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Duodĕcim Scripta

κύβοι, διαγραμμισμός: in late Greek τάβλα). A game of mixed chance and skill, which must have been substantially the same as our backgammon. The following points of identity may be regarded as established: The game was played on a board of twelve double lines with fifteen white and fifteen black men; the throws were counted as we count them; “blots” (ἄζυγες) might be captured; the pieces (whether they started from home or not) had to be brought home; and the winner was he who first cleared off his men. On the other hand, there were three dice instead of two (see Tessera), and it is impossible to say where the men started or how blots taken up re-entered. In the initial position the pieces may have stood in three rows of five or five rows of three, and either in the player's own table with a view to the double journey or in the opponent's table with a view to the journey home. With the three dice the pieces would soon be scattered, and thus a less artificial arrangement than our own may be thought probable. The phrase ὀπισθιδίη ὁδὸς in Agathias may seem to favour the notion that they were played out and home. The board was ἄβαξ (see Abacus), more generally tabula, or from its raised rim alveus, alveolus; the men ψῆφοι, calculi; the situation at any point of the game, θέσις; to move, τιθέναι, dare; to retract a move, ἀνατιθέναι, reducere. In a fragment of Cicero (ap. Non. p. 170, s. v. Scripta) we find: Itaque tibi concedo, quod in duodecim scriptis solemus, ut calculum reducas, si te alicuius dati poenitet. This privilege is more likely to have been of the nature of odds granted by a superior player than a regular rule of the game.

The classical Greek writers mostly use κύβοι, κυβεύειν, of games into which skill entered as well as of mere dicing. That κυβεία was a game of skill as well as chance is clear from Plato ( Rep. x. 604C, Phaedr. 274 D) and from a story told by Plutarch (Artax. 17); cf. Adelph. iv. 7, 21. Ovid alludes to the Duodecim Scripta (A. A. iii. 363-364) among games which lovers are to play together; others are latrunculi (357-358, 361-362), and “go-bang” (365-366). Martial includes among his modest wants tabulamque calculosque (ii. 48). The celebrated jurisconsult P. Mucius Scaevola was famed for his skill at Duodecim Scripta (de Or. i. 50.217). Quintilian (xi. 2) further tells the story that Scaevola, after losing a game, accurately recalled all the throws and the way that each had been played; pointing out the move where he had made a mistake, and verifying his own recollections by those of his opponent. This is cited as an example of memory and logical sequence (ordo).

None of the above passages shed much light on the details of the game. Our knowledge of them is mostly gained from an epigram of Agathias (Anth. Pal. ix. 482; also in Brunck, Anal. iii. 60) on a case of special ill-luck which befell the emperor Zeno (A.D. 474-491). This epigram has been discussed by many scholars, but until lately was never rendered intelligible. The problem has been solved independently by M. Becq de Fouquières, in his Jeux des Anciens, and Dr. H. Jackson, in the English Journal of Philology; on the few points where they differed, Dr. Jackson has since given in his adherence to M. Becq de Fouquières's conclusions.

More than a hundred ancient boards, serving for six different games, had been found in Rome alone

Board for Duodecim Scripta. (Rich.)

down to 1877 (Marquardt, Privatl. 838); but only a single example shows the twelve lines. This is of marble, bears a Christian inscription, and is of very rude workmanship and illiterate spelling. It has been engraved by Gruter (Mon. Chr. p. 1091), Becq de Fouquières (p. 364), and in a simplified form, omitting the inscription, by Rich. This is to all intents and purposes a backgammon board, exhibiting the four half tables of six lines each. Mention is made of boards and men of costly materials or of peculiar construction. In Petronius (c. 33) Trimalchio plays on a board of terebinthwood, with dice of crystal, and with gold and silver denarii for black and white men. Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxvii. 13) has an absurdly rhetorical account of the splendours of an alveus lusorius, in gold and jewels, borne in Pompey's third triumph, B.C. 61; in the centre of it was a golden moon of thirty pounds' weight. The emperor Claudius had his carriage fitted with a board which could not upset, in order to play when travelling (Claud. 33). The tabula lusoria described by Martial (xiv. 17) was also specially adapted for two different games, probably on opposite sides. The first line refers to the Duodecim Scripta; the second, modelled on a couplet of Ovid (Trist. ii. 477-478), to the game of draughts (latrunculi), in which the player left with but one man is bound to lose to his opponent who has two. See Becq de Fouquières, Jeux des Anciens, 2d ed. (1873), pp. 357-383; H. Jackson, in Journ. of Philol. vii. 236-243; Marquardt, Privatl. 834-838; and Falkener, Games Ancient and Oriental (1892).

hide References (2 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Ovid, Ars Amatoria, 3
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 37.13
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