2nd Century: Dodecahedron

DodecahedronThe following entry appears in the 1849 catalog of the miscellaneous collections of the Society of Antiquaries of London:

A singular object of bronze, in form of a hollow dodecahedron…with a ball attached to each angle; each of its pentagonal sides is pierced with a circular opening, the diameters of these perforations increasing gradually from six-tenths to about 1 ½ inch. Each side measures, in diameter, 2 1/5 inches. It was found in May, 1768, at a depth of about 8 feet, on the north side of St. Peter’s Church, Carmarthen. Several pieces of copper, curiously laid in flag-bricks, were found at the same time, but they crumbled to dust….A similar bronze dodecahedron, found with copper coins at Aston, in Hertfordshire, in a field called Hagdale, was exhibited to the Society by Mr. North, June 28, 1739….A third, resembling these, but of smaller size, and without balls at the angles, found near Fishguard, was sent by the Rev. Edward Harries of Llandysilio, Pembrokeshire, March 12, 1846.

Since Mr. North’s 1739 discovery, 116 pieces of similar dodecahedra have been found across Europe. They date generally to the Roman Empire—the second, third, and fourth centuries AD. They have been found in riverbeds, military camps, public baths, a theater, a tomb, a hoard, a temple, and in a filled well

Although dozens of theories have been put forth regarding the purpose and use of these objects, there is nothing close to a consensus. The dodecahedron has been seen as an amulet; the head of a mace or scepter; a measuring device; a rangefinder; a calibration gauge; an astronomical or fortune-telling device; a candle-holder; a military symbol; a toy; and a magical item. Evidence points away from some of these theories: they are not standard sizes and bear no signs or numbers, so it seems unlikely they were measuring devices; they do not roll well due to the soldered-on knobs, so they were not dice.

Scholars find no mention of them in ancient texts, and even precise dating is difficult since most of them were not found in archaeological excavations.

It is notable that, although found as far north as Hadrian’s Wall and as far east as Szőny in Hungary, none have been found in other parts of the Roman Empire—Italy, Africa, or present-day Spain.

The one pictured is housed in the Hunt Museum in Limerick, Ireland.

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2 Responses to 2nd Century: Dodecahedron

  1. Brigitte says:

    This is fascinating — thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. corvusfugit says:

    You’re welcome 🙂

    Like

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