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The Oldest Gaming Dice in Vilnius

Late 13th century - 1st quarter of the 14th century
Bone; 1 × 1 × 1 cm
Archaeological investigations carried out between 2019 and 2020 in the basement of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania unearthed rare and unique finds dating back to the late 13th century - the first quarter of the 14th century. Among these discoveries were fragments of golden, painted glass goblets from the Middle East (probably Syria), glass beads and bracelets, imported ceramics, a chess set, a single horn-shaped composite comb, and other items, including a gaming dice. It is the oldest gaming dice found in Vilnius and, along with the Kernavė gaming dice, the oldest in Lithuania.
The gaming dice is small, 1 × 1 × 1 cm, and made of bone. The arrangement of the dots (6:5, 4:3, 1:2) differs from the pattern used today. At that time, dice featured two types of scoring systems: one similar to the current system (where the sum of the numbers on opposite faces equals 7, i.e. six against 1; 2 against 5, etc.) and an alternative one: 1 against 2; 3 against 4; 5 against 6. Some scholars believe the alternative system was typical from the 12th to the 14th centuries (or even the 16th century). The Vilnius and Kernavė dice, including this one, correspond to this non-modern system.
Cube-shaped dice with a dot system were widespread in medieval and early modern Europe. More than ten such dice have been found in Lithuania, including five in Vilnius (one in the Old Town and four in the territory of the Vilnius Castles). Most of these dice are made of bone or horn, with some crafted from amber. Amber dice have been found in Vilkija and Klaipėda castle site. Additionally, silver dice are noted in the 1584 inventory of Krzysztof "Piorun" Radziwiłł's Treasury.
One gambling die was found in the grave of a young woman in Pagiegala, Panevėžys district. It was placed in a leather purse along with seven 17th-century coins. The exact use of these dice is unclear; they might have been used for gambling or possibly sorcery. From the 15th century onwards, fortune-telling booklets became popular, explaining the number of dots when a question was asked. Similar discoveries have been made in men's and women's graves in Poland, Latvia, and other countries, indicating that gaming dice were used not only for games but also for casting lots, determining fines (in 13th-14th century Europe), settling disputes, and dividing wealth.
Backgammon was played with two dice. A game board was also found during the archaeological investigations of the Palace of the Grand Dukes(17th century).
Information prepared by Rasa Gleibutė 
Published:: 2024-05-16 14:03 Modified: 2024-05-16 14:06
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