Thursday, January 10, 2013

Today's research snippet. Games of Hazard and loaded dice!

Today's research snippet. The dice games of 'Hazard and Highest Points'

Hazard was a dice game very popular from the 13th century onwards and the ancestor of the modern game of craps. It's name came from the Arabic word al-zahr, meaning a die. It was played with three dice. There is only one thrower per round who is decided either by agreement of the other players, or by all the players throwing the dice and the highest score wins.
If the player with his first throw scores 3,4, 5, 6, 15,16,17 or 18, these scores are called 'hazards' and he wins.
If he scores them with his second throw, however, he loses.
If neither his first score nor his second score is a 'hazard' it is called a 'chance' and will be 7-14 inclusive. He goes on playing until either his first score or his second comes up again. If it's his first score then he wins. If it's his second score he loses.

Highest Points was a lot simpler. Each player throws three dice and the highest added score wins. If there is a tie, the first thrower in the round throws again to give a deciding throw.

We know King John's brother William Longespee was very fond of dice games; King John often lent him money to play.

There is a funny medieval French tale where a minstrel is brought into hell by a demon and left in charge of all the souls there while the devils go out looking for more. St Peter turns up in their absence and plays dice with the minstrel until he wins all the souls the latter is supposed to be watching for the devils, and promptly leads them out of hell and up to heaven. The minstrel is in dire trouble when the devils return to find the place empty of all but him, but they decide he's a rotten servant and throw him out. He runs all the way to heaven and St. Peter lets him in... and that, says the tale is why minstrels (among other rogues and gamblers) are refused entry to hell when the die! I suspect a bit of artistic license here!

Today's research photo. This is from the Museum of London and is a pile of medieval objects circa 1300-1500 .  The tiny bone dice at number 6 were discovered in a pewter container and all were fraudulent.  Three have only high numbers, three have only low, and the rest are weighted with mercury to fall the same way every time!  

click to enlarge

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fascinating blog, Elizabeth. On a recent visit to the London Museum, I found it a great source of visual and written information about the medieval period.