Freaky Friday – Roman Dodecahedrons

Roman Dodecahedron By Lokilech - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Roman Dodecahedron By Lokilech – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It seems we know so much about the Roman Empire. We read many of their works from daily letters to poetry to speeches to architectural design notes. Yet it’s the simple things that stymie us. Take the Roman dodecahedrons found everywhere in all sizes. There is nothing written to explain what they are, why are they so ubiquitous that it seems the average Roman soldier carried a few small ones with him and houses would have containers full of various sizes? This common everyday objects of Roman life remain a mystery to us.

Well they are what you see there.  Typically metal but sometimes from stone or clay pottery.  They have 12 hexagonal faces with holes in them.  The holes vary in size on each face.  There are pins or knobs at the corners. Many have a thin wax coating inside.  Many have been found in homes near or in the dressing areas.  Heck even gold ones have been found in Asia.

Yet they don’t show up in any pictures from the time and aren’t mentioned in texts we have.  All we have are theories as to what they are.

First one is a candle holder.  Yep they hold different sized candles you might purchase or in the case of a soldier fine or buy alone the way.

Second is they are a calibration device of some type.  Yet there are sizes from tiny that would fit on you small finger’s tip to basketball sized.  So if they are calibrators it seems the markings would tell what that size calibrated and there is no writing on them.

Third they are good luck charms or have religious meaning.  So soldiers carried three or so of various sizes for luck or a blessing.  They are stashed in the home dressing area for the same reason.

Fourth they are for weaving/knitting socks, gloves, tube shaped things with yarn.  Here’s a video where the guy made one and tried it.  It works but was that the original use?

Looks convincing there are several other videos of people using various sizes to make various sized tubes. Say a small one is for fingers for gloves and the various holes are different diameters of the fingers. Then you’d have sock sized, sleeve size and even legging sized. Heck the really big ones are say? Snuggie sized?

In the end the Romans like all ancients still have their secrets. They might be amused to learn it’s not the secrets of the dome that puzzle us or the fancy aqueducts but rather a common every day object to them that has our best scholars scratching their heads.

So what is it?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments.  Also what do you think today is common we don’t talk about it, thousands would be found and puzzle the next era’s scholars?

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