The Origin of Gambling in Ancient Civilizations

Nowadays, gambling is associated with Las Vegas Strip and glamour of land-based casinos but gambling has been present for millenniums. Poker can be traced 3500 years to ancient Greece. Throwing dices comes from ancient Greece too and two sixes were the “throw of Aphrodite” and the winning hand.

The Origin of Gambling in Ancient Civilizations
Created by Market Business News using images from various sources.

Ancient Greece

Much of what we know about gambling in ancient Greece comes from the blind Greek writer Homer, who also wrote Odysseys and Troy. The ancient Greeks enjoyed the games of luck such as dice and head and tails. Gamblers went to specialized places for gambling. But the paradigm around gambling was a bit different. Ancient philosophers proclaimed gambling as a shameful act. Nowadays, it has been accepted as a form of social behaviour.

In ancient Greece, everything was tied to the Gods and so was gambling. There is a story in Greek mythology about how Hades, Zeus, and Poseidon threw the dice to divide the Universe.

At one point, gambling became problematic and the government had to enforce measures to regulate it. Pottery images show that citizens also used to bet on animal fights much like today. The game of checkers was called “tilia” in ancient Greece and the game of twelve lines in ancient Rome.

The game of heads and tails was first played with a shell and later with a coin like today. The game of dice in ancient Greece had three clay cubes. The game evolved during ancient Rome to two dices like nowadays. The same goes for heads and tails where the coin was introduced in ancient Rome.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, everyone used to gamble including the slaves. Romans perfected gambling methods from the Greeks and they used to gamble in Gladiator fights. The game “casting of lots” was very popular in ancient Rome. Reference to the game can even be found in the Bible when three guards play for the garment of Jesus Christ.


China invented the game of keno with cards. The game included 80 card numbers in squares and the lucky numbers were drawn much like in the lottery today. The game was legal and the government would get its percentage of revenue or taxes. The Chinese also invented card games that later arrived in Europe by Islam followers who introduced shapes to the card decks that became the cards we know today.

Some cave drawings that go back 40000 years in the past indicate the use of dice and gambling by cavemen. Gambling has been with us since its beginnings.

Interesting related article: “What is betting?