A Greek Bronze Astragalus (knucklebone) Gaming Piece, Hellenistic Period ca. 4th - 2nd century BCE

Object No: GB1806

$550 USD

This bronze weight in the shape of a knucklebone is referred to as an astragalus. 

In ancient Greece, the word astragalus referred to the vertebrae and ankle bones (carpels and tarsals) usually from sheep.  These bones, or astragaloi, were used as gaming pieces and are considered to be the precursors of dice. The term astragalus is used by historians and archaeologists to refer to games of chance played with the animal bones. (Century Unabridged Dictionary, 1889)

The astragaloi, called by Romans taxilli (singular: taxillus) were used for both gambling and decision-making. Although it has not been proven, these early forms of dice are thought to have been used in the “casting of lots,” or setting a course of action dependent on random chance. The most familiar instance is the Biblical story of the Roman soldiers casting lots for the robe of Christ at his crucifixion.

Tossing marked bones was a practice used not only by the ancient Greeks and Romans, but apparently dates back to our earliest ancestors. In The Origins of Randomness, Diane Mathios (2002) states, “Dice and astragali were also used in divination and soothsaying to make the wishes of the deity known."

See: Herod. 1, 94; Plut. De fort.Alex., 11,6; Hampe R. Die Stele aus Pharsalos, 107. Berliner Winckelmann Programm, Berlin 1951, p. 18; Peters B. G. Processing of bone in Ancient States of Black Sea. Moscow, 1986, p. 78-84, tbl. XVI, XVII; Becq de Fouquieres L. Les jeux des ancients. Paris, 1869, p. 51-54; Schmidt E. Spielzeug und Spiele der Kinder im klassischen Altertum, Meiningen, 1971; Davidson G.R. Corinth, vol XII, The Minor Objects. Princeton, 1952, p.222; Hesperia, XVI, 1947, p.241, pl. LXI; Delos, XVIII, pp 332f; Robinson, Excavation at Olyntus, X, pp. 502-504.

For a related example see Metropolitan Museum bronze astragalus, accession Number:X.229  (https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/256765)

Condition: Intact and in very good condition overall.

length: 1 inch (2.5 cm), height: 1/2"

Ex. Joel L. Malter Collection #1103 thereafter Paul Bessey Collection.


Sands of Time provides a lifetime, unconditional guarantee of authenticity and provenance. Every artifact purchased from us is accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity, stating culture, provenance and age. Furthermore, we conduct due diligence to ensure the item, to the best of our knowledge, has not been illegally obtained from an excavation, architectural monument, public institution or private property. Wherever possible, reference is made to existing collections or publications.

Sands of Time Antiquities are proud to uphold the following Code of Conduct:

  • We undertake to make, to the best of our ability, all purchases in good faith.
  • We undertake not to purchase or sell objects until we have established, to the best of our ability, that such objects were not stolen from excavations, architectural monuments, public institutions or private property.
  • We will not dismember and sell separately parts of one complete object.
  • We undertake to the best of ability to keep objects together that were originally meant to be kept together.
  • As appropriate we will keep photographic records of objects prior to repair and restoration, to be honest and open by describing in writing the amount of repair and restoration undertaken to a prospective purchaser.
  • To the best of our ability, we guarantee authenticity and provenance of all objects offered for sale.
Sands of Time offer a very flexible layaway payment plan for all objects offered for sale on our website.  Here's how it works:
  • Deposit:  A deposit of 15% of the total price is required upon purchase.  
  • Checkout:  Order through our website and select the "layaway" option at checkout.
  • Flexibility:   You are not restricted to a set monthly payment; pay what you wish when you wish, however your balance must be paid within six months of the order date or you risk forfeiture.
  • Title:  Property title remains with Sands of Time Antiquities, Inc. until payment is made in full.
  • Shipment:  Once payment is complete, we will ship your order by the next business day.  

Should you cancel your layaway purchase, a 15% restocking-fee will apply. If you exchange or trade-up the objet purchased while it is on layaway, the restocking fee for the original purchase will not apply.  If you would like to take advantage of our layaway system or would like to discuss an alternative option that better suits your budget, please contact us via e-mail or call 1-202-342-0518. 

You may also like

Recently viewed