Ancient Greece: gambling with the Gods and Heroes
This year, the Olympic Games were held in Greece, the country they originated from. I am not sure whether you e-casinos or wager on sports (you can bet online, for instance, on Bet365.com, BetUs.com, Omnisportsbook.com, V-wager.com, Worldbet.com, Sportbook.com), but I strongly believe that the ancient Greeks wagered on their favourite athletes at the very first Olympic Games.
So what was it about gambling in Ancient Greece? I can tell you for sure, that Ancient Greeks adored games of chance. Unless this was the case, why does their mythology refer to gambling so much? In Greece, even the Gods gambled. When the battle of the Titans was over, Zeus together with his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, drew lots to divide up the Universe. So eventually, Zeus won Olympus, Poseidon became the ruler of the sea depths, and Hades – the master of the underground kingdom.
Similarly to our American counterparts today, the majority of Greek legislators treated games of chance with disapproval, considering this form of entertainment a threat to public morality, undermining the foundations of the state system. The penalty for excessive and addictive gambling was the same irrespective of the social position of the gambler. That was slavery, or so it is told.Never mind the legislation, which was actually different across the numerous city-states, Gods, heroes and mortals all gambled alike. In ancient Greece, games of chance prevailed to a vast extent. The ancient Athenians, for example, were extremely fond of this leisure activity and their persistent gaming habit lead to the creation of associations or ‘clubs’ for the purpose of dicing. From a remark made by the Athenian orator, Callistratus, it is evident that desperate gambling was in fashion; he says that games in which the losers go on doubling their stakes resemble ever-recurring wars, which terminate only when the warring parties cease existence.
The Ancient Greeks gambled not only with dice, and their equivalent of ‘Cross and Pile’, but also made bets at cock fighting and sporting events. They might actually be the ones who invented casinos, at least mythological ones. That was at the time when Zeus was a young god., and one day he met Tycho, the Goddess of Chance. She succumbed to Zeus` charms and a daughter was born. Her name was Fortune and her hobby was to invent games of chance. The people who gambled passionately were treated better by Fortune. With the help of her divine parents, Fortune established houses where people could devote themselves to gambling and please her by playing. In order to lure more people into them, these houses were beautifully illuminated with various lights. Though the ancient Greeks lived many centuries ago, the description sounds suspiciously similar to that of a typical Las Vegas street – with numerous gambling establishments and flashing lights.
And of course there was Troy. One may argue over the nature of the conflict, but none would doubt that an army of soldiers must either entertain itself or else die of boredom. As playing Russian roulette (please see our article Extreme gambling. Part 1 Russian roulette – the game you can’t win) was not technically possible, an alternative needed to be invented (or re-invented in this case). Among the many
Greek heroes who attacked the Trojan walls was Palamed, son of Naupilus, and heir to his vast trade empire. Palamed became famous for many things: uncovering Ulysses` false insanity, inventing measures of distance and weight, for coins, and for many other things. He was believed to be the wisest of heroes. The greatest warriors respected him not as the inventor of the 3-level army heirarchy, but rather as the inventor of dice. And the first pair of dice was sacrificed to the altar of Tycho. But it happened so that Ulysses was not happy about Palamed “motivating” him to leave home for war. And so the man of wisdom fell victim to the man of many tricks. So wouldn’t it be Ulysses’ revenge if the ancient Greeks could enjoy Baccarat or even Roulette, while praising the wisdom of Palamed.
So what exactly was invented by Palamed? The ancient Greeks played with two types of dice. One type were similar to modern ones and were called ‘casks’. Three, and later two, of these ‘casks’ were used to gamble with. Another type of dice was called an ‘astragales’and had four facets marked 1, 3, 4 and 6. Four ‘astragales’ were used to gamble. A dice throw was called a ‘hit’ and a special cup was used to “hit” dice. Many dice games were known in Ancient Greece. The most popular was aimed at “hitting” the largest score. Various scores were named after famous heroes, men, women and Gods depending on the region. Usually, the worst hit, scoring 4, was called ‘dog’, while the best was called ‘Aphrodite’, after the Goddess of Love. Both of them could be considered lucky or unlucky ones depending on their circumstances. The games of dice were usually played in special establishments, which were prototypes of modern casinos and had all the necessary equipment.
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