I’ve been interested in Pompeii from an early age, ever since I first read about how the Roman town had been buried by an eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and that archaeologists were revealing it bit by bit just as it had been thousands of years ago. Images of the macabre body casts of the eruption’s victims were terrifying and compelling to me at the same time. The 1972 film Pink Floyd at Pompeii made a perfect soundtrack to my early investigations, and the images of the band set up in the otherwise empty ampitheatre were haunting.
The 20 sided die evokes memories of all night Dungeons and Dragons gaming sessions. I never imagined them being rolled in ancient Rome! Gaming blogs were all over this story when it first broke in 2003 when Christies announced it was auctioning off a Roman 20 sided die. I guess I just don’t run in the crowd of folks that can afford to plunk down $18,000 for such a bauble, but I have to admit that it’s intriguing. Measuring 2 and 1/16 inch wide and covered in arcane symbols, Christies claimed the deep blue-green glass piece was made sometime around the 2nd century AD. The die was supposed to have been found in Egypt in the 1920s by the father of the seller. Most of the blogs I have found have the same information, all gleaned from the Christie’s website lot info (no longer on the web), and all mentioned that ‘several polyhedra with similar symbols are known from the Roman period’, but I can’t find anything (quickly) to support this statement (yet?). The fact that a University professor in Maryland paid the aforementioned exorbitant sum for the die at auction does not provide enough evidence for me that it’s not just an early 20th century oddity passed off as an ancient die. If anyone has any information about other polyhedra of this type, or can point to a scholarly study of the piece in question, please let us know!