The Heavenly Origins of Dice

A brief description of the history of dice. Where and why were they invented. Dice have always had a heavenly purpose. Scholars have come to no consensus on the origins of dice, but invariably most of the ancient accounts involve the gods in some way. For the Ancients dice were often used as tools of deviation and cast as to determine the will of the gods. The gods themselves used dice to further their own desires.


7/9/20225 min read

Origins of Dice

"I am ill able, o Dvapara, to suppress my anger. I shall possess Nala, deprive him of his kingdom, and he shall no more sport with Bhima's daughter. Entering the dice, it behoveth thee to help me." Kali, Indian goddess.

A Brief History

Historians and archeologists have uncovered dice caches dating back to ancient Egypt, Rome, Ancient Americas, and Asia, the European Medieval period, the renaissance, and the America Old West and more period throughout history. Dice have been an integral part of human civilization since the beginning. They have taken part in changing the history of our world; from Roman soldiers casting lots (dice) for Jesus' clothes to starting a revolution in the British American colonies via the unfair "Stamp Tax Act".

Dice are as important to modern people as they were to our predecessors. They are used for board games, casino games, and the cultural phenomenon Dungeons & Dragons, among other countless games. I think it is safe to say that 90% of people 10 years and older have thrown dice and anxiously awaited the results while they watched them bounce across a surface.

I think dice are so intertwined with human culture because they represent a random but fair outcome. The caster be him or her a king or a lowly street sweeper give themselves over to fate as soon as the dice leave their hand. Dice are the great equalizers. Dice are and always have been such an important part of the human experience.

Heavenly Purpose of Dice

Scholars have come to no consensus on the origins of dice, but invariably most of the ancient accounts involve the gods in some way. For the Ancients dice were often used as tools of deviation and cast as to determine the will of the gods. The gods themselves used dice to further their own desires.


The ancient Egyptians claimed their god of knowledge and wisdom, Thoth, invented dice. Thoth once challenged the moon god to a game of dice. The stakes? The moon's light. Thoth and the moon played until the moon had lost 5 days' worth of light to Thoth. Thoth placed the 5 days at the beginning and end of the calendar thus creating the 365 day year we know today. The light lost to Thoth also explains why the moon waxes and wanes while the sun does not.


From the epic poem Mahabharata written in 400 A.D., we read Indian evil goddess (demon), Kali, invited Pushkara to play a game of dice with his brother, Nala. The dice were fixed and Nala lost his entire kingdom to his brother by the time the dice game ended. The dice they gamed with are the most interesting gaff, Kali's companion Dvapara (the personification of Dvapara Yuga) took the form of the dice and caused Nala to lose. An interesting way to load dice for sure.

Ancient Shaman

Early shaman from cultures all over the world threw bones, fruit pits, and seeds to divine the will of the gods.


Even the Christian Bible has many examples of "casting lots" are cited, including the Roman soldiers at the cross who cast lots to divide up Jesus' clothing amongst themselves.

John 19:23 - When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

John 19:24 - "Lets not tear it," they said to one another. "Lets decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, "They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment." So this is what the soldiers did.

All of this is not to suggest that our ancestors didn't throw the bones for recreational purposes too. There is ample evidence that even our most pious forbearers threw dice for recreation.

The Ancient Greeks

Palamedes the ancient Greek thinker has been credited with inventing dice during the Trojan war to provide entertainment for the bored troops. There is a well-known depiction on an amphora of the famous Trojan war heroes Achilles and Ajax playing a board game requiring the use of dice.

Medieval France

There is a very interesting fictitious tale written back in the 12th or 13th century called "Saint Peter and the Jongleur". It's about a juggler (a period term for gambler) who played dice with Saint Peter in hell and accused the venerated Saint of cheating with gaffed dice.

As the story goes when the unlucky gambler dies broke and alone, a demon collects his soul and returns to hell with it. For some reason, the devil himself leaves the gambler in charge of all the souls collected that day while he returns to earth for more. Saint Peter shows up in hell and asks the gambler if he would like to shoot dice for stakes. The poor gambler has nothing to wager, except the souls placed in his charge. The dice game begins, and Saint Peter literally cannot lose. The experienced, albeit unlucky, dicer suspects Saint Peter of cheating and lets him know about it. "You took your turn with loaded dice or you changed the spots. You cheater!"

The keeper of Heaven's Pearly Gates did not take kindly to the accusation and a physical fight broke out between the two. The juggler was bested and asked to be friends again to continue the game. Peter agreed and, In the end, won all the souls and escorted them to Heaven, leaving the hapless gambler to face Satan alone.

When the devil returned and found all of his prized souls lost in a crooked dice game, he was so incensed he threw the gambler out of hell. Saint Peter of course chaperones our hero right into Heaven.

The Gamblers Purpose for Dice

Gamblers' use of dice was/is for entertainment and as well as means of separating people from their money.

Our forebearers played a multitude of dice games, many lost to history. Some others are known to us today even if they are no longer played. Tali and Tesserae were the dice gambling games of choice for ancient Romans. Tali used four-sided dice, with the highest score occurring when none of the dice thrown match. Tesserae was played with three cubed dice and rolling three sixes gave the shooter the highest score possible. This high roll was known as Venus, after the goddess of love. Low rolls were called "dogs". Tesserae was in turn the precursor to the medieval dice game called Hazard. Hazard also uses three dice and has similar scoring. Hazard begat Craps. The dice gambling games have changed and evolved over the centuries, but the inclusion of dice is eternal.

Roman dice were made by hand, with no standards (or quality control) in place and were always non-perfect cubes. With all the advanced knowledge in engineering the Romans possessed, why didn't they apply their percussion to the dice they manufactured? One possible explanation for the tolerance of uneven dice may be due to their belief the outcome of a die roll was the will of the gods and therefore an equally sized cube was irrelevant. Another explanation is that dice makers understood that uneven cubes can provide an advantage to those who realize how the shape affects the outcome of rolls.

Cheating with Dice

Dice altered to provide an advantage to the informed were likely created the day after dice were invented. The diviner and the gambler alike would have had preferences in the outcome of a throw. Interestingly, one of the oldest mentions of dice in literature describes dice being rigged to cheat.