Roman dodecahedra between Southeast Asia and England

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"They are known as one of archaeology’s great enigmas – hollow 12-sided objects from the Roman era with no known purpose or use."

So begins this article by Jessica Murray in The Guardian (4/29/24):

Mysterious Roman dodecahedron to go on display in Lincoln

There are no known descriptions or drawings of object in Roman literature, making its purpose unclear

Roman bronze dodecahedron found in Tongeren, Gallo-Roman Museum, Tongeren

Aside from testing readers' knowledge of Greek ("solid having twelve faces," 1560s, from Greek dōdeka "twelve" [see dodeca-] + hedra "seat, base, chair, face of a geometric solid," from PIE root *sed- (1) "to sit." [source]), to justify putting this mystifying object from late antiquity on Language Log, I will come right out and state my hypothesis:  since the Roman dodecahedron under consideration has 12 sides / faces, I believe it may be some sort of astronomical sighting / aligning instrument related to the zodiac for computational / calendrical / correlating purposes.  The knobs would be for seating (N.B.) the object on a flat surface and / or wrapping strings around to fix attachments in position, the holes for inserting sticks / pointers and for viewing through to look at objects (in the heavens? on a chart?).

Since the zodiac (cf. Old English twelf tacna ["the twelve signs']) is intimately involved with the history or writing, which we have often discussed on Language Log and which has been deeply probed in the papers of Brian Pellar published in Sino-Platonic Papers (see "Selected readings" below), that is the main reason why I have brought this topic before the readership here.

Of course, there are many different ideas about what the dodecahedra were used for.  Brian Pellar will be interested in this one, since he maintains that the yearly wheat cycle was intimately related to the zodiac, and hence the alphabet:

Another interesting theory is that the object was [an] astronomic measuring instrument used for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain. The angle of the sunlight can be measured with the device, and thereby one specific date in springtime, and one date in the autumn can be determined with accuracy. The dates could have been used for specific and important dates in agriculture, for example.


No matter what the actual, practical use of the Roman dodecahedra may originally have been, judging from its special placement in subsequent burials, it clearly later became a religious, ritual relic and may not have had any utilitarian purpose at all.

Secondarily, as many of my posts on LL attest, I am concerned with the transmission of cultural attributes, including language, in early times. 

Smaller dodecahedra with the same features (holes and knobs) and made from gold have been found in South-East Asia along the Maritime Silk Road and the earliest items appear to be from the Roman epoch. Examples include those uncovered in Óc Eo, Vietnam, by Louis Malleret, who concluded that the objects represented the influence of Mediterranean trade on the Funan economy. Similar decorative gold dodecahedrons have been found in the Pyu city-states and Khao Sam Kaeo.


Finding Roman dodecahedra in Southeast Asia and in England during the first half of the first millennium AD, whatever their purpose may have been, is hard evidence of connections across long distances.


Selected readings

[Thanks to Thomas Lee Mair]


  1. Amy de Buitléir said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 8:02 am

    An interesting theory I have seen is that they were used to knit gloves. There are lots of demos on YouTube:

  2. Jamie said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 8:38 am

    I find the connection to the zodiac implausible because the signs of the zodiac are arranged in a circle, not a sphere as the dodecahedron would imply. It is possible there would be some more symbolic connection. But I would have expected some markings in that case. The holes could have had some sort of labels inside, made of some material that is not preserved, I suppose

  3. DaveK said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 9:07 am

    Could they be some kind of game pieces? Maybe you tossed it in the air and tried to catch it on a stick. The smaller the hole you caught it on, the more points were awarded. As I understand it, many are found near military encampments and games of this sort have always been popular with large groups who are idle at the same time.

  4. KeithB said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 9:47 am

    Or like horseshoes or dreidel?
    You throw the thing, and your opponent has to throw a coin or something into the hole on top. If he makes it inside, he gets all the coins spread on the ground from previous misses.

