1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Dice

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DICE (plural of die, O. Fr. de, derived from Lat. dare, to give), small cubes of ivory, bone, wood or metal, used in gaming. The six sides of a die are each marked with a different number of incised dots in such a manner that the sum of the dots on any two opposite sides shall be 7. Dice seem always to have been employed, as is the case to-day, for gambling purposes, and they are also used in such games as backgammon. There are many methods of playing, from one to five dice being used, although two or three are the ordinary numbers employed in Great Britain and America. The dice are thrown upon a table or other smooth surface either from the hand or from a receptacle called a dice-box, the latter method having been in common use in Greece, Rome and the Orient in ancient times. Dice-boxes have been made in many shapes and of various materials, such as wood, leather, agate, crystal, metal or paper. Many contain bars within to ensure a proper agitation of the dice, and thus defeat trickery. Some, formerly used in England, were employed with unmarked dice, and allowed the cubes to fall through a kind of funnel upon a board marked off into six equal parts numbered from 1 to 6. It is a remarkable fact, that, wherever dice have been found, whether in the tombs of ancient Egypt, of classic Greece, or of the far East, they differ in no material respect from those in use to-day, the elongated ones with rounded ends found in Roman graves having been, not dice but tali, or knucklebones. Eight-sided dice have comparatively lately been introduced in France as aids to children in learning the multiplication table. The teetotum, or spinning die, used in many modern games, was known in ancient times in China and Japan. The increased popularity of the more elaborate forms of gaming has resulted in the decline of dicing. The usual method is to throw three times with three dice. If one or more sixes or fives are thrown the first time they may be reserved, the other throws being made with the dice that are left. The object is to throw three sixes = 18 or as near that number as possible, the highest throw winning, or, when drinks are to be paid for, the lowest throw losing. (For other methods of throwing consult the Encyclopaedia of Indoor Games, by R. F. Foster, 1903.) The most popular form of pure gambling with dice at the present day, particularly with the lower classes in America, is Craps, or Crap-Shooting, a simple form of Hazard, of French origin. Two dice are used. Each player puts up a stake and the first caster may cover any or all of the bets. He then shoots, i.e. throws the dice from his open hand upon the table. If the sum of the dice is 7 or 11 the throw is a nick, or natural, and the caster wins all stakes. If the throw is either 2, 3 or 12 it is a crap, and the caster loses all. If any other number is thrown it is a point, and the caster continues until he throws the same number again, in which case he wins, or a 7, in which case he loses. The now practically obsolete game of Hazard was much more complicated than Craps. (Consult The Game of Hazard Investigated, by George Lowbut.) Poker dice are marked with ace, king, queen, jack and ten-spot. Five are used and the object is, in three throws, to make pairs, triplets, full hands or fours and fives of a kind, five aces being the highest hand. Straights do not count. In throwing to decide the payment of drinks the usual method is called horse and horse, in which the highest throws retire, leaving the two lowest to decide the loser by the best two in three throws. Should each player win one throw both are said to be horse and horse, and the next throw determines the loser. The two last casters may also agree to sudden death, i.e. a single throw. Loaded dice, i.e. dice weighted slightly on the side of the lowest number, have been used by swindlers from the very earliest times to the present day, a fact proved by countless literary allusions. Modern dice are often rounded at the corners, which are otherwise apt to wear off irregularly.

