A Roman dodecahedron is a small hollow object made of bronze or stone, with a dodecahedral shape: twelve flat pentagonal faces, each having a circular hole in the middle which connects to the hollowed-out center. Roman dodecahedra date from the 2nd or 3rd centuries CE.
About a hundred of these dodecahedra have been found from Wales to Hungary and to the east of Italy, with most found in Germany and France. Ranging from 4 cm to 11 cm in size, they also vary in terms of textures. Most of them are made of bronze but some also seem to be made of stone.
The function or use of the dodecahedra is unknown; no mention of them has been found in contemporary accounts or pictures of the time. Speculated uses include candlestick holders (wax was found inside one example); dice; survey instruments; devices for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain; that they were used to calibrate water pipes; and army standard bases. It has also been suggested that they may have been religious artifacts of some kind. This latter speculation is based on the fact that most of the examples have been found in Gallo-Roman sites.
- This webpage also has a map of the distribution of the dodecahedra
- Henig, Martin (1984), Religion in Roman Britain, Routledge, p. 128, ISBN 0-7134-6047-4
- Kilford, L.J.P. (December 2004), "A Mathematical Tourist in Germany", Mathematics Today 40 (6): 204
- Hill, C. (1994), "Gallo-Roman Dodecahedra: a progress report", The Antiquaries Journal 74: 289–292, doi:10.1017/S0003581500024458
Media related to Roman dodecahedra at Wikimedia Commons
- Replica made to delve into the dodecahedron mystery
- Roman Dodecahedra (also includes one Roman icosahedron)
- "History Mystery: Ancient Dodecahedron's Purpose Remains Secret" by Alexandria Hein, Fox News, June 10, 2011