Gambling

Caupona Wall Painting

A fresco of gamblers from the Caupona of Salvius (VI.14.35/36) in Pompeii. The player on the left exclaimes,"EXSI" ("I won"), while his partner protests with, "NON / TRIA DUAS / EST" ("It's not three, it's' two").

Customers were drawn to the cauponae just as much for the gambling as for the food and drink. Paintings of gamblers are found at several Pompeiian cauponae, including these pictured from the Caupona of Salvius and Caupona VI.10.1. In both of these frescos, the players can be seen using a tabula lusaria, or gambling table, which have been widely excavated throughout the Roman Empire. These tables were often made of marble or another stone, into which were engraved 36 symbols in two columns, each with six, six-symbol groups. Often letters replaced the symbols, spelling out messages that ranged from pronouncements of skill at the game to warnings of the losses one could incur. Pairs of gamblers played with three dice and moved their game pieces, called latrunculi, frontwards or backwards according to their rolls. Some games centered around the rolls themselves, the best of which was three sixes in one toss; other games also involved the strategic movement of the game pieces.

Another item visible in the paintings is the fritillus, or cup for shaking the dice before each roll. These were largely used to keep players from cheating; for example, a player might weigh down the ace side of a die with lead to keep it from being rolled, as rolling an ace would force a gambler to pay more money.