Rota: “An Old Roman Game”

In 1916, there was an article in the Classical Journal describing “An Old Roman Game,” Rota. Although the name and rules are modern, it could have been played on the game boards found scratched into various stones in the Roman world. It’s a great game to play if you’re missing most of the class for a music assembly or a snow delay.

The information in this post is based on a wonderful presentation given by Donna Lyons at CANE Annual Meeting a few years ago. CANEns, the CANE newsletter, has an issue with two boards and detailed set of rules and instructions available here as a pdf. She has two boards, a fancy one and a plain one.

The board is straightforward: it’s a circle cut like a pizza. There are three lines along diameters of the circle.

Two players play on one board. Each has three markers. In the first turns of the game, players take turns setting their markers on the board. After all six markers are on the board, each player moves one marker to an adjacent spot each turn. Pieces cannot be jumped or captured, and each player must move each turn. To win, the player needs to have three markers across a diameter of the board.

Donna suggested playing the game with the glass pebbles made to put in the bottoms of vases. If you do this, the pebbles are translucent enough that you can play a sample game on an overhead projector. (This is how I usually introduce the class to the game.) It would also be possible to play it with magnetic pieces on a whiteboard or chalkboard.

For class sets, I usually copy a set of boards (having kids decorate a basic board can be fun as well) and then cut up colorful paper on a paper cutter for the pieces (holes from hole punching are a little too small; one of the shaped hole punchers would be fun). I have an envelope of cut up paper and a stack of photocopied boards in my closet so, if class is unexpectedly shortened or lengthened for weather reasons, we can play.

It also works to use candies for the pieces; in that case, the winner usually gets them. (My students came up with this version. Chocolate candies are a bad idea, and the winner may not want unwrapped candies that were used.)

An online version of the game can be played here: There is at least one version of it for iPhone/iPad in the app store. I haven’t played any of them, though.

Thursday Resource: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History


If you’re looking for wonderful images from the ancient world (or any time period), check out the Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. You can search on images by time period, area, description, and more. There are alsoEssays on Greek and Roman Art illustrated with objects from the Met collection.

(picture is a partial screenshot of