  5. CCH said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 11:18 am

    My instant thought when there are unidentified ancient objects found is "how could this be played with". I think there's a significant lack of thought for toys and other objects that are purely for fun and that all objects need to have some kind of other, more important function. But humans haven't evolved from those ancient peoples and we have always valued fun and entertainment, throughout time and cultures. There have always been objects set aside for "banal" reasons, whether it's for children or adults. In this case, I can see a lot of ways in which this object could be fun! I think it's not unlikely that it's something simple like a toy. I'm glad I'm not the only person to have thought this! It could still be something more "important", but I think it's always possible that you just get enjoyment from it, like how a Rubik's cube has no greater function. Or it could be a part of a bigger game, similarly to dice (that's a comparison, I think it's unlikely they were used as dice). It would make sense as to why there's no documentation – it's just a toy, we don't document every single toy even nowadays! It's just not seen as important enough to draw or write about!

  6. Chris Button said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 12:57 pm

    Nice to see Pyu get a mention on Language Log. I wonder if anything has been written about the objects from that perspective? Perhaps the transmission was east to west?

  7. Nat said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 2:29 pm

    I share Jamie’s reservations about an astrological explanation. And that doesn’t see to account for the variation in hole diameters.

    The glove video is pretty neat. But does it explain why the shape is consistently a dodecahedron? Maybe that’s just cultural inertia, but I would have naively expected there to be some sort of variation in shape over the centuries, unless the dodecahedron shape was specifically significant. But maybe that’s just the easiest way to manufacture them? Possibly the weaving pattern used for gloves called for five anchor points around each finger?

  8. Jonathan Smith said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 2:54 pm

    Another interesting youtube video proposes use in combination with dowels to produce knitted wire chains; demo from 1:30 ish

  9. Randy Hudson said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 2:59 pm

    There's also an article about these in the Washington Post: . It has some extra information and some quotes from an archeologist who specializes in these Roman dodecahedrons. About 130 have been found, all in the northern and western Roman provinces — modern England, France, and Germany, basically, with none found so far around the Mediterranean basin. “I know [they're not everyday tools] because I’ve examined a lot of them, and they don’t have the kind of use wear you’d expect from a tool. They’re also much more delicate than people realize. They would be broken very quickly.”

  10. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 4:51 pm

    Randy Hudson's comments are spot on, and comport with remarks in the original post: these Roman dodecahedra are not for rough, tough, daily, utilitarian, practical use. They are more on the order of sensitive scientific instruments or religious / sacred utensils. That is why they are made in such a persistently peculiar and dainty / delicate way.

    The zodiac is indeed a circular belt, but the signs / symbols / constellations in it are not equidistantly sized or spaced. Moreover, viewed from a single spot on earth, they may require different diameter apertures for accurate calibration.

    [Update 6:21 PM: I wrote this comment before reading Brian Pellar's remarks below, and he composed his observations before he could have seen this comment of mine.]

  11. Brian said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 4:56 pm

    Quite interesting: I've never heard of them before. After briefly reading about them today, my first instinct is that they serve a religious function: i.e., considering the cost and expertise in making them, their pristine, non-functional condition, as well as where they were found, with one buried in a pit on a hilltop and another found with valuable coins, plus, and more importantly, the ancient view of the dodecahedron as sacred geometry and being symbolic of the formation of the cosmos itself. In terms of the latter, what's fascinating is the link between the regular dodecahedron and constellations/zodiac? (Plato, in the Theaetetus, stated, "the god used [the dodecahedron] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven"). Furthermore, the fact that there are open holes of varying sizes with circles around them on the twelve faces might imply a link to light (coming through from within dark matter) and the sun and the twelve months of the year. That is, there seems to be a progression or range of sizes from very small to large. This just might correlate to the perceived strength of the sun on the horizon during the year — the smallest hole with circles around it being the winter solstice, the largest hole with circles around it being the summer solstice, and the other holes being the months in between. But this is pure speculation. If the sizes were indeed consistent (from the few I saw they're not and are just a bit off), and the dodecahedron showed only one large hole, one small, and then five sizes that are double (thus, 10), then that might account for the 7 positions of the sun on the horizon (winter, two lower intermediate, spring/fall equinox, two upper intermediate, and summer). Also, what's interesting are the circular bulbs that rise up from the vertices. That is, from the 2D face, 1D line, and 0D point, rise the 3D bulb or seeds/Logos? Pure speculation. Further, there would be actually 60 of those bulbs or seeds if the pentagonal faces were separated. But fused as a dodecahedron solid, they only form 20. But considering Plato's comment about constellations and the link to sacred geometry and its role in building the cosmos, plus the number 12 (months) combined with the number 30 (# of lines on the dodecahedron, and its ancient association with the days of a month) and the number 60 (fused into 20) that is the basis of Western timekeeping, the Roman Dodecahedron with its rising bulbs/seeds could be further linked to a calendar and, possibly, crops (as Professor Mair pointed out). But, again, it's all pure speculation at this point. But what a fascinating article and topic.

