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History of Gambling from Ancient Time to Medieval Ages

History of Gambling from Ancient Time to Medieval Ages

5 min read

You can hardly find ancient or primal culture without concepts of games and gambling. In the cultures, the games symbolized the cycle of existence. But the one question remains urgent: who invented gambling? The first reports about something that seemed to be gambling appeared with the rise of archeology. Scientists researching the primal people have founded the first instruments, looking like dice. Though there is no evidence of gambling being a part of the primal humanity culture, the first signs of something usual for modern casinos are very ancient. 

Part of Culture

We can see gambling and first table games being part of the culture in the first global ancient civilizations of Earth. For instance, the interpretation of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs gave evidence to the existence of gambling games. The hieroglyphs described the Egyptian beliefs into eternal life after death. One of the perks that the dead gained was playing a game to regain life. Even the famous ritual of the entrance of ancient Egyptian heaven is a form of gambling. The dead staked their hearts to estimate the chances and worthiness. 

The other ancient civilization, China, has promoted the form of gambling games. Though the appearance of dice is known from even earlier times (ancient India, Babylon, etc.), China has given the games a new status. Gambling has become a usual practice in ancient Chinese houses. It is interesting that the game of dice was an attribute of a luxurious life. Only nobles could play the dice games. The dice itself gained different sides and acquired modern properties in China.

Part of Everyday Life

It was a matter of time for gambling to become an everyday activity. In ancient times, it was an important mechanism of communication within groups of people. Gambling united people and led to mutual interests. In Europe, two main ancient civilizations promoted gambling to the next level of existence.

Gambling in Ancient Greece

Ancient gambling games have become available for all people in Ancient Greece. In this country, the first analogies of gambling houses appeared. Ancient Greeks were the first people to emphasize humanity and its traits as natural and acceptable. The willingness to heat, making money, and winning are among the main human traits. So, they became parts of Greek culture, mythology, and everyday life. From the legends, it is known that the gods (Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon) gambled to divide the spheres of influence. Here are some more facts about gambling in Ancient Greece:

  • Such table games as dice, checkers, and backgammon were popular.
  • Greeks invented special, separate, and specialized establishments for gambling.
  • Usually, temples were places where gamblers liked to gather. The Athena Temple was one of the most popular.
  • The Olympics were the first official games with allowed bets. 
  • Besides sports, betting on rooster and dog fights were popular. 
  • Sparta banned all kinds of gambling. 

Though gambling was considered to be human, it was criticized by famous demagogues, philosophers, and politicians of that time. It took little time to turn gambling into a global problem from a way of entertainment. Ancient gambling, the problems similar to the modern ones: addiction, waste of time, obsession with money, and others. It is known that the treatment of gambling debts in Ancient Greece was as serious as in the 20th century. 

Gambling in Ancient Rome

Owing to the location, improvements in writing, and saving information, the history of gambling got the biggest contribution from the Roman Empire. In most cases, everything that we know about ancient gambling was taken from Roman sources. It is no wonder that such a pragmatic and well-situated folk as Romans has promoted gambling to the next level. 

Romans became inventors of many interesting gambling games. There were several reasons for their appearance. First, the rules of devoutness and everyday life were not so strict with gambling as they were in Ancient Greece. Second, the simple folk called rabble was in favor in ancient Rome (it was often used by many politicians as the basis for their power), so simple entertainments were appreciated or at least blenched. However, some games were banned for being too hazardous. The second reason is the wide dispensing of Roman culture and its multiculturalism. The third reason is the big number of military people serving in the army. They tried to kill time and invented a lot of simple gambling activities. So, Romans played the following games:

  • Dice games had a form of the modern game of Craps and Perudo. The game implied three dice pieces and a non-transparent glass called Turricula (a small tower). Each player threw the dice, and the win was estimated by the difference in points earned. Particular combinations of dice acquired names. Thus, the best one was called Venus, and the worst was called dogs. 
  • One of the simplest gambling games was called Micatio. The rules were simple - every player showed the fingers on one hand, and a competitor had to guess the number of fingers shown. 
  • The сapita aut navim game was an ancient variant of heads and tales. Roman coins had the part of the battleship on one side (navim), and the portrait of the god on the other side (capita). 
  • A simple variant of the odd and even game was called par impar. A player took a certain number of rocks in hand, and a competitor tried to guess their number. 
  • The simplest board game was called the mill wheel. Each gambler has three chips. The task was to place them in one row, like in the game of tic-tac-toe. 
  • Finally, one of the most well-spread games was called duodecim (twelve). Its set consisted of chips, dice, and a board made of skin called tabula. The game was an ancestor of the modern backgammon game. It was the game to be officially banned in the Roman Empire. 

Do not forget about the betting sphere in ancient Rome. With the appearance of the game cult, gladiator fights, and entertainments, the betting sphere flourished. It started acquiring some modern traits, like different kinds of bets, the odds' system, and the first specialized places where bets were accepted. However, the culture of gambling in the ancient Roman Empire (and the rest of the known world) faced decay with the appearance of Christianity. When religion became official in both roman empires, gambling and betting were banned. Simple people did not care about the bans much, but the development of the gambling sphere stopped. 

Gambling in Medieval

For a long time, gambling was restricted in medieval Europe. The official church banned gambling. However, it did not stop the simple folk from leaving this entertainment. The increasing population of town and city residents promoted the tendency. 

Dice remained one of the most popular gambling activities, even among clerics. The rules of the medieval dice games variants were not saved. However, we know from a few literary resources that the games implied money and bets. The situation with the increasing popularity of dice caused the condemnation of the game proclaimed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. It is believed that the main reason for such reaction was caused not by the money involved, but by continuous fights and swearing during the games. 

The game called tableaux appeared in France and became very popular in the whole medieval world. It implies a set of dice pieces and tablets made from wood or ivory. Unlike the dice games, tableaux was the sign of nobility. The majority of medieval gambling engravings show a pair playing the game. 

As for the first card games, it is believed that they appeared at the end of the 14th century. At first, playing cards were a natural substitution for dice and tableaux boards (as the majority of people could not afford ivory tablets). The second advantage of medieval card games was in the simplicity of rules and availability to play in big companies. It is known that the first games were like modern Hi-Lo and Bridge games. 

The final question to be disclosed here will be about people who invented casinos. The specialized legal gambling establishments were the next step for the whole culture. Historians know many variants of gambling houses spread in medieval Asia. As for Europe, the first casino (a location designed especially for gambling with the paid entrance) appeared in 1638. Surprisingly, it was based on the Venetian Church of St. Moses. The main purpose of the house was to limit gambling during the mass festival of Spring Games. Only nobility could afford to be inside the Gambling house due to significant entrance fees. By the way, the Italian language has given us the term “casino,” which originates from the word “casa” (house). 

The first business casino was invented by Cardinal Mazarin. It was designed to fill the treasury with the French Kingdom. Soon, the casinos were spread across Europe. With the active navigation, the gambling culture was spread to the New World and the rest of Earth.

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