“What is extraordinary, they play at dice, when sober, as a serious business: and that with such a desperate venture of gain or loss, that, when everything else is gone, they set their liberties and persons on the last throw”.
(Tacitus, Germania 24)
As in the modern world, gambling and gaming played a central role in Iron Age European society. Extensive archaeological evidence from Celtic settlements and burials, from the British Isles in the west to Kalnovo in eastern Bulgaria, attests to the fact that these activities were common to all Celtic tribes across the continent.
Bone dice from the Celtic settlement at Naintré (Poitou-Charentes), France
(mid 1st c. BC)
Bone dice found at the Celtic settlement at Acy-Romance (Ardennes), France
(1 c. BC)
Bone dice from the sanctuary area of the Celtic settlement at Roseldorf in Lower Austria. The finds come from an area of the sanctuary believed to have been dedicated to the Horse Goddess Epona.
(3/2 c. BC)
Indeed, such was the popularity of gaming among the Celts that by the late Iron Age gaming pieces were being produced on an industrial scale. Archaeological evidence of this phenomenon has been documented in central/eastern Europe at sites such as Manching (Pfaffenhofen District) and Berchung-Pollanten (Neumarkt District) in Germany; in Bohemia at sites such as Stradonice; in Moravia, at the settlements in Drnholec (Břeclav District), Křenovice (Přerov District) and Mistřín (Hodonín District). In the western Celtic sphere workshops manufacturing dice have been discovered at sites in France such as Villeneuve-Saint-Germain (Aisne) in Picardy, at Levroux (Indre Department) in Centre-Val de Loire, and at Aulnat-Gandaillat (Puy-de-Dôme Department) in Auvergne.
Bone, antler and sandstone dice / gaming pieces, from the Celtic oppidum at Stradonice (Bohemia) in the Czech Republic
(2/1 c. BC)
While gaming pieces used by the general Celtic population were produced from bone, antler or stone, naturally the wealthier class could afford sets produced from more expensive material. Particularly wonderful examples of such pieces are those fashioned in glass, the production of which reaches a high level of technical sophistication among the Celtic population from the middle La Tène period onwards.
Glass gaming pieces from Celtic warrior burials at Perugia, Italy
(4th c. BC)
Complete set of glass gaming pieces from a rich Celtic burial at Welwyn Garden City (Hertfordshire), England
(ca. 30 BC)