Corbridge Roman Town - Hadrian's Wall

The mysterious dodecahedra of the Roman Empire

The dodecahedron (12 sided object) has been puzzling archaeologists since the 18th century when it was first discovered. Only 120 have been found across what was the Roman Empire, however, none have been found in Italy, Spain, Africa or the Mediterranean. These striking objects are some of the rarest and least understood to survive from the Roman world.

What is it?

Each dodecahedron is unique, but they all share certain features. They all have 12 sides, each with a hole in and decoration, knobs on each corner and they’re all made of copper alloy. They are complex objects so a skilled craftsman would have been needed to make them. This skill, along with the amount of metal needed means they would have been expensive and were likely made to order.

What do archaeologists think?

The archaeological sites where they have been found tell us little about their function or meaning. They do not appear to be specifically military or civilian, domestic or religious. They may be urban or rural, part of the living world or gifts with the dead. Theories range from a device for determining the optimal date for sowing winter grain, a candle holder, sceptre head, die, range finder, surveying instrument, child’s toy or even knitting gloves.

Get involved

Head over to Corbridge Roman Fort and explore all of the different theories in our new exhibition. You can handle and play with a number of replica dodecahedrons to give you a feel of what they might have been used for.  Vote for your favourite theory or come up with your own! You can also create your own dodecahedron using the template here.

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