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Playing with knucklebone (astragalizein)

Different values were assigned to the four long sides of the bone: three for the concave side (in Greek hyption= 'laid on the back'), four for the opposite, convex side (in Greek pranes= 'lying on the front'), six for one of the long vertical sides (Koon = 'of the island of Cos'), and 1 for its opposite (Chion ='of the island of Chios'). Since the two narrow sides did not count, 2 and 5 were not represented. In the game of pleistobolinda ('throwing the highest') the player with the highest score won the bones of his contestant. The four bones were thrown simultaneously and the numbers of the sides touching the ground were added up. Each one of the 35 possible combinations had a specific name, such as "Euripides", "Alexander", "Dareios" and "The lock of Berenice". "Aphrodite", the best score of all, required the appearance of the four different numbers (1, 3, 4 and 6). On the other hand, the combination "Dog" was the unluckiest of all, since every bone showed a score of one.

┬ibliography: ╠. Fitta, Spiele und Spielzeug in der Antike. Unterhaltung und Vergnugen im Altertum , (Stuttgart 1998) 14-18, 120-122.

Bronze knucklebone

Material: Bronze
Provenance: From the sanctuary of Apollo Corythos in Logga, Messenia
Date: Archaic-Classical period
Dimensions: Length 2,6cm.
Exhibition place: Room 38, Case 55, inv. no. 18844

Knucklebones (astragaloi) were made of various materials, such as clay, bronze, ivory and marble, whilst some were silver- or gold-plated. Vases, or parts of vases, and beads of necklaces or earrings took the form of knucklebones. Some of the bone astragaloi are perforated, sometimes more than once, whilst others have been filled with lead or have been planed into the shape of a rectangular bead. Lead parts of anchors often bear a row of four relief knucklebones with their sides (1, 3, 4, 6) in the lucky combination "Aphrodite". They undoubtedly served as an invocation to Aphrodite, guardian of sailors, to secure a safe trip. Inscribed knucklebones as votive offerings have been found at sanctuaries. Some of them may have served as amulets or may have been dedicated to the deity on the occasion of coming of age. Knucklebones were also used in divination.

┬ibliography: P. Amandry, "Os et coquilles", ˇ˘´ L' Antre Corycien II, Bulletin de Correspondance Hellenique:, Supplement IX (1984) 348-377. F. Queyrel,"Le motif des quatre osselets figure sur des jas d' ancre", Archaeonautica 7 (1987) 207-212.

Position in the museum