The world has a lot to thank the Romans for; grid based cities, developing sewage systems and roads, aqueducts, Roman numerals and even the newspaper. Without the Roman empire’s imperialistic tirade across the world, who knows where society would be 2000 years later. Amidst pioneering these technological revolutions and taking place in heated philosophical debate, the Romans had to find ways to relax and let their hair down. Well, the Romans did just that, by drinking and gambling their way to a quick grave. Surprising, yes, but the Romans loved to gamble.

Here, takes a look at some of the most popular Roman gambling games.

Dicing With Death – Roman’s Love Of Dice


Tesserae, or dice, was a game of chance that the Romans wagered money and various other material possessions on. Simply, two players would bet on the outcome of the die, which were rolled from a cup – like a croupier would – and the player who predicted the right outcome won. It was a primitive version of craps, which you can find on any good online casino website. Of course, the internet wasn’t knocking about then, although rumour has it, Julius Caesar invented Internet Explorer.

The game was played in taverns – no surprise there – as well as brothels and gambling houses. Commodus, a once brutal Roman emperor and bad-guy from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, turned the Imperial Palace into a gambling house to replenish money he whittled away from the treasury. This led to a nationwide gambling problem, and it took the wise Augustus to restrict gambling to a single week of the year called Saturnalia, where slaves and masters could gamble freely. Augustus, like most emperors, carried on gambling outside this period, and was never persecuted. One rule for one, ey.

Chariot Racing – Ancient Sports Betting

Chariot racing has been depicted in various forms of media from Ben Hur to Gladiator. It was brutal, dangerous and exhilarating and, of course, provided the Romans with a great opportunity to bet. Only the rich and powerful could bet, and this was more of a gentleman’s bet between two people. The emperor was always present during these races and the imperial box, called the pulvinar, was directly connected to the imperial castle. Chariot racing was the height of entertainment in the Roman period, challenging the Colosseum and the gladiator battles as the most popular spectator sport.

Tabula – Backgammon


Backgammon is one of the oldest board games known and originates from the Roman period. Tabula was played on a board which was laid on a table, hence its name. Players would roll dice and attempt to remove their markers off the board in the quickest time possible. Emperor Claudius was extremely fond of tabula and could be found playing the game for hours on end. The emperor even wrote a history of the game, which cannot be found, but records state he worked on the piece for many years. Tabula was responsible for the gambling mania that spread across the empire. Pretty much the equivalent of Candy Crush, or that dreadful Flappy Bird game.

Gladiator Fights – Fight To The Death


Gladiator battles were the crème de la crème of Roman entertainment and only challenged in popularity by chariot racing.  It involved two or more men battling it out to the death, only to be spared under the emperor’s decision. Like most Roman sports this, of course, allowed for betting. Betting was a tricky affair, as one gladiator was generally better equipped and better skilled than the other. The underdog rarely won and, for that reason, not many bets gentlemanly bets were placed. Some were though, and fights often broke out as bettors cheated each other.

So, there you have it. Surprisingly, or not, depending on which historian you ask, Romans enjoyed gambling just like we do – things never really change, do they. Know anything more on this subject, drop us a comment in the section below. Merry Christmas from the Lucky Nugget team. 


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