When were dice invented? History of Dice
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Early Europe
Central Asia
Islamic Empire
Native Americans
S./Central America
American History

History of Dice

egyptian dice
Egyptian dice

People have been playing dice games for a very long time. The very first dice were just sheep knucklebones, and you won if it landed on this side or that side. There have been cubic dice like ours since at least 5000 BC, in ancient Sumer.

Later dice were made of bone or ivory (or wood or stone, but usually of bone), and they looked just like our dice today, with different numbers of spots on each side. Like ours, even the oldest dice almost always have the one opposite the six, the three opposite the four, and the two opposite the five. This is true all over Europe, Asia, and Africa. The reason they have spots instead of written numbers is that people have been using dice since long before they invented a way to write numbers. Because they were small and not very valuable, archaeologists often find ancient dice.

Arapaho Stick Die
Arapaho Stick Die

In ancient China, people also used square dice. They threw the dice into pottery bowls to prevent cheating. They also had a method where they threw small bundles of sticks, like our Pick-Up Sticks, and your score depended on how the sticks landed and how they were crossing each other.

Chinese dice
Chinese dice (Song Dynasty, ca. 1000-1200 AD)

In ancient India, people were certainly using cubic dice by the Harappan period, about 2000 BC. Sometimes people also used stick dice, like flattened toothpicks, which only have four sides. And sometimes they threw groups of cowrie shells, and your score depended on how many shells landed with their teeth facing up. Native Americans also used stick dice. Among Native Americans, women played dice games more than men did. In Central America, people threw beans to see which way they would land.

roman dice
Roman dice

People often used these dice to gamble for things or for money. Archaeologists at the Roman city of Pompeii have even found dice which had been weighted on one side with tiny bits of lead to make them come up more often on a certain number. The lead was carefully hidden so the other players wouldn't know that you were cheating!

Learn by doing: play a board game with dice like Parcheesi
More about board games

Bibliography and further reading about the history of dice:

More about Roman dice
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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