Gamer Girls ca. 330 BCE

Image: via Esther MacCallum Stewart
Two girls playing knuckleones via Esther MacCallum Stewart

Not that this should come as any surprise to anyone, but girls have been gamers for over 2,000 years.

Here’s a statuette of two girls playing knucklebones from ca. 330 BCE. In the ancient Mediterranean, the heel bones of sheep (commonly, though inaccurately, called “knucklebones” in English) were used for playing a variety of games, as they still are in many parts of the world today. They could be rolled like dice or gathered up in games similar to jacks, which is what these two appear to be doing.

Knucklebones crossed the whole spectrum of ancient society. Men and women, girls and boys all played. The Greek comic playwright Aristophanes mentions them as the toys of poor children (The Wasps 295) while Suetonius quotes a letter by the Roman emperor Augustus enthusiastically recounting his gaming exploits (The Deified Augustus 71). It is hard to think of a pastime that is so widely shared today.

Of Dice and Dragons is an occasional feature about games and gaming.