  12. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 4:57 pm

    Believe it or not, one of the reasons I decided to make this post is that I knew it would tickle Chris Button's heart because of the mention of Pyu.

  13. Seth said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 6:20 pm

    I would tend to think a scientific or religious use would generate written mentions, since those applications tend to have people who want to make very clear how the device functions, and it can be complicated. Of course all the documentation could have been lost, that happens even in modern times.

    The coin-tossing game target seems plausible to me. It's reminiscent of the game "pitching pennies". It also means that the object would not endure harsh treatment, e.g. banging or slamming. I wonder if the diameter of the holes matches the diameter of common coins of the era.

  14. Brian said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 6:47 pm

    It's also interesting that several Roman dodecahedrons were found buried with coin hoards. As others wrote about, this could be an indication of their value. But it also might indicate a connection to a fertility ritual or good luck charm as well. That is, the dodecahedron, given its religious symbolism (as I previously mentioned) and its possible link to the cycle of the seed (sun/Word), might have been placed in with the coins to ensure a proper sowing, increase, and harvest of those coins and their value (30, 60, 100, etc., similar to the Parable of the Sower) — a good luck wish or apparent superstitious charm that appears to have been carried down the ages even into our modern times. Also, it might be of interest to someone some day to analyze all of the holes and their respective sizes and positions in all of the Roman dodecahedrons that were found. If random, the data will show it. But if there is a strong correlation between the sizes and their placement on the dodecahedron, then that might indicate something important and intrinsic to its structure/symbolism. It took both time and skill to make it, and thus there appears to be a good reason for the varying size holes crafted.

  15. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 7:37 pm

    Adherents of esoteric traditions often prefer not to have written records of their arcana. This is certainly true of Indian secret practices.

  16. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 7:48 pm

    Of the fifth Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, Plato, in the Theaetetus, stated, "the god used [it] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven". (Cf. Brian's first comment above.)

  17. Victor Mair said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 7:53 pm

    I think that those who created the physical dodecahedra that are the subject of this post were working from the same lore that Plato used as the basis for his statement.

  18. Seth said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 8:19 pm

    I'd conjecture being found with a coin hoard is also evidence it was for a coin-tossing game. The more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Something like:

    Players have their ante set of "chips" / coins. It can be two or more players.

    Per KeithB, they take turns throwing the coins at the object from a specific spot. Misses add that coin to the stakes. First player to get a coin inside the object wins all the coins from that round.

    Players drop out when they lose all their coins, or just want to stop playing.

    You start the game with the object set to the biggest hole. Play a few rounds. If nobody is much good, keep it set there. If some seem to be very good, the object can get turned to a smaller hole, essentially a difficulty level (leading to a larger accumulation of stakes).

    The idea is that the game finally ends when one player wins all the other player's coins.

    I'm not quite sure how you'd handle the very end when two players exhaust their coins. But they could decide to just keep trying with the last two coins, or agree to split the stakes, something like that. Or maybe it's like running out time, run out of coins even on the last round, you lose (typical – do you accept the loss, or maybe keep literally throwing good money after bad?)

    This really sounds quite playable. Maybe some people could try it with a replica.

  19. Terry Hunt said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 8:57 pm

    I think those who are speculating about coin-tossing games are overestimating the sizes of these enigmatic objects.

