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History, Strange

Mysterious Roman Dodecahedrons, Thirty-Three Theories

Around 100 have been found. What are these mysterious Roman objects? Here are thirty-three theories, in no particular order. Do you have one not listed here?

  1. Incense burners
  2. Candle holders
  3. Flower stands
  4. Dice
  5. Survey instruments for distance estimates
  6. Gauges to calibrate water pipes
  7. Religious artifacts
  8. Fortune telling devices
  9. Devices for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain
  10. Bludgeons, weapon ends of a flogging device
  11. Knitting looms for making gloves
  12. Weights for corners of fishing nets
  13. Scaffolding joints, nodes for building shelters to hold different sized poles together
  14. Gauges used for carving balls or spherical surfaces from wood or stone
  15. Devices to create round Ballista stones fired by Roman military catapults
  16. Children’s toys, to keep them entertained
  17. Massage devices
  18. Cooking containers to make food
  19. Representation of the ancient belief for the true shape of the Earth
  20. Aquariums
  21. Guides for blowing glass
  22. Food storage containers
  23. Models used by Roman teachers to give different mathematical demonstrations
  24. Leather-working devices for making hats
  25. Mail carriers, wax filled rope threaded seal boxes used when sending a packet of letters of other items
  26. Weather gauges
  27. Caltrops for tripping up horses
  28. Game pieces from a lost game
  29. Guides for poles used to move and position heavy objects
  30. Parts of thrown rope connected weapons like Bolas
  31. Metal smith skill testers
  32. Wax seal embossers, unique pairs of which could be used as a verification system
  33. Purposeless decorations

Here’s a video demonstrating the glove manufacture theory.

One of the main problems with this theory is that there were easier and cheaper ways to make gloves.

About a hundred of these dodecahedra have been found from Wales to Hungary and Spain and to the east of Italy, with most found in Germany and France. Ranging from 4 to 11 centimetres (1.6 to 4.3 in) in size, they also vary in terms of textures. Most are made of bronze but some are made of stone.

Use as a measuring instrument of any kind seems improbable since the dodacahedrons were not standardised and come in many sizes and arrangements of their openings.

… Smaller dodecahedra with the same features (holes and knobs) and made from gold have been found in South-East Asia. They have been used for decorative purposes and the earliest items appear to be from the Roman epoch.

Via Wikipedia

Where they are found, the archaeological context, may be a clue. Thirteen were found near military sites.

The sites are very diverse.

Dodecahedrons are amongst others found in military camps (13), graves (3), near a sanctuary (1), in treasures (2) and as a river discovery (3).

Via RomanDodecahedrons

As astronomical measuring devices, they may have been used like this:

Interestingly enough, dodecahedra have been around since before Roman times and the Romans could have learned of these from the Etruscans; Etruscan dodecahedron from Monte Loffa:


There is another similar object without all of the usual holes:

Do you have a theory not listed here?


About Xeno

E pluribus unum.


6 thoughts on “Mysterious Roman Dodecahedrons, Thirty-Three Theories

  1. Fascinating. Given the many military locations it would be logical to assume some at least had a military purpose.

    Posted by Soul Gifts | 27 Feb 2018, 8:13 pm
  2. If used in combat those balls would have been the first thing to break.
    Roman military men often took local wives and raised their families at or near the camps. Romans lived in Britain for 200 years. The state of preservation of the devices implies domestic use and care. Also on the map they only appear in northern climates though the Roman military world extended around the Mediterranean and beyond. They are perfectly designed for knitting different sized tubes for gloves and small socks, items too small to easily knit with needles.
    I wish these photographs had a ruler or coin to give us a better sense of their size.
    Fascinating article, thanks.

    Posted by Franchesca S. | 7 Aug 2018, 8:09 am
  3. I’ve read that some of these have been found along with coins.
    Could they have been used to check the sizes of coins? Or to check whether they had not been clipped.
    Might a variety of measurements be needed to cover other currencies in different countries?
    The “feet” would hold them steady with different openings at the top as appropriate?

    Posted by Pauline Taylor | 14 Aug 2018, 5:29 pm
  4. Birth control/

    Posted by Helena | 15 Aug 2018, 7:52 pm
  5. Has anyone tried rolling them?
    Find the consistency of it landing on a particular side.
    If there is even enough chance to land on a certain side or a scale order to the likely hood of landing on sides then it would probably be safe to say it was a gambling tool, probably one of greater value than other means.

    Posted by Dom | 23 Aug 2018, 4:22 am
  6. They are used for laying out or determining angles for building or land survey.

    Posted by Les | 12 Sep 2018, 7:29 pm

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