History.—Dice were probably evolved from knucklebones. The antiquary Thomas Hyde, in his Syntagma, records his opinion that the game of “odd or even,” played with pebbles, is nearly coeval with the creation of man. It is almost impossible to trace clearly the development of dice as distinguished from knucklebones, on account of the confusing of the two games by the ancient writers. It is certain, however, that both were played in times antecedent to those of which we possess any written records. Sophocles, in a fragment, ascribed their invention to Palamedes, a Greek, who taught them to his countrymen during the siege of Troy, and who, according to Pausanias (on Corinth, xx.), made an offering of them on the altar of the temple of Fortune. Herodotus (Clio) relates that the Lydians, during a period of famine in the days of King Atys, invented dice, knucklebones and indeed all other games except chess. The fact that dice have been used throughout the Orient from time immemorial, as has been proved by excavations from ancient tombs, seems to point clearly to an Asiatic origin. Dicing is mentioned as an Indian game in the Rig-veda. In its primitive form knucklebones was essentially a game of skill, played by women and children, while dice were used for gambling, and it was doubtless the gambling spirit of the age which was responsible for the derivative form of knucklebones, in which four sides of the bones received different values, which were then counted, like dice. Gambling with three, sometimes two, dice (κύβοι) was a very popular form of amusement in Greece, especially with the upper classes, and was an almost invariable accompaniment to the symposium, or drinking banquet. The dice were cast from conical beakers, and the highest throw was three sixes, called Aphrodite, while the lowest, three aces, was called the dog. Both in Greece and Rome different modes of counting were in vogue. Roman dice were called tesserae from the Greek word for four, indicative of the four sides. The Romans were passionate gamblers, especially in the luxurious days of the Empire, and dicing was a favourite form, though it was forbidden except during the Saturnalia. The emperor Augustus wrote in a letter to Suetonius concerning a game that he had played with his friends: “Whoever threw a dog or a six paid a denarius to the bank for every die, and whoever threw a Venus (the highest) won everything.” In the houses of the rich the dice-beakers were of carved ivory and the dice of crystal inlaid with gold. Mark Antony wasted his time at Alexandria with dicing, while, according to Suetonius, the emperors Augustus, Nero and Claudius were passionately fond of it, the last named having written a book on the game. Caligula notoriously cheated at the game; Domitian played it, and Commodus set apart special rooms in his palace for it. The emperor Verus, adopted son of Antonine, is known to have thrown dice whole nights together. Fashionable society followed the lead of its emperors, and, in spite of the severity of the laws, fortunes were squandered at the dicing table. Horace derided the youth of the period, who wasted his time amid the dangers of dicing instead of taming his charger and giving himself up to the hardships of the chase. Throwing dice for money was the cause of many special laws in Rome, according to one of which no suit could be brought by a person who allowed gambling in his house, even if he had been cheated or assaulted. Professional gamblers were common, and some of their loaded dice are preserved in museums. The common public-houses were the resorts of gamblers, and a fresco is extant showing two quarrelling dicers being ejected by the indignant host. Virgil, in the Copa generally ascribed to him, characterizes the spirit of that age in verse, which has been Englished as follows:—

“What ho! Bring dice and good wine!
 Who cares for the morrow?
Live—so calls grinning Death—
 Live, for I come to you soon!”

That the barbarians were also given to gaming, whether or not they learned it from their Roman conquerors, is proved by Tacitus, who states that the Germans were passionately fond of dicing, so much so, indeed, that, having lost everything, they would even stake their personal liberty. Centuries later, during the middle ages, dicing became the favourite pastime of the knights, and both dicing schools (scholae deciorum) and gilds of dicers existed. After the downfall of feudalism the famous German mercenaries called landsknechts established a reputation as the most notorious dicing gamblers of their time. Many of the dice of the period were curiously carved in the images of men and beasts. In France both knights and ladies were given to dicing, which repeated legislation, including interdictions on the part of St Louis in 1254 and 1256, did not abolish. In Japan, China, Korea, India and other Asiatic countries dice have always been popular and are so still.

See Foster’s Encyclopaedia of Indoor Games (1903); Raymond’s Illustriertes Knobelbrevier (Oranienburg, 1888); Les Jeux des Anciens, by L. Becq de Fouquières (Paris, 1869); Das Knöchelspiel der Alten, by Bolle (Wismar, 1886); Die Spiele der Griechen und Römer, by W. Richter (Leipzig, 1887); Raymond’s Alte und neue Würfelspiele; Chinese Games with Dice, by Stewart Culin (Philadelphia, 1889); Korean Games, by Stewart Culin (Philadelphia, 1895).