    From Wikipedia: "Instances range in size from 4 to 11 centimetres" – although it's not clear exactly what dimension this refers to (face to opposite face, corner to corner, knob to knob?), the holes (which are at most around third of this in diameter and most much less) on most of the examples (which I think tend to the smaller end of the quoted range) seem to me too small to be practical for such games.

    One would also think that such games would have some mention in contemporary writings and persistence into later eras, as dice games did and do. But then one would have expected the objects themselves to be documented somewhere, and apparently they aren't – are there any Roman-era writings that use item names that are not yet understood?

    As a (former) astronomer, I cannot imagine any way in which these non-standardised objects could be used for any practical astro-nom/log-ical observation, and I think it telling that no astronomer has come up with a convincing one.

    Brian's posts above suggest a more plausible explanation, that they had a purely symbolic significance to Platonists, or some other religious group then extant, in which case they would not need to be of practical use or have consistent dimensions.

  20. Brian said,

    April 30, 2024 @ 9:08 pm

    @ Seth
    That's possible. However, in this article (, they discuss that the high lead content of the Roman D. makes them prone to damage (and most are found with a "lack of wear"). It's stated that most of the archaeologists, including the Ph.d student studying them, believe that their purpose is either ritual or symbolic. Furthermore, the sizes vary wildly and thus many would be far too small to allow Roman coins, which can be over 25mm and which could easily damage them if thrown, to enter the holes.

  21. Peter Grubtal said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 12:33 am

    When I was a kid someone might have said "it's something for the mantelpiece".
    Did the Romans have mantelpieces? You'd put, amongst other things, things on the mantelpiece which might provoke curiosity and questions and discussions with a guest.

  22. Scott P. said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 12:50 am

    I think that those who created the physical dodecahedra that are the subject of this post were working from the same lore that Plato used as the basis for his statement.

    That would be a stronger argument if the objects were found in centers of Platonist learning.

  23. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 12:59 am

    @Scott P

    "That would be a stronger argument if the objects were found in centers of Platonist learning"

    no rigid "centers" for Platonic science and philiosophy, just transmission, and widely spread in space and time

  24. Peter Grubtal said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 1:09 am

    Perhaps originally it was inspired by Plato, but in the course of time it became a meme: a way for metalsmiths to show off their skill, a conversation piece for the upper classes, an item of domesticity. But a valued one, considering what must have gone into making it, hence it's association sometimes with coin hoards.

  25. AntC said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 3:15 am

    @Randy they don’t have the kind of use wear you’d expect from a tool.

    @Terry the holes … seem to me too small to be practical for such games.

    Why are the holes different sizes paired on opposing faces? That seems not consistent with any astrological/sighting-through usage. And if you wanted opposite-paired holes, a cube would be easier to produce and more robust. Some examples seem to have a few tiny holes dotted around each face, rather than a single central hole large enough to slip over a finger.

    Looking at some of the 'French knitting' (aka Spool knitting) videos on Youtube (my browser history is now skunked) I'd expect 'use wear' would be pretty catastrophic for them in no time: you'd need a metal needle to loop the fibres, that would scrape the pegs. Especially for that wire chains suggestion. Were any of these hoards found with needles or tools? Or with scratches on the pegs or inner edge of the holes?

    For mathematicians considering the Platonic solids, the dodecahedron always stands out as weird/unexpected. Regular pentagons don't tessellate, unlike the triangles and squares of the other solids. So some sort of adoration/fascination seems most plausible to me.

  26. Chris Button said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 7:03 am

    Believe it or not, one of the reasons I decided to make this post is that I knew it would tickle Chris Button's heart because of the mention of Pyu.

    Thank you, Victor.

    I might add that the southeast Asian examples, where they seem to be small and decorative, suggests that they were not used as tools or for games. Rather, the evidence suggests a symbolic role in line with what Brian is suggesting above.

  27. david said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 7:43 am

    Here’s a video showing how to create a mold and cast one. At the end he shows a surprising use.

  28. KeithB said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 9:12 am

    Yeah, I should have checked out the size before I put forward the coin tossing thing.

