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Nuts. Several games of skill were played by the Greeks and Romans with nuts. So identified with childhood and its sports were nuts that nuces relinquere was the conventional phrase used for “putting away childish things.” The games in question were as follows:


Pitching nuts into a hole, from a given distance—a game possibly called in Latin orca, from the jar which was often used as the receptacle of the nuts thrown (Pers. iii. 50). The Greeks also pitched the nuts into a circle drawn on the ground (ὤμιλλα), or into a hole (βόθρος) dug in the ground (Poll.ix. 102 and 103). The nuts that fell outside the jar, circle, or hole were forfeited.


A second game was called castellum, which was somewhat as follows: three nuts were placed on the ground, with a fourth resting on them,

Roman Boys playing Castellum. (Relief in the Blundell Collection.)

making a sort of pyramid. Then the player aimed his nut so as to scatter the pyramid (dilaminare), and, having done this, he had one or two more shots, the object of which was to cannon on the nuts, as boys do in playing marbles. The first shot was taken standing (rectus), the next kneeling (pronus), the next being flipped, as in the “knuckle-down tight” of modern boys. Sometimes, however, the nuts were rolled down a board (tabula), as in the accompanying illustration, where the kneeling boy is probably arranging the castellum, or pyramid.


A third game with nuts was called delta. In this a triangle (delta) was chalked on the ground, and marked across with lines and bars (virgae) drawn parallel to the base. The player then flipped nuts into the triangle, and won as many nuts as he crossed bars, provided that he did not roll them out of the triangle, in which case they were forfeited. The best play was, therefore, that which drove the nut exactly to the apex of the delta.


For various games of chance, odd or even, played with nuts, see Par Impar and on the general subject of the games briefly described above, see Becq de Fouquières, Les Jeux des Anciens.

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    • Persius, Saturae, 3
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