In several parts of the European continent, examples of this hollow object were found, formed by 12 flat pentagonal faces. The most common version is made of bronze, although there are also some made of stone.
The first dodecahedron was discovered in 1739 by a historian in Aston, in the English countryside. In his report to the Society of Antiquaries, he described the object as “a piece of alloy metal, or antique brass, consisting of 12 equal sides”.
Later, other dodecahedrons were found in countries such as Spain, Italy, Hungary, France, Belgium, Croatia, Great Britain, Holland, Switzerland and Germany and are believed to have been manufactured between the 2nd and 4th centuries AD, during the Roman Empire, but no dodecahedrons have been found in the Eastern Roman Empire.
Most dodecahedrons range between 4 and 11 centimeters in size and 35 and 580 grams in weight and are adorned with designs and patterns, but never letters or numbers that could indicate their use, and no mention of the object was found in Roman texts. The randomness of their locations, as well as the lack of written context, has left historians perplexed.
Over the past three centuries, more than 200 historians have proposed more than 50 possible uses for the Roman dodecahedron.
One assumption is that the object was a mace-like weapon. Other historians believe it was a measuring device.
Some have suggested that the dodecahedron was a children’s toy, similar to the French bilboquet.
It is also possible that they were used for astronomical calculations with the sun shining through the holes at various times of the day. Dutch researcher Sjra Wagemans compared it to the icosahedron, a 20-faced convex polyhedron, which served a similar purpose.
Another hypothesis suggests that the dodecahedron was an artifact for performing intricate embroidery, and some people have even suggested that the small hollow object was worn as an amulet or carried in bags.
The final assumption is that the object was sacred and important for religious practice. A dodecahedron found in the Cave of Zeus, in Crete, was made of rock crystal, and on its twelve faces was found Greek characters instead of holes.
Despite having been found in the most diverse places in Europe, the function of this object remains unknown. The only thing that is known for sure is the name of the artifact: Roman Dodecahedron.