    So I guess a piggy bank is out, too?

    Could it be something like a gage to make something like ring sizers?

    Doh! We should have thought of this before: It is a spaghetti portion sizer!

  29. Scott P. said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 9:20 am

    no rigid "centers" for Platonic science and philiosophy, just transmission, and widely spread in space and time

    There are certainly places much more strongly associated with Platonism than NW Gaul and Britain. Athens, for example, which has not produced a single one of these.

  30. Peter Erwin said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 12:47 pm

    Speaking as an astronomer,

    [VHM: Nothing that you say below demonstrates your expertise as an astronomer.]

    the idea that these have anything to do with the zodiac seems like mere numerology ("There are twelve sides… what else is numbered twelve?"). I could just as easily assert that it was a device for keeping track of the Twelve Olympians, or that it's a reference to the twelve cities of the Etruscan League.

    [VHM: See the lengthy remarks of Brian Pellar above and my next comment.]

    "… viewed from a single spot on earth, they may require different diameter apertures for accurate calibration." — That makes no sense at all. What is supposedly being "calibrated"?

    [VHM: The positional relationships of the constellations.]

    And how would you know which side/hole to match with which constellation, when none of the sides is marked or annotated?

    [VHM: Esoteric / secret knowledge which they don't want to reveal in writing. I talked about that in the third comment above.]

    "I believe it may be some sort of astronomical sighting / aligning instrument related to the zodiac for computational / calendrical / correlating purposes." — I'm sorry, that's just word salad.

    [VHM: Don't be sorry, except for your having failed to read the o.p. and all the other comments and links closely and carefully. You're just speaking ex cathedra and without content.]

  31. Victor Mair said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 1:53 pm

    Of the fifth Platonic solid, the dodecahedron, Plato, in the Theaetetus, stated, "the god used [it] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven".

  32. Lucas Christopoulos said,

    May 1, 2024 @ 4:25 pm

    If the Gallo-Romans had another mathematical science…perhaps the dodecahedron also had a practical value and was used for some purpose. I'm thinking specifically about time. Or the explanation may be much simpler but requires a demonstration.

  33. AntC said,

    May 2, 2024 @ 1:45 am

    @Brian I've never heard of them before.

    Then I think anybody's speculation here is equally valid.

    [VHM: Not true. Some of the speculations are manifestly false because they didn't take into account the physical facts / properties / conditions of the dodecahedra, and some of the speculations were at least partially disavowed by their own authors. Furthermore, it does not logically follow that, because Brian had never heard of the Roman dodecahedra before, "anybody's speculation here is equally valid".]

    what's fascinating is the link between the regular dodecahedron and constellations/zodiac? (Plato, in the Theaetetus, stated, "the god used [the dodecahedron] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven").

    These artefacts are (late) Roman, not Greek. I'm not seeing any necessity of a connection.

    [VHM: No "necessity" (Brian didn't say there was), but there's a possibility. See below for more information about the connections among Plato, the zodiac, and the dodecahedron.]

    The modern zodiac has twelve constellations; the Julian calendar has twelve months. But pre-Julian the Roman calendar had ten months. AFAICT, Ancient Greek calendars had a bewildering variety of arrangements of months and length of each month. Admittedly with twelve months [but] of 354 days. So not synchronised to the movement of the "whole heaven". Just no good for "arranging the constellations". Different cities started their calendar year at different points in the solar year, and the month-numbers do not (necessarily) reflect the start date, which for some cities is not known. Neither did they seem

    [VHM: A wishy-washy word.]

    to adjust very well for there being approx thirteen lunar months to a year.

    [VHM: Lunisolar Babylonian, sexagesimal Sinitic, Julian, Gregorian, Daylight Savings…, no matter how we humans in our various polities and ideologies divide up cosmic time, it keeps marching on, and those stars and planets that we have imagined to form all sorts of fantastic faunal and mythological constellations are still up there in their circular band.]

