What are the mysteries behind the Roman dodecahedra?
July 13, 2019
The dodecahedra are objects of mystery and beauty. They scream, “I have a purpose.” But what is it?
If I were a Roman male living in the second or third century Anno Domini, what would possess me to design and make bronze casts of small spheres—open metalwork orbs with twelve sides, each side a pentagon?
On each point of the pentagon surface, I would put a round knob or prong. I would have spent some time smoothing and polishing my molds, to have beautiful finished products.
I would have carried them with me all over Europe when conquering kingdoms, and I would have left them there in the dirt—accidentally or on purpose—for people to find later, when gardening, raising buildings, farming and such.
That is what happened in Britain, Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. Farmers, and anyone digging, began turning these dodecahedra up, in the soil. It has been happening for decades, even centuries.
Some left their finds loitering around the house. Some made inquiries. Those that did were told that they were not artifacts of their own country, they are Roman. The early Romans brought them there and left them there.
The dodecahedra are from two centimeters to eleven centimeters in width. They are compared to the sizes of large olives, golf balls or baseballs, at the largest. The designs are all different. The knobs are different. The open holes in the sides are different sizes, but opposite each other, which contributed to the theory that they may be measuring devices. Measuring what?
No one knows to this day the actual purpose of these gizmos. Romans did not leave a written account of them, either, or represent them artistically.
My first thought, was that because of the use of metal and the care taken to make them, they must be a unit of exchange, a type of money. They are really too unhandy for that purpose and Romans already had good coins for that purpose.
Some feel they were devices used to determine the best month to plant or harvest a crop.
Are they game pieces, such as dice or jacks to relieve boredom on travels? That is a theory. Since some wax was discovered on only one of these found items, some jumped to the conclusion that they were candle holders.
Were they used for viewing and measuring distances? Not likely, because they are not of a standardized size!
Were they projectiles to be used with sling shots? Possibly.
Why would they have been made so elegantly, just for that purpose?
Why did other cultures not borrow their design and copy them for their own purposes, if the purpose were worthwhile and innovative? There is no evidence they did. They are strictly Roman.
There are internet videos of people now using these ancient artifacts for knitting machines. They seem to work, but why would Roman men sit around and knit?
There are other similar found Roman objects of different designs, all geometrical. Some are solid, not open, and some are knob-less.
To me the dodecahedra are objects of mystery and beauty. They scream, “I have a purpose. I am not just a pretty bauble.” Yes, but what is it?
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the novel on Amazon.