Roman dodecahedron - what do you think it was for?
I think the dice theory is correct. Perhaps it was some kind of game. Or maybe it was used by a fortune teller or prophet to predict the future.

I’ve never understood why everything has to have a meaning. Couldn’t it have just been decoration?

Possibly. But I would expect them to be a bit more ornate if they were simply used for decoration or religious use.

No, not every piece of decoration around your house has to be ornate. Go take a walk through Pier 1 or Sears or Bed Bath & Beyond. There’s plenty of simple stuff that looks just fine. Besides, it could have been owned by someone who didn’t have a lot of money or made by someone without a lot of skill.
I should mention that I actually thought it was pretty ornate, I’m taking your word for it that it’s not based on other things made at the same time.

For a perfect example, my mom has three of these in a bowl on her dining room table. Simple, elegant, no meaning whatsoever.

ETA, you added ‘religious use’, I was trying to specifically say that maybe it had no ‘use’ or significance whatsoever. It seems like every time we find some ancient artifact, we try and find it’s meaning, but I have to assume every culture had plenty of things that were purely decoration with no meaning behind them, right?

My first thought is that it’s some from of instrument for measuring or observation. But I’ve looked at some other online pics and there don’t seem to be any ruled markings or symbols that would help align anything with anything else.

It’s hard to tell, but it looks like the holes on different sides are of different sizes. And it looks like the concentric rings etched around those holes are also different sizes from one side to the next. I would like to know the exact sizes of the holes and rings and look for any mathematical relationships among them.

Could be something like calipers to determine the max width of small objects, or like the OP link suggests, measuring or standardizing pipe diameters.

And since several of these have been found, it would be good to know if they all are the same size, have the some size holes, etc. If that kind of uniformity exists, they would be strong evidence they are some kind of measuring instrument.

For determining how much spaghetti to cook for any given number of people?

t’s obviously a dog treat dispenser.


What, they didn’t have role playing games back then?

I’d wonder whether opposite pairs of faces have the same size holes. A lot of things I could think of wouldn’t really be useful with different holes on opposite faces. I’d also like to see a close-up, to see if there are any numbers or other markings engraved around the holes-- One of those pictures looks like there might be, but it’s hard to say.

Roman polyhedral dice have been found, but they’ve all been smaller (about the same size as we use now) and made of glass. So I don’t think that’s it (especially not if there aren’t also cubes, octahedra, etc. made in the same style as these).

My tentative guess is that the holes in the center are used for measuring something, but whether that be pipes, pasta, or something else entirely, I don’t know.


Here’s my argument that ONE valid use is as candleholders:

Case for:

  1. If the little balls/pegs at each corner are common in every dodecahedron, I assume they must serve an important purpose beyond decoration - I say this purpose is to elevate the dodecahedron’s lowest side off the table.

1.a. Any candlestick placed in the dodecahedron will fully pass through two holes (top and bottom), not just through the top hole with the bottom of the candle barely held in place at the bottom by the thickness of the plate metal of the dodecahedron, were the balls not present. The balls make a much more stable holder - very important with candles.

  1. As for the holes, here’s the relevant possibilities I see:

2a. IDEAL: Upper hole big enough/slightly too big for the candle + lower hole smaller than the candle: Simply trim the bottom of the candle to fit the bottom hole and let melting wax stabilize the candle in the upper hole. Very secure.

2b. Upper and lower holes are the same size, but both are slightly too big for the candle: OK, just let the melting wax secure the candle in the upper hole. No trimming necessary, but slightly less stable solution.
3. Now looking at the entire shape, it’s big enough to provide candle stability but is still lightweight enough to carry from room to room. You can grab it like a softball or put your fingers through the holes on the sides and carry it like a coffee mug, but in both cases, the flat top should keep the wax off your fingers if you’re careful.

3.a. The overall shape is also a mark against the “measuring tool” theory, IMO. If I need to measure diameters of pipes, I’d separate the plates, punch an extra small hole in each plate then carry them together on a string. Much more portable and durable in the field or workshop than a relatively fragile dodecahedron.

3.b. This fragility also rules it out as a weapon of any kind - either thrown, swung or mounted on a pole.

3.c. The balls wouldn’t make these things very good toys - especially if left out and stepped on in the middle of the night by parents. The balls would likely make them lock together if they’re thrown in pairs as dice, skewing the desired randomness of each die.

Case against:

  1. I’m no expert on Roman tools or candle use in ancient Europe. I didn’t know what a dodecahedron was until I clicked on this thread. I feelthis guy might be over thinking it, though. That’s a lot of work to determine the EXACT day to plant crops.

  2. I’m writing all this to avoid working on my degree. I wonder if it’s too late to change my paper’s thesis.

… penis ball?

Like lacrosse, but you bring your own stick. Granted, fumbles could be tricky. No…?

No, or at least not always. Looking at the top example in the OP’s link, the small hole visible through the top large hole is smaller than its opposite, also visible.

The wikipedia link also says “Ranging from 4cm to 11cm in size” which is a pretty large range if they were meant to be “rulers” for standard circle sizes for pipes or something.

It sure would help to know what size all the holes are on several different sized dodecahedrons.

According to this page, all the holes are different sizes:

They look like some kind of tinkertoy connector. Insert rods between them to create some sort of geodesic structure. Different size holes for different length rods? The knobs are for lacing cords to hold the whole thing together.

I thought of some kind of survey equipment - something about the holes on opposing sides being different diameters. And I thought of looping strings around the knobs.

They look like some kind of engineering equipment to me; I couldn’t speculate if they were instruments without more information, mostly about relative sizes within or between examples.

If you read about it, it is reported that Plutarch commented on its use in horoscopy. 12 faces, 12 months. I can not find a proper reference online, so I may have to dig out a few books and settle in for some quality reading time some time when I am having truely rude body days and want to snuggle in front of a fire reading. I wonder which book it is referred to in…

According to this website, they are some sort of calender for determining the optimal sowing time for winter grain.
I really don’t know if this theory holds any water, but it sounds more convincing that some explanations I’ve heard.

As a Mom, that’s the first thing I thought of. Roman K’nex, with variable sized holes to accommodate different sizes of sticks. I bet Roman Mothers were cursing in the middle of the night on the way to the toilet when they stepped on those suckers. Just like Lego. :smiley: And children’s toys are less likely to be documented than “important” things like calendars and measuring systems.

But the candleholder theory is interesting too. Do we know if these were found mostly in rich homes or not? Are they made of valuable metals, or cheap ones? I would expect - but this may be a myopic, culturally determined assumption - that rich people could buy candles that were pretty uniform in diameter, making a single sized candle holder fine for their purposes. Poor people - or rather, the Roman equivalent of the middle class (really poor people probably just got up with the sun and didn’t have candles at all) - I’d expect to make or buy cheaply made candles which could vary in size quite a bit, and having a multi-sized candleholder may have been more practical and economical than buying a whole bunch of different sized candleholders because you don’t know what size candles you can afford this month. So maybe it’s the Target special of the day…

It would be interesting to know where these are found. For instance, if they’re associated with military garrisons, that would weigh in favor of candle holders - someone has to be on watch - and against an agrarian use.

The different sized holes on opposite sides wouldn’t exclude candle holders. As long as the caliber of the upper ring is sufficient for the candle, the lower ring can be too large, with the candle base resting on the table, or too small, and you trim the candle base so that it will stay in position.

I would also note that the rougher opposed holes may have a secondary purpose, such as storing the things when not in use, and may not be directly involved in the primary use, just as some posters have suggested that they function as a pole mount, while the other knobs and holes have a more precise use.