Roman Gaming Piece Crafted Out of Bone Found in England

Ancient soldiers may have used the oblong token to play “Ludus Latrunculorum,” or the “Game of Mercenaries”

Roman board game piece
A one-inch-long gaming piece found at the site of a former Roman fort in Chester, England Cheshire West / Chester Council

Archaeologists in Chester, England, have unearthed an array of Roman artifacts, including a gaming piece that may have once entertained the empire’s soldiers, reports BBC News.

Found alongside such objects as a potential bone comb, a pin or brooch, and what may be a corroded metal spear point, the oblong, one-inch-long token is made out of polished bone, according to Gary Porter of the Chester Standard.

Ancient legionaries stationed in the area likely used the gaming piece to play a popular Roman board game called Ludus Latrunculorum, or the “Game of Mercenaries.”

The exact rules of the two-player strategy showdown remain unclear, but as Meilan Solly wrote for Smithsonian magazine earlier this year, the game was designed to test competitors’ military prowess. Cited in the writings of Ovid, Martial and Varro, it was played on grids of varying sizes, much like checker and chess.

Similar Ludus Latrunculorum pieces have been found at sites across Europe and the Middle East, including Norway, Italy and Libya, as well as the Roman fort of Vindolanda in northern England.

Roman artifacts found in England
Other artifacts found in Chester include what may be a bone comb, a metal spearhead, and a pin or a brooch. Cheshire West / Chester Council

Researchers discovered the artifacts while conducting archaeological work ahead of a major construction project.

“We will be treading very carefully to protect the sensitive archaeological remains on the site and we will be adding anything we find to our impressive collection of Roman artefacts at the Grosvenor Museum,” says city council member Richard Beacham in a statement.

Chester was once home to a Roman fort known as Deva Victrix. Built around 70 A.D., the stronghold was probably named for the goddess of the River Dee, which runs through the city, and the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, which was stationed there during the Roman occupation of Great Britain.

As Ryan Morrison notes for the Daily Mail, Chester is the only British city with a surviving “full circuit” of Roman defensive walls. The remains of a huge amphitheater capable of seating some 8,000 people lie southeast of the city; per Laura Cole of Geographical, ancient Britons convened at the site to watch gladiator battles and other spectacles of the day.

“Chester residents are unusually knowledgeable about the City’s heritage, including its archaeology, so these finds will excite great interest,” says Andrew Davison of Historic England in the statement. “They speak volumes about the quality of the archaeology we are dealing with at this very significant site and I look forward to seeing more finds from the site as work continues.”

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