January 7, 2013 : HISTORY OF GAMBLING ON SHOW IN PARIS
In ancient Rome they tried to ban gambling, but it remained a popular pastime
The more things change, the more they stay the same, says an old truism which could be applied to the situation of online gambling in the United States today.
In ancient Rome, despite government bans on dice games, the pastime remained a firm favourite with Romans and was widely enjoyed; eventually an emperor even wrote a book on the game.
This, and other fascinating elements making up the story of gambling through the ages is part of an exhibition titled “The Art of Games and Games of the Art, from Babylon to Medieval Europe,” currently being presented at the Musee de Cluny in Paris.
The museum brings together 250 gambling artefacts from antiquity spanning four millennia and many countries.
And, according to a Bloomberg report, the wing of the museum in which these appear is particularly apt: It used to be the frigidarium, or cold pool, of a Roman bath when Paris was still Lutetia.
Among the oldest items on display is the palm tree game from ancient Egypt. It was played with 10 ivory pieces, five with the head of a dog, five with the head of a jackal, to be moved across a small piece of furniture with animal legs and 58 holes. The game was found in a tomb, suggesting the Egyptians expected to keep up their gambling habits in the hereafter.
From a burial site in ancient Mesopotamia comes a board game crafted with such skill as to suggest it belonged to nobility, and from imperial Rome there is a 12 line game thought to be a precursor to the game of backgammon.
The exhibition shows that chess arrived in Europe around 1000 A.D., more than three centuries after it was invented in India. Bloomberg reports that on its way through the Islamic world, some pieces changed their names and their functions: The fers, or vizier, morphed into the queen; the aufin, or elephant, evolved into the bishop.
Card games arrived even later in Europe, probably from China. The exhibition includes a small number of beautifully hand- painted cards.