How to Gamble like an Ancient Roman

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Exekias

It’s funny how much effect technology has had on the gambling world. No matter how much

wealth and free time a civilization has, it takes more than just that to attain the level of casino

gameplay that we have today. In ancient Rome, there were no playing cards and dice were made

of rough, uneven bones, but that didn’t stop people from playing. In fact, gambling was illegal

outside of public events, but that didn’t stop people from playing, either. With subtlety being

important and also with a considerable lack of roulette spinners, these are just a few games that

the ancients came up with.

1. Knucklebones

In ancient Roman times, the game of Jacks was much more dangerous. Instead of a cushy

bouncy ball, Romanswould throw an animal’s knucklebone as high into the air as they could,

then pick up as many other knucklebones as they could before it came slamming back down. All

the points were null unless the player caught the bone in the air before it came crashing back

down. No pity points were given if the bone landed on their heads. This popular game of chicken

crossed with bone-picking was also played using rocks, so there is no need to buy animal bones

to try out this traditional family activity.

2. Pseudo-Checkers

It would be a long time before anything as complicated as chess came out, but game boards

similar to modern chess boards can be found scratched into floors of many ancient Roman

buildings. The rules may have been a little different, but the general idea is the same. The next

time you place bets on a game of checkers, remember that people have been doing so for

thousands of years.

3. Par Impar

If you love counting, you’ll adore this game. One player scoops up a pile of pebbles, and the

other guesses whether there is an odd or even amount. It couldn’t get more intense than this. The

name of the game literally means “odd or even.” There is nothing else to this game, except a

friendly wager.

4. Navia aut Capita

How is your Latin? This phrase has a beautiful ring to it if you speak English, but to a natural-

born ancient Roman, it just sounds like “ships or head,” their equivalent of “heads or tails.” This

riveting game was played for bets in the time before playing cards.

It can be difficult to choose between exciting games of heads or tails and completely safe games

of knucklebones, so just remember there is no need to try them all at once. Take your time and

remember you are remaking history.\

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