The Roman dice tower from Vettweiss-Froitzheim (=Vettweiß-Froitzheim Römisches Würfelturm aus Bronze)

Here’s a picture of a rather interesting item – a pyrgus or Roman dice tower, used to throw dice and prevent dishonest manipulation of the dice:

Roman dice tower. From Wikipedia
Roman dice tower. From Wikipedia

I found myself wondering what the other sides look like.  It wasn’t easy to find out much, so I thought I’d write up what I found.

Via this forum, I found an image of them (click on image for larger picture):

Roman dice tower - other two sides
Roman dice tower – other two sides

According to a forum post, the item is apparently 9.5 x 9.5 cm  and 22.5 cm high – about 9″ tall and just under 4″ x 4″.  The main inscription on the front reads Pictos victos, Hostis deleta, Ludite securi – “Now the Picts have been conquered and the enemies destroyed, play safely”.  The other words are utere felix vivas – “use and be lucky”.  It was found as a set of bronze plates in 1983, and reconstructed by the museum.  Originally the tower had battlements and four pine-cones on top.  Inside folded steps form a kind of staircase, down which the dice rolled.  A pair of dolphins at the front are either side of a little bell which rings when the dice comes out.  The lattice work is a series of circles and cross patterns, whose pattern is distinctive to the 4th century AD.  Note also that each word of the inscription is 6 letters.  Apparently an ancient dice game involved six and twelve letters.

I say apparently for a curious reason.  The item is held by a German museum of some sort, which is – apparently – anxious to ensure that nobody can find any information about it.  This infer from searching assiduously for such information.

There is a Wikipedia page in English (only), the Vettweiss-Froitzheim Dice Tower.  This links to the information page at the holding institution, the Rheinisches Landesmuseum of Bonn; but clicking on that link takes you, not to the item, but to a redirect to the front-page of some other Bonn museum, the Landesmuseum Bonn.  The English version of this page has not even a search page.  It’s utterly useless.  I did discover eventually a search box on the German-only page (!) but it returned no results.  Compared to the excellence of the British Museum website, it’s disappointing.

My search also indicated an offline article in Britannia from 2008, identifying some bone box-casings from Richborough as also the remains of a humbler dice tower.

5 thoughts on “The Roman dice tower from Vettweiss-Froitzheim (=Vettweiß-Froitzheim Römisches Würfelturm aus Bronze)

  1. Well, sometimes one needs to look elsewhere than on the Internet. The dice tower has been published in detail by H.G. Horn, “Se per me misit, nil nisi vota feret”, Bonner Jahrbücher 189, 1989, p. 139-160. Such towers were used in the Roman board game “Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum” or “Alea” (see Idsidore of Seville, Ethymologies, book 18, 61, apeaking about the board game Alea: “De pyrgis. Pyrgus dictus quod per eum tesserae pergant, sive quod turris speciem habeat. Nam Graeci turrem πύργον vocant”.). This is also shown by the hexagram (six words out of six letters) that are to be found frequently on Roman game boards for this game (also mentioned by Isidore). Moreover, the tower is shown in several gaming scenes on Roman mosaics from North Africa and Antiochia (Daphne), as well as in the Philocalus calendar for the year 354. For the game see: Ulrich Schädler, “XII Scripta, Alea, Tabula – New Evidence for the Roman History of “Backgammon””, in: Alexander J. de Voogt (ed.), New Approaches to Board Games Research, Leiden 1995, 73-98, still the most detailed article about the game.

    By the way: the Landesmuseum Bonn and the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Bonn is one and the same museum.

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