Roman Children's Games
Games in Place of Fighting in Ancient Rome
When people hear the phrase “Roman games” many probably think of gladiators. But it was not always about life or death in Ancient Rome. Social games, like those we have today, were already very popular. Ball games, running games, catching games, board games, dice games the Romans had them all.
There are some fascinating children's games, called “ludi romani.” Few resources were available, so it was the kids’ responsibility to find fun and exciting games to pass the time and test their abilities. To this end, simple everyday objects like nuts or clay pots were turned into toys. These molded the Roman game culture.
The Various Games
This is how a day full of games for Roman children might have looked: to warm up, a few rounds of a ball game called “Trigon.” In this game, there are three players that stand in a triangle and simultaneously throw each other balls made of leather or fabric. The balls could only be caught with the right hand and thrown with the left. In addition to the three players, called “trigonali,” there were “pilecripi,” assistants who counted points, picked up and returned runaway balls.
The next game played might be nine men's morris, also call mills. This game not only has the same name as the still-popular board game, but the Romans played by the same rules as well. At that time the playing boards were carved into marble or bricks, or made of wood.
A game with movement must naturally be included. For “Knight Race” there are two teams each with two people. One player on each team is blindfolded and the other climbs on their back, riding piggyback. The riders steer their “horses” as quickly as possible to a predetermined destination point and back to the starting point.
Some of the most beloved Roman games are the nut games. To play “Delta,” a big triangle is drawn on the ground and divided into ten fields. The fields are numbered with X (10) at the tip and I (1) at the bottom. Each player receives five nuts that they throw from a line into the field. Once all the nuts are used, the points are counted.
Those who are not done playing still have a toy at their disposal: bones, strange as it seems today. The Romans always played with animal bones, as these, especially the ankle bones of sheep or goats, called knuckle bones, are good for games of skill or make suitable “natural dice” due to their different surfaces.
Still Popular Today
We still play many Roman games today, including nine men's morris, backgammon, dots and boxes, an early form of chess, marbles, hockey, blind mans buff and knight race. Additionally, dolls and animal figures were used as toys even then.
Just like today, the “ludi romani” were mainly played by children. But some games, such as dice games were also very popular among adults. They were a good distraction from hunger and sometimes harsh living conditions of the Romans. Also the Roman soldiers liked to play a game or two during their guard duty.