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A Toddler Presents A Dispensable Duodecahedron Generating Interest In The Empire Of Rome

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 23434 – 1199

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There is something that is indescribably fun about a toddler with a new word. Now, on occasion, they will pick up a new word that you really don’t want them saying but the best thing to do at that point is to ignore it and be real low-key because if they know they will get attention of any kind, they will go on and on. But, if you have a little math whiz who loves to know the names of shapes then of course you know that when he finds a new one he’ll have to know what it is and walk around the house with a Dollar Store candle holder saying, “I’ve got a duodecahedron.”

Duodecahedron and dodecahedron are the same although the latter spelling is more common. It consists of twelve sides, each in the shape of a pentagon. Fine. A nice short entry and I’m done, except…
“There goes Grampa Cottontail
Down another bunny trail…”

The problem came up when I went looking for a picture of one. I came across this:

A dodecahedron from the Roman Empire sometime between the Second and Fourth Century. Anywhere from an inch-and-a-half to four-and-a-half inches in size, they are not found all over the empire but mainly on the European frontiers, including modern-day France, Belgium, and Switzerland. Nobody knows what they were for. The Romans are a pretty well-documented society that left a lot of texts and were written about pretty extensively. For it to be said that nobody knows what something was for is kind of astounding.

On a site called History Defined, which is a veritable goldmine (or minefield) of rabbit trails and time sucks if history interests you at all, I discovered an article entitled What Was the Purpose of a Roman Dodecahedron? They covered a number of ideas from a device for studying coins to decorative items to, of all things, some sort of surveying equipment which this article called the most likely. I think it is the least likely. This was a society that built precision aqueducts, tilted exactly 0.1% to carry water over 30 miles. They built roads and buildings that have lasted 2 millennia. And their methods for surveying are documented.

But in my view most of this silliness is dispensible. These items were probably not documented because they were very likely unimportant. But then the thought did come to me that they probably were some commonplace toy that children used. They can’t really be dice because all the markings are the same but I am thinking perhaps they made up games as they went along, putting them down in a circle and throwing them and seeing whose they could knock out. Thus the broken knobs shown in the picture. Then one kid got mad at another and threw one at his buddy and like pine cone wars, BB gun wars, rock wars and stick fighting it went on until some mom came out and said, “You kids quit that! It’s only funny until somebody loses an eye!” And you know…It could have happened that way.

And speaking of toys, let us always remember what the good book says…Huh? Oh, not The Good Book, just the Book of Herb:

Some people are like Slinkies, not really good for much but bring a smile to your face when pushed down the stairs.

The Book of Herb


22 responses to “A Toddler Presents A Dispensable Duodecahedron Generating Interest In The Empire Of Rome”

  1. Jacqui Murray Avatar

    I read this entire post with interest–how weird is that, Herb. This is why I like you so much. I actually have history with dodecahedrons, a school project for my daughter. It took way too long to make!

    OK, Ready, for E

    1. Herb Avatar

      Wow. Thank you. School projects always take longer than anyone expects.

  2. boromax Avatar

    I don’t know, man; but now I want one. Turns out there are so-called Adult Fidget Cubes available on Amazon. They have different fidget-friendly knobs, wheels, and buttons on each of the 12 pentagon sides. Fun! Maybe that’s what the frontier Romans used these for – anxiety relief… like a worry-stone. The one I just now put on my Wish List is called PILPOC Fidget Cube Dodecagon. Yay! ~Ed.

    Also… the ancient Romans may have used these as massage implements. Or maybe they were some kind of brass knuckles. Or maybe they threw bean bags through the largest hole.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Okay, I went and looked at the fidget and it looks like too much fun. I’m putting it on my list, too. Your ideas on this thing’s usage are intriguing…

  3. colinmcqueen Avatar

    I immediately thought ‘toy’ when I saw the picture. No idea what game they are for, but something to do with the fact that the holers are all different sizes. There, solved…

    1. Herb Avatar

      Amazing! Thank you. I noticed the different sizes, too.

  4. Anthony Laplume Avatar

    Almost certainly a toy. Or some sort of measuring device. Or a remote control built by aliens who accidentally left it behind. And the person who figures out what it controls will in term control the world..

    1. Herb Avatar

      😂 An equally plausible explanation.

  5. Quippery Avatar

    Toddler with a new word – one of my toddlers mispronounced fork – it came out as the ‘f’ swear word. For some reason our neighbour found that very amusing, so every time he came over for a visit, he would go to the kitchen and get a fork, then track down the kid and say, “Tell me again what this is!?” Then both of them would have a good laugh.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Times like that make you wonder who the toddler is.

  6. dumbestblogger Avatar

    I made that so you would ask questions about it.

    1. Herb Avatar

      You time travelers!

      1. dumbestblogger Avatar

        Always a bother, I know.

  7. Geoff Stamper Avatar

    Dang it, now that you have made me curious, I need answers! Yours is plausible but I need more certainty, Herb! Please.

    1. Herb Avatar

      I’m sorry. The only thing that is certain is the level of uncertainty. Share and enjoy.

  8. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View Avatar

    Love the slinky quote 🤣🙃😎

    1. Herb Avatar

      And we all know it’s true.

      1. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View Avatar

        Very true. My daughter ueses on me 🤣🙃😎

  9. Chel Owens Avatar

    Trying again…. I think the dice were used for gaming. That’s what they’re used for now! Plus, if you look at the picture you provided, you can tell that the holes are different sizes.

    1. Herb Avatar

      Hmmm…That is a good point.

  10. J P Avatar

    It looks like something a Roman electrician might have used as a wire gauge. What? There was no such thing as a Roman electrician? People only say that because they never stood still long enough to be counted.

    Now you make me want to make up song lyrics about a dodecahedron. It works really nicely with the melody of Be Bop A Lula.

    1. Herb Avatar

      That sounds like a great song in the making!

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