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2-Roman-Games-art - 7/19/14


"Roman Games: Tesserae and Tropa" by Despotes Halfdan 'Two Bears' Ozurrson.


NOTE: See also the files: Knucklebones-art, Cards-a-Dice-art, Hazard-Craps-art, taverns-msg, games-msg, Mancala-art, Hnefatafl-art, fd-Romans-msg.






This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org




This article was first published in the March 2014 issue of "The Dragon Tale", Barony of Selviergard, Principality of Oertha in the Kingdom of the West.


Roman Games:  Tesserae and Tropa

by Despotes Halfdan 'Two Bears' Ozurrson


Games are an important part of the human experience. Games are how people unwind after a long day, socialize with other people, and have fun. The ancient Romans were no different, as revealed in documents from the time period. In fact, many of the games that the ancient Romans played can be seen today in one form or another.


Games of chance, such as throwing dice, were a particularly popular type of game. Games like tesserae and tropa, by far the most written about games of the Roman Empire, often involved gambling. Gambling became so popular in the Roman Empire that a law was passed limiting gambling solely to the week-long festival of Saturnalia. This didn't stop the gambling games, however, and the Romans simply moved them from the street corners and public venues to the back rooms and private homes to satiate their appetite for games of chance.




The most popular of these types of games, that we can tell from the authors of the time, was Tesserae and it was played with tali, or knucklebones. Differing from our modern six-sided dice, the tali only had four sides of which the roll could land on. Tali were made of sheep knucklebones and, later on, were crafted of glass, wood, stone, and semi-precious stones.


Tali were either inscribed with symbols or Roman numerals depicting the value of the side. These sides were 1, 3, 4, and 6, with the six and the one being directly opposite on the tali. Because of the unique shape of tali, the dice would only land on one of the four sides.


In tesserae, four dice were thrown and scored similar to hands in modern poker. The highest roll was called a Venus, which won the game and all coins wagered, while the lowest roll was called Canis, or Dogs, and the person who rolled it had to pay a hefty sum to the pot. A later rule, by Emperor Augustus, stated that the player that rolled one's or sixes had to pay a silver denarius to the pot for each one or six rolled. Players would take turns rolling the tali until somebody rolled a Venus and took the pot, and from there the game would begin again.


Another version of the game would total the values on all Senios and the person with the highest Senio would win that round unless a Venus was rolled, which trumped all. Vultures and Dogs were not counted in this manner.




Tropa was played with the same type of dice, but in a different manner from tesserae. The object of tropa was to toss four dice into the air and have them fall into the neck of a jar. The totals were then added up for only the dice that managed to make their way into the container. The person with the highest number of symbols or numbers counted on the dice won that round of the game.


In the case of tropa, only the values on the dice were used as it was no guarantee that all four of the dice would land in the container to complete a full set found in tesserae.


Betting on this game would involve a set wager before rolling the tali. At the end of each round, a new wager would be placed, effectively "purchasing" the rights to roll the tali.


This game involved both skill and chance, but sources don't discuss tropa as much as other games, perhaps implying that tropa wasn’t as popular as tesserae to the Romans.


Copyright 2014 by Travis Abe-Thomas, PO Box 2254, Palmer, AK  99645. Thomassorngrym at yahoo.com. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.


If this article is reprinted in a publication, please place a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.


<the end>


Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org