Geek Trivia

The Oldest 20-Sided Dice Belonged To Which Ancient Culture?

The Egyptians
The Mesopotamians
The Mayans
The Romans
The Microsoft Xbox Was Originally Slated To Be Called What?

Answer: The Egyptians

When you think of twenty-sided dice, you likely think of the game culture that they are now heavily associated with: table-top role playing. The venerable twenty-sided die or d20 (in RPGs, the various dice are typically referred to in shorthand based on the number of faces they have, like d6 for a traditional six-sided die) is forever enshrined in geek culture thanks to its critical role in the iconic RPG Dungeons & Dragons and its subsequent derivatives.

Long before gamers in the 1970s were throwing d20s around the table hoping for perfect rolls, Egyptians were rolling dice that looked uncannily like the modern equivalent. So uncannily, in fact, that if you were to find one of these ancient dice in an antique store today, we wouldn’t blame you at all for feeling suspicious that the die wasn’t even an antique, but a very well made product from a modern game that had been purposely and artificially weathered to give it the patina of age.

Little is known about these ancient dice save from what can be directly inferred from studying them. What we do know about them is that twenty-sided dice are the most common polyhedral dice that have survived to the present, they appear to originate exclusively from Egypt, they were crafted starting in roughly the 2nd century B.C., and the symbols and text found on them suggest a range of uses from gambling to divination.

Image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.