    The Babylonian Zodiac/"path of the moon … consists of 17 (or 18) constellations". Later reduced to twelve, but in any case arranged as a belt around the equator, not the arrangement you'd get by imagining yourself as inside the dodecahedron and squinting out through the holes/at the heavens.

    The basis of Western astronomy as taught during Late Antiquity and until the Early Modern period is the Almagest by Ptolemy, written in the 2nd century.
    [There's whole chains of links from that ref, which I won't give for fear of getting spam-banjaxed.]

    IOW much later than Plato — even if we look to pseudo-Eratosthenes ( c. 276 BC – c. 195/194 BC).

    So connecting the magical/zodiacal/celestial number twelve to Plato is an anachronism. Twelve does not divide into 365¼ (approx).

    [VHM: Fundamental fact: Plato, in the Theaetetus, stated, "the god used [the dodecahedron] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven". That's what Plato, who was no dummy, knew from the epistemology of his own age. He knew it much better than you. I will write a separate comment and / or post about the pre-Platonic twelveness of the zodiac. I am also finding fascinating new material concerning the symbolism and received implications of dodecahedra. A final word: as so often happens in the evolution of cultural artifacts / attributes, what may start out signifying one thing often transforms into something else altogether.]

  34. Peter Grubtal said,

    May 2, 2024 @ 2:20 am

    "mere numerology" and Plato's perfect solids had a pervasive influence on astronomical speculations until well into the modern era. Kepler was trying to reconcile planetary motions with the perfect solids when instead he deduced his famous laws.

  35. S. Norman said,

    May 2, 2024 @ 10:15 am

    They're from outer space, obviously. They are used to build pyramids.

  36. Peter Erwin said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 5:18 am


    It's clear these objects have nothing to do with the zodiac. The zodiacal constellations are unique structures with specific names (and symbolic visual representations, like the fish of Pisces or the scales of Libra). They also have a unique sequence in the sky.

    But these dodecahedrons have identical faces, with no distinguishing marks at all (there are decorations in photographed example, but these are the same for each face). And a dodecahedron obviouslly has no preferred sequence of faces, either: if you arbitrarily pick one face, there are five next to it and no way to decide which must be the "next" face in a sequence.

    (The fact that some faces may have larger holes than others makes it even less likely this has anything to do with the zodiac, since it's not really true that different zodiacal constellations have different "sizes": the Greeks adopted the Babylonian scheme where the zodiac was divided into 12 identically sized zones, each spanning 30 degrees.)

    It's even more clear that these are about as useful for making astronomical observations as random pebbles would be — that is, completely useless for any astronomical measurements.

    Actual astronomical instruments from the Classical period, such as dioptras and astrolabes, have precise markings which can be used to make a measurements. These dodecahedrons are every bit as useful a random coins or pebbles would be, which is to say not useful at all.

    "[VHM: Esoteric / secret knowledge which they don't want to reveal in writing. I talked about that in the third comment above.]"

    That's… amusing, I guess. I mean, you can justify anything that way.

    "These were probably used in carpentry!" "But how were they used?" "Esoteric/secret knowledge they don't want to reveal in writing!"

    "These were probably used to teach mathematics!" "But how were they used?" "Esoteric/secret knowledge they don't want to reveal in writing!"

    "These were probably used to plan crimes!" "But how were they used?" "Esoteric/secret knowledge they don't want to reveal in writing!"

    "These were probably used to communicate with alien civilizations!" "But how were they used?" "Esoteric/secret knowledge they don't want to reveal in writing!"

    Not to mention the fact that Classical astronomy wasn't in any way a secret doctrine. People wrote books about how to do astronomy and astrology (Hero of Alexandria wrote a whole book about how to construct dioptras and use them to make measurements — mostly in surveying, but also in measuring the positions of stars and planets.)

  37. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 7:11 am

    @Peter Erwin:


    Now you're making some sense and displaying a bit of expertise.

    "Amusing justifications" — not so much.

    "Esoteric / secret knowledge" — you're just joking around. These Roman dodecahedra are serious, carefully constructed ritual instruments with definite shape and configuration. Not like random pebbles.

