambling. From nobles to the ordinary citizens, everybody was addicted.

From a gender point of view, women were excluded from any gambling activities with men, but we can only assume that the richer female individuals were allowed to play and show up among certain groups of gamblers. There was a special occasion during the Bona Dea festival, when women were permitted to play, as an event was being organised for ladies specially.

The Most Popular Games

Long before online slots and table games, two types of games existed at the time – the ones with dice only, as well as the games which included the dice and a board, with pieces that were moved by throws of dice. These boards usually had 36 squares with various symbols on them, such as squares, leaves, letters, and crosses. Three dices were thrown and the luckiest throw was considered to be the combination of “three sixes”.

Likewise, one of the most popular games was an early version of backgammon, also know as the “game of twelve lines” or “the game of twelve signs.” It was played using three cubic dice, where each player had 15 pieces.

Another famous game of that time was called the game of brigands. As a popular strategy game, it had pieces of glass in different colours. The winner was the player who captured the highest number of pieces, after which he was named the “king.”

Furthermore, knucklebones were used by Roman people in the form of two types of games. One was a game of skill in which 5 bones were involved. These bones were thrown up into the air and had to be caught in the hand on the way down. The other knucklebones type of a game was a chance. More specifically, players used 4 bones, each with a value from of 1 to 6, although only the numbers 1, 3, 4 and 6 were marked. The highest throw was called the Venus, whereas the lowest throw (of all aces) was called the Dog.

Gambling Laws and Regulations

Except on certain holidays and special occasions, gambling was generally forbidden in Rome, both during the republican and the imperial periods. Since it was impossible to ban gambling activities completely, the only time when any sorts of betting were legal was during a popular festival – Saturnalia, which was organised in the honour of the God Saturn.

That was the time when everybody was allowed to gamble to their heart’s content. More importantly, the event was the only opportunity when the slaves and their masters had a rare chance to gamble at the same table.

Apart from Saturnalia, taking part in any gambling activity was restricted and those who were caught betting were fined. Before the gambling was strictly forbidden, citizens could gamble inside their homes or at public houses that were opened for such entertaining occasions like taverns, brothels, private homes, and frontier forts.

Unsurprisingly, these laws have never stopped people from gambling. Their passion for gambling was so strong that it often inspired writers of satire to criticise the emperors’ weakness for games of chance and betting. However, Romans continued to test their luck and play their own smaller-scale games of chance.

Any Thoughts on the Subject?

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