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The Icosahedron

The Icosahedron


I love dice – so do my kids. You cannot go wrong with bag of dice for both entertainment and educational fun. Those are just a few of my dice (pictured above) used for Warhammer, 40k, D&D, Gurps and other tabletop fun. Hands down, my favorite die (and it should come as no surprise) is the icosahedron – or d20 as it is colloquially known – which has 20 faces of equilateral triangles and the sum of opposite faces equaling 21. Rolling a 20 is considered in many games as a critical hit – a successful attack that deals more damage than a normal attack.

As an archaeologist, however, I am really fascinated by the 2nd century d20 as auctioned at Christie’s in 2003:

There is one currently located in the British Museum and although it is listed as Roman, as described in the lot description, this is slightly misleading. It actually hails from Alexandria (second largest city in Egypt) which just happened to be under the Roman empire during that time. The characters, however, are Greek letters that double as numerical values. Greek was a common language in Alexandria during that time.

Color is also of great significance in Ancient Egypt – a civilization which started some 3000 years prior to this die but has a large grey area as to when it actually ended. Scholars agree to disagree on this very subject and it ranges from 30BC through to AD 600. The native Egyptian rule ended with the flight of King Nectanebo II in 342 BC and in 30BC was absorbed in the Roman Empire. However, hieroglyphic scripts were present until the late 300’s (in 394 the last hieroglyph was scribed in Philae) and the last pagan temples closed in 553.

Most certainly, during period this die existed, there were strong beliefs in the roots of the civilization and, therefore, we can take the color into consideration. Considered the color of new life (evidenced to them through vegetation) Osiris was referred to as the Great Green and held power over resurrection. In fact, in the Book of the Dead, chapter 77, it is written that the deceased will become as a falcon that has wings of green stone.

So were the Roman’s into serious RPG’s and dungeoneering or was this was die used in the original Game of Life?

A side note, this was estimated between $4,000 – $6,000 it actually sold for almost $18,000. Very jealous of the winner!

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