Ancient Roman Indoor Games

Updated July 20, 2017

Ancient Romans played a wide variety of indoor games. Dice and dice variants were popular gambling games. As well as their own games, the Romans played games started by the Greeks and Egyptians. The Romans changed some of these games. They played games in the baths, on the street, in taverns, brothels, gambling houses and in the home. Some are forerunners of modern games. Researchers can find examples of the games, but not always the rules.

Dice Games

The Romans used 6-sided dice much like modern dice in a game similar to modern craps. Roman board games used dice much as modern board games do. They also had knucklebones, which were similar to dice. Knucklebones were sheep bones with 4 sides that the Romans adapted from the Greeks. Originally, they were actual sheep bones. The Romans made them from glass, precious stones, bone clay or metal. The sides had the numbers 1, 3, 4 or 6 on them. Knucklebones was one of the most popular ancient Roman games.

Board Games

In their board games, the ancient Romans used boards that were commonly 8-by-8, 8-by-12 and 12-by-12 inches. Sometimes, they played the same game on different board sizes. The boards could be made of wood, wood with inlay, marble or bronze. Without instructions for some of the games, no one knows exactly how to play them. Duodecim scripta used three dice and evolved into the game called tabula, similar to backgammon. Some think the game felix sex, or six words, is also a variant of backgammon. Some scholars say the popular Egyptian game senet is a precursor of these Roman games. Tabula was popular with soldiers, and they spread the game over the world. Pettcia was a Greek version Romans modified into the Roman game, latrunculi. They played it on an 8-by-8 or 8-by-12 board. Latrunculi used markers and was played similarly to chess or draughts. Senet was played with sticks instead of dice. The senet board is 3-by-9. The exact rules and instructions for senet are unknown. Pente grammai is originally a Greek game, played on a 5-by-5 board that may have required dice.

Miscellaneous Games

Terni lappali was popular. It is similar to tic-tac-toe. Ovid recommended the game for women to play if they wanted to have luck in love. Heads and ships was a popular gambling game. It's the same as heads and tails, but Roman coins had ships on the tail side of the coin.

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About the Author

Now living in Arizona, Les Moore has written reports of motorcycle races for "Cycle News" and "Midwest Motorcycling" since 1969. He has provided technical and procedural data for the Intra and Internet. Moore received a Certificate of Drafting from San Jose Community College in 1982.