The first Roman dodecahedron was unearthed in the English countryside in 1739. Since then, about 100 more have been found all over the northern bits of the Roman Empire, in places like present day Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Hungary.
These objects are all dating anywhere from the 2nd to the 4th century, and they are all different, and yet have a lot in common. They’re all made of 12 equal sides (hence the name). They’re hollow, and each side has a different sized hole in it. Where the corners meet, there’s always a little ball. They’re made of brass. Some are as small as an egg, others are bigger than a baseball. None have been found (yet) in the southern reaches of the Roman Empire.
And that, in a nutshell, is everything we know about these dodecahedrons. No one knows what they were used for. Nothing in the writing of that era mentions them in any way. There is no imagery of them, either. None of these objects have numbers on them, and each is different in size, so they probably have nothing to do with measurements.
What are they, then? Weapons? Religious artefacts? A child’s toy? Does it have something to do with knitting? Astronomy? Is it a candle holder? Are they meant for the top of a staff? They’re often found with coins. Does it have something to do with banking? Again, they’re different sizes. Clearly these things were considered valuable if they were stored with the money. And they wouldn’t have been easy to make.
But what are they? What? What? It’s driving me nuts.
If you want to read up on the various theories in extreme mathematical detail, check out the website romandodecahedron.com. For a lighter read, check out this article, and/or the Wikipedia page.
The bottom line is that we’ll probably never know for sure what these things are without any historical documentation to prove our theories. Basically, the Roman dodecahedron is the epitome of the unanswered question, and that, dear reader, drives me up a freakin’ wall.
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