Rome's Gambling Emperors
Just as many of us do today, the Romans loved to play with dice. This passion often began in childhood, when children "gambled" for nuts.. The poet Ovid even gives advice for playing with women in his Ars Amatoria, a scandalous poem about picking up the ladies. Propertius complains to his mistress, Cynthia, when she is out partying too late: "You drink, taking your time. Can't midnight break you? Isn't your hand tired from throwing the dice?" (2.33b).
This passion for gambling also extended to many of Rome's emperors. According to the (admittedly gossipy) historian Suetonius, Nero was so profligate that he would bet up to 400,000 sesterces on a single roll of the dice. (The value of sesterces compared with U.S. dollars varies and is difficult to estimate, but trust me, that's a ridiculous amount of money.) Augustus, on the other hand, is known to have openly loved gaming, and to have played all year, whether it was a holiday or not. (It was technically illegal for Romans to gamble outside of specific holidays and sporting events.) But Augustus allegedly "played for diversion only" and wrote about it fondly in his letters (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, DA 71). Caligula was known as a cheat (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Caligula 41). Emperor Claudius, typically thought of as a nerd among emperors, was allegedly so enthusiastic about dicing that he published a book about it, and even had a portable gaming table in his chariot (Suetonius, Lives of the Caesars, Claudius 33).
For your enjoyment, I've included a clip from I, Claudius, in which Claudius distracts Caligula by giving him a set of loaded dice that had been given to him as a gift. He doesn't tell Caligula that they are loaded, and the gift has some unintended consequences...
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My name is Liz Davidson, and I play solo board games. A lot of solo board games...