At the end of my first week here, I did a handling table for the Festival of Archaeology that involved a mix of touchable objects and objects in boxes. This worked well, but I was left wondering whether it was possible to have an entire group of related objects that were all touchable. As a result, I tried to pick a theme for which all of the items could be handled.
Gaming seemed like a good topic because all of its accoutrements were made of bone, stone, pottery, or robust glass, which made them perfect candidates for handling. However, these objects were not very interesting to look at, so I figured I needed to do something extra to encourage visitors to engage with them. I decided to experiment by allowing people to actually play with these Roman gaming counters. And, happily, Susan and Verity let me do it.
This meant that my handling table involved the usual sort of handling for several objects, such as Roman dice, knucklebones, and some decorative counters, while the experimental portion consisted of two laminated boards and twenty Roman gaming counters with which to play terni lapilli, which is essentially Roman Noughts and Crosses (or Tic Tac Toe, if you’re American like me).
Thankfully, my experiment was successful! Visitors of all ages enjoyed playing terni lapilli and were consistently surprised by the similarities of Roman and modern games, which was a great outcome for the table. We often make the mistake of imagining ancient people as totally different from ourselves, so it was fun to highlight that, in fact, the Romans played games very similar to the ones we play today, including variations on checkers, backgammon, and noughts and crosses.
Games provide a fascinating glimpse into Roman life because they were played by everyone – soldiers, civilians, adults, and children – and in many different places – homes, pubs, soldiers’ barracks, and bathing complexes. At Tuesday’s Times Table, visitors played one of these games in the baths, just like Romans would have done almost 2,000 years ago!
If you are interested in finding out more about Roman games, see our blog post called “Roman board games at the Baths” http://bathsbloggers.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/nicola-002board-games.html, written by intern Nicola Pullan in 2013.
Tory Wooley, Collections Placement Student