Traditional Board Games

Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

Sometimes called duodecim scripta, this Roman game is a relative, and probably ancestor, of backgammon. It is played on a board of three rows of twelve columns of playing spaces, and its name means "game of twelve lines".

Each player has fifteen pieces, and three dice control the game. The players have to enter their pieces onto the board, race them around the three rows, and bear them off at the end of the track. Enemy pieces can be hit, or knocked off the board and forced to restart their race, during the course of the game.

History of Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

This game roughly coeval with tabula, a game more closely resembling the modern backgammon, and does not seem to have given way easily to the newer game. Etchings of one game or another adorn Etruscan and Roman mirrors as early as the second century B.C., and the game lasted till the fourth century A.D.

Boards often used six six-letter words as playing spaces, such as simple menus in taverns, or a wall plaque bearing words of wisdom. This was apparently as a tongue-in-cheek way of disguising the board's purpose, getting around gambling regulations in ancient Rome!

One more amusing example reads "LEVATE DALOCU, LUDERE NESCIS, IDIOTA RECEDE" - "get up, push off, you don't know how to play this game, get lost you idiot".

Rules for Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum

Rules for Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum
As with many ancient games, the rules are lost to us. But plausible reconstructions can be made by examining the boards that survive, the artwork, and some occasional accounts in literature. The rules below are given by the respected board game historian, H. J. R. Murray.

1. Ludus duodecim scriptorum is played by two on a board consisting of three rows of twelve points, each row of twelve being divided in half.

2. Each player has fifteen pieces of his own colour, either black or white. At the start of the game these pieces are off the board.

3. Three six-sided dice control the movement of the pieces.

4. Players decide who goes first, either at random or by agreement.

5. A player begins his turn by throwing the three dice. The player can take the numbers rolled in any order he pleases, and with each number rolled, do one the following:

(i). a piece waiting to enter the board may be placed on the appropriate point 1-6 shown in the diagram;

(ii). a piece on the board may be moved along the course by the appropriate number of points; the diagram shows the direction that pieces move;

(iii). if all of the player's pieces are on the points I-VI at the end of the course, then a piece may be borne off the board from the appropriate point I-VI as shown on the die; that piece has completed its race;

(iv). if a piece has been captured as described later in rule 8, it must be re-entered on point 1-6 as in rule 5(i), before any other piece is played.

6. Pieces of the same colour may be stacked upon a point, to an unlimited height.

7. A piece may not land on a point if two or more of the opponent's pieces already occupy that point.

8. A piece sat alone on a point is captured if an opponent's piece lands on that same point. The captured piece is removed from the board, and its owner must on his turn re-enter it before he moves any other piece (see rule 5(iv)).

9. The game is finished when one of the players has borne all fifteen of his pieces off the board. He is then declared the winner.


Have played this game twice now; is excellent way of passing an entertaining hour!

Lizzie Lowe - 18:26, 20/09/2014

Wow! This page was really good! My kid is doing a Roman Games project, and he picked his activity to be Ludus Duodecim Scriptorum! Thank you so much for the information!

Bob Hinkle - 00:19, 19/05/2015

I have been reading Petronius and it seems this is the game referred to in chapter 33. TYour leaflet is lovely but the inside comes out upside down in relation to the outside!

Stephen Barber - 12:47, 31/07/2017

Thanks for posting, Stephen! Are you using some kind of automatic duplex printer that turns the paper over for you? If so, you'll need to set the orientation to landscape. I'm not sure how to do this, as I turn the pages manually when printing.

Damian Walker - 10:08, 05/08/2017

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