    Astrology clearly has esoteric aspects and is deeply concerned with the zodiac, and where do you draw the line between astrology and astronomy? Even today there is not an absolutely sharp dividing line between the two. One of my brothers (Ur David, as a matter of fact) is an astrologer who is deeply learned about the zodiac. I know, I know: astronomy is about observation, measurement, computation, calculation, etc., and I have the greatest respect for genuine astronomers who peer into the heavens night after long night (yes, many of them run complicated computer programs too). But if you want to contemplate the relationship between astronomy and astrology in a meaningful, respectful manner (both as parts of the human quest for knowledge and understanding), I urge you to read through this reddit discussion: "Why is Astrology a language, and not a belief system?" That may sound silly, but if you read through the many more or less learned, sensible comments, you will find that they have a lot of good things to say about the intertwined development of science and thought / philosophy during the last few millennia.

    Furthermore, you keep ignoring Plato's statement about the use / application of the dodecahedron, which I've mentioned several times.

    Finally, I've come across some esoteric lore about the dodecahedron that shows it unmistakably had profound metaphysical properties. Will post when I get the time.

  38. Peter Erwin said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 9:49 am

    I am much more impressed by the suggestion of Amelia Sparavigna [] that these were rangefinders for the Roman military, given that she actually describes how one might use them for this purpose, and in doing so provides an explanation of why there are holes of different sizes (e.g. Figure 2 of her paper) — and possibly why they are found in frontier regions of the Empire.

  39. Chris Button said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 11:25 am

    Everyone here is conspicuously not talking about the Asian evidence. There they seem to be small and decorative.

  40. Seth said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 12:46 pm

    @ Peter Erwin – This is an interesting objection/discussion to the rangefinder idea

    For whatever it's worth, just looking at it, the thing seems "functional" to me. It's got no text or designs on it, which argues (though not definitively) against it being some sort of religious item.

  41. Brian said,

    May 3, 2024 @ 1:24 pm

    Just noticed that the Portail Liege Museum website states that there was an interesting discovery made in 1982 that links a fourth century dodecahedron with the zodiac:

    "Many theories have been proposed regarding the function of these mysterious objects. The most common are sceptre heads, candlesticks, calibrators, tools for measuring distance, master works or dice for predicting the future. The most enticing hypothesis, which is supported by the exceptional discovery of a dodecahedral dice with engraved faces with the names of the zodiac in Geneva in 1982, at the archaeological site around the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre, would suggest that this mysterious artefact was used for divination games. This will be seen in the polyhedron of Bassenge, a tool that has been linked to astronomy or astrology."

    A replica photo of the 4th century zodiac dodecahedron can be seen here:

  42. Jim said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 5:54 am

    It might help in understanding if people labelled them properly as there's very little evidence to confirm that they were actually Roman…

    Just because they were found in a particular archaeological context does not mean they originated there….

  43. Philip Taylor said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 6:11 am

    "Stretching the boundaries" has an out-of-date link. The current (English language) link is

  44. Chris Button said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 7:27 am

    In addition to what's mentioned in the references above, they seem to have also been found in Chinese tombs and strung on necklaces.

  45. Michele Demandt said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 9:19 am

    In Han-period burials in Southern China these smaller dodecahedra have also been found, especially at Hepu in Guangxi province. Chinese archaeologists believe these were beads. Some have indeed been found strung together with other beads made of semi-precious stones.

  46. Brian said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 1:28 pm

    @ Jim
    The evidence appears to point to it being Roman, as it is from the 4th century, was in Roman occupied territory, has the 12 signs of the zodiac spelled out on it in Latin, and, more importantly, the archaeology website (see link, courtesy of Phillip Taylor, above) from the Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Geneva where the dodecahedron was found states that it is indeed "Roman."

  47. Seth said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 3:34 pm

    @Brian – The dodecahedral dice is significantly different, though. It has text on each face, and no holes and no knobs. That indicates to me it's an entirely different class of object, even though it's a dodecahedron shape too.

    I don't think the object was meant to be thrown like dice, since there's no easy way to read which face comes up (the difference is hole sizes isn't obvious enough). Per comments above, it's too delicate for that sort of treatment.

