Dice

The first record we have of gaming or game pieces was the dice or dice-like items. 6000 years ago pits, pebbles, and sea shells were used. Another dice-style implement was a collection of flat sticks that were painted on one side. When thrown the amount of painted sides showing would be your “roll”. Later on the knuckle bones of animals such as sheep and oxen were used for their cube-like shape, these were called astragali by the Greeks. Unlike today’s dice these had two rounded sides that would not be landed on, while the other 4 sides were flat and so could be landed on. The mesopotamians laters shaved the sides of the astragali to make them even more cube like later on. Dice were eventually made from quite a variety of materials ranging from copper and brass, to glass, ivory, and even marble. Some dice even had flattened corners to allow for more possibilities like today’s polyhedral dice for games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder. But dice weren’t always used in games. Shamen, and fortune tellers would often throw their sticks, bones, dice, and more for interpreting signs from the gods or divination. It wasn’t until around 3000 BCE  that dice were used in a game, ‘Ur’, an early form of Backgammon.

 

Cards

In China dice developed into dominoes and cards around the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). These cards, called “money cards” came in four suits, coins, a string of coins, a myriad of coins, and tens of myriads of coins (a myriad being 10 000) with Chinese characters to denote their suit and rank. From China cards spread throughout India, Persia, and into Egypt. The Persian/Arabic cards came in many different styles but every deck contained four suits of twelve cards with the highest two being the “court” cards. Some of the most common suits appearing on these cards are coins, clubs, swords, and jugs. In 1939 a deck from 15th century Egypt was found. This deck contained 52 cards with four suits, polo-sticks, coins, swords, and cups, with ten numbered cards and three court cards (King, Viceroy, and Second or under-deputy) From Egypt they moved into Europe through the Italian peninsula during the 14th century. The suits used in the Egyptian decks were also used in the European cards and can still be found in traditional Latin decks. As cards spread into the Germanic countries the suits changed to Leaves, Hearts, Bells, and Acorns. These then turned into the French suits clovers, hearts, tiles, and pikes (from the Germanic Leaf) This would become what we know now as Clubs, Hearts, Diamonds, and Spades. During this time the court cards changed to more reflect European royalty. Originally King, Upper-Marshall, and Lower-Marshall, in England the Lower-Marshall would be replaced with a knave (a male child or prince), the Queen began replacing the Upper-Marshall in France. During the 15th century the common deck of cards was 56 cards containing King, Queen, Knight, and Knave. Early playing cards were hand painted works of art making them expensive and typically only available to the wealthy. As time progressed demand increased and production became cheaper, decks of cards became more available to everyone.