Greece and Rome

Research Article

Roman Board Games. II

R. G. Austin

It is now time to deal with the much-discussed and much-abused passage of Isidore, Orig. xviii. 60 ff. The account begins: ‘De Tabula. Alea, id est lusus tabulae, inventa a Graecis …; tabula luditur pyrgo, calculis tesserisque.’ After explaining the meaning of pyrgus (dice-box), calculi, and tesserae, Isidore continues with a section entitled De Figuris Aleae, a description of the board; then follow the names of the throws, remarks on the best way of throwing, and a description of the movement of pieces; the account ends with the statement that owing to its immoral tendencies the game was forbidden by law. Now, if this passage is read as a whole and without bias, it is clear that Isidore is giving a methodical account of one particular game, which he calls ‘Alea’ or ‘Tabula’.