    The holes are a critical feature. They imply a use where something is meant to be put into them.

  48. Brian said,

    May 4, 2024 @ 4:57 pm

    @ Seth
    Good point. I noticed the difference as well. And I also questioned how they knew it was dice. There's the possibility that they're just speculating. But what's interesting is the fact that it's a Roman dodecahedron with Latin inscriptions of the signs of the zodiac. That implies, during the same time frame and general geographic area as the other more sophisticated Roman dodecahedrons, that the Romans were at least aware of the link between the 12 sides of the dodecahedron and the 12 signs of the zodiac (which the Greeks, such as Plato, stated are a function of its very structure/form).

  49. Mark Thomas said,

    May 10, 2024 @ 10:08 am

    That the nibs on the dodecahedron do not show any indentions from their use as a die is evident. The objects consist of bronze which is not very hard and the faces are thin. They would have been highly polished to a golden brilliance. and the nibs are thinly connected which leads to their use to having twine or a yarn wrapped in some geometric way around the faces. If the twine is dyed with tyrian purple it would stand out with the golden brilliance and bespoke of royalty and order. These objects are found in the battle areas which suggest high ranking officer would have had possession. That is has inscribed rings the golden polish would be important if the object was hung as a lantern in quarter. The different holes may be due to using a different size candle or lump of fat to burn and a bigger hole may release more heat. Keeping it cool to the touch. If the light refects off the twin or yarn there might be an interesting dance of light and the inscribed mirroring. Also, possible because it is a ritualistic object that the command of battle may have some 12 ritualistic timelines that the higher rank wanted to observe. Possibly, due to the 12 gods of the Pantheon.

  50. Mark Thomas said,

    May 21, 2024 @ 1:26 pm

    Actually, I want to retract my earlier comment as being rather contrived. The object was more than likely a military surveying device for surveying in a military marching camp in the geometric design of a Golden Rectangle. It is found in the Gaullic and Germanic battle campaigns that many of these camps exhibited very close to this form. The object itself would have been used to sight a typical size Roman soldier to be inscribed to the circumference of someone sighting the soldier through a predetermined hole. A ranking officer would have picked the right hole based on an approximate size for the encampment. Thus there would be 24 selections for camp sizes. The object itself would have had twine wrapped on a nib on a pentagon and then used to determine points to derive the Golden ratio for the rectangle. That the object itself contains the golden section and is a dodecahedron gives a sacred space to the encampment due to its cosmological significance and divine authority apart from Imperial Rome. The objects would have been forbidden in Rome itself since it was of a military use and apart from Imperial authority. That an icosahedron object has been also suggests that the golden ratio was involved and possibly used to determine the Golden Rectangle

  51. David Brown said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 11:51 am

    I'm confident of the Roman dodecahedron's use as a stadiametric range finder for the ballista and other military applications. A review of the dimensions on known examples shows that when used in the specific manner that I propose, they provided measurements in reasonable Roman units. The multiple holes made this the "Swiss Army Knife" of rangefinders, useable with different reference objects and different scales. The corner posts DO provide for wrapping a cord, as many have noticed, but the cord forms a measuring tape to gage distance from the eye, and the distance is read by counting knots on the cord. The dodecahedron edge length is the important feature because it defines the scale. Used this way to range a 1676mm man, most dodecahedrons provide holes that measure distances in increments of 5, 10, 6 or 12 Roman pedes. Other hole sizes work for cavalry of 2180mm, producing the same increments. There are other holes that provide the same increments when used with a 2.4m target, which may have been a standard or vexillum of known height. There was another mode of use that did not require the cord, and would have been useful to call out the moment a target entered a predetermined range.

  52. Victor Mair said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 12:17 pm

    I appreciate the comments of Mark Thomas and David Brown on the possible practical, military uses of the devices. If they were actually used for such purposes, I believe those would be ancillary applications. As I will show in part 4 of the series, due out within a week, I think their ultimate creation was the result of more abstruse, esoteric, metaphysical reasons — still ultimately tied to the zodiac, as I have all along contended.

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