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What am I?

This is a Roman dodecahedron and nobody knows why.

Over a hundred of them have been found, sometimes with hoards of coins. So they had a value. They have been found across Europe and Britain, but not in Italy. They would have been pretty work-intensive to make.

They are hollow cast objects with twelve flat pentagonal faces. Each face is pierced with a hole. The holes vary in shape in pairs (the hole opposite is the same size). The corners have knobs braised on. They are made of an alloy. They range in size from one and a half to four and a half inches. Here are some images.

The best guess is candlestick holder, since two were found with wax inside. I’m inclined to this one, though I’d like to know whether they had teeny candles.

Other guesses are to measure the width of something or the size of things at a distance, though there’s an awful lot of variation for that.

Game pieces, but you couldn’t throw them like dice. The differently-sized holes would make them fall not-randomly.

Purely ornamental, like cane toppers. Seems unlikely to me, since they are so uniform in design and construction.

It’s been puzzling me all afternoon. It can go puzzle you for a while.


Comment from Timothy J. McCorkle
Time: November 27, 2020, 7:34 pm

found this video in your image search…https://youtu.be/76AvV601yJ0

Comment from OldFert
Time: November 27, 2020, 8:12 pm

Something kids left on the floor, for their parents to step on when barefoot, before Legos were invented?

Comment from drew458
Time: November 27, 2020, 9:36 pm

It’s a very early representation of a coronavirus, used as a talisman to ward off the evil germ.

Comment from ExpressoBold
Time: November 27, 2020, 9:38 pm

This Martin guy seems to be able to envision the space and use it:


Comment from Uncle Al
Time: November 27, 2020, 10:36 pm

Are the six opposing pairs of same-size holes on one die the same sizes from die to die? Do the sizes on a single die vary regularly? I.e. proportionally (like distance between banjo frets) or incrementally (like sizes of sockets in a socket wrench set)? What is the sound of one gum flapping?

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: November 27, 2020, 11:15 pm

why not a gaming piece where the ‘hole’ is a value.

And as to a candle holder – sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s what it’s actually intended for.
We make drinking glasses or canning jars into candles, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t drinking glasses or canning jars.

being found with hoards of coins, might mean it’s something used to gamble.

Have any been found in the trunk of a car with a couple hundred thousand “I voted for Biden” ballots?

Comment from The Neon Madman
Time: November 28, 2020, 2:00 am

At the time these were made, I can think of a lot simpler ways to make a candleholder. The work involved in making them suggests that they would have had some significant value.

Comment from Uncle Al
Time: November 28, 2020, 2:46 am

These dodecahedra are magical fetishes claimed to have the supernatural power to ward off the evil spells cast by any variety of asshole, thus they commanded a high price as evidenced by their presence among coins.

Comment from catnip
Time: November 28, 2020, 5:31 am

For gambling. Rolled, not thrown, with a certain size ball inside. The farther it rolls without the ball falling out, the better your score.

Comment from Mitch
Time: November 28, 2020, 7:05 am

Most interesting is that they are NOT found in Italy…so far anyway. So a Roman adaptation of something developed by one of the other cultures they interacted and / or conquered? Maybe something useful for trade with the local tribes but not particularly useful or valuable in Rome. A religious item perhaps. I imagine the Roman version was a great improvement over anything similar made by your average Gallic or Celtic craftsman.

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: November 28, 2020, 11:53 am

Heh – Gaming dice.

“You need a Giant Hole or better for your Optio to avoid a hit from the Kraken!”
“Oh stercore!”
“Tiny hole. Your Optio’s parma is shattered, his magic hasta is broken, but can be repaired if he survives, and he takes a -100 hit to his valetudo. Any magical items he possesses are ineffective for the next turn.”
“Stercore stercore stercore!”

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: November 28, 2020, 12:00 pm

” Wait! I have a save damage scroll in my saccus dorsualis!”
“No, he has to have read it before the attack!”
“You just hate Optio Philanderus! You’ve hated him since he escaped the Lemures in that Gallic ruin!”
“I’m the Domimus Dominus!”

Comment from Deborah HH
Time: November 28, 2020, 5:42 pm

I do like the idea of it being a glove loom. I want one.

Comment from BJM
Time: November 28, 2020, 8:43 pm

*eyes narrowing*

Are you mocking gamers Durned? If not then please point me to that game, it sounds awesome.

Comment from BJM
Time: November 28, 2020, 8:49 pm

Maybe it was for making the fingers for chainmail gloves?

Comment from durnedyankee
Time: November 30, 2020, 12:06 pm

@BJM – a short lived career as a DM. My brother and his “Stinky the dwarf” character made the job too much of a challenge.

Gamers I don’t mind, except the people who can’t distinguish games from reality. You know, like the kind of people we’re about to have running the government.

Comment from p2
Time: November 30, 2020, 9:56 pm

Coins were easily counterfeitted. Usually it was a size or shape issue that set it off. The things probably a go- no go gage for coins of the realm struck outside Italy.

Comment from Oldowan
Time: December 2, 2020, 5:46 am

Tinker-toy connector thingy…

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