Today Elisabeth Storrs talks about the long awaited sequel to her etruscan saga, The Golden Dice. Elisabeth Storrs has long held an interest in the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She is an Australian author and graduated from the University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. She lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer, governance consultant and business writer. The Wedding Shroud was judged runner-up in the international 2012 Sharp Writ Book Awards for general fiction. You can check out my review 5/5 star review for The Wedding Shroud here. I can’t wait to read The Golden Dice!
Make sure you leave a comment at the end of this post to enter the giveaway to win a digital copy of The Golden Dice.
On the throw of the dice – those wicked Etruscan women
By Elisabeth Storrs
Many thanks to the lovely Lauren Murphy for hosting me on The Australian Bookshelf and allowing me to share the news about the release of my book, The Golden Dice.
Wagering has always been considered a sin. And yet it’s a part of human nature to test your luck by betting in games of chance. The Romans were no different in this regard. In Republican times, gambling had become such a social problem that the State restricted betting to the week of the Saturnalia Festival. This was the religious holiday held to celebrate the coming of light after the winter solstice. Outside this period of leniency laying monetary bets attracted a fine fixed at quadruple the value of the stake. Of course, being banned in public taverns and brothels did not prevent games being played illicitly in private.
Dice called ‘tesserae’ were marked on six faces with dots. A variation on these were called ‘tali’ with each die only marked on four sides. Knucklebones were used too. Bone chips called roundels were substituted for money. They were circular and marked with numerical symbols. Some were stamped with an X with a vertical line through it denoting the value of a Roman denarii coin. Others were labelled with the words ‘I will gladly repay’ – the equivalent of a modern day IOU.
A common dice game was called ‘Ludos Duodecim Scriptorum’ or ‘Game of the Twelve Markings.’ This was a reference to the twelve markings carved into a board which could take the form of a stone or timber table but often was a flat piece of wood laid across the laps of both players.
Did women play with dice in the ancient world? An engraved silver mirror from Palestrina (ancient Praeneste) in Italy circa C200 BCE depicts a half-naked man and woman with a board between them marked with twelve lines. An amusing conversation is incised beside each figure in archaic Latin. Translated, she is saying ‘I think I will win’ while he replies ‘I expect so.’ Given their state of undress and the law against gaming, I’d hazard a guess that the woman is more likely to be a prostitute than a ‘decent woman’.
There is evidence that one society condoned women of high status playing dice games. In a previous post on The Australian Bookshelf, I wrote about the extraordinary attitude of Etruscan men to their women compared to others in the ancient world. Their wives were afforded independence, education as well as the freedom to drink wine and play dice. In fact, the Etruscans were renowned for their gambling as is attested to by the large number of ivory and wooden tesserae found in their tombs. Even the myth as to their origins is based on a prince who saved his people’s lives by using gambling as a distraction to stave off hunger. Historians also believed that the Etruscans may have used dice to predict the future.
There is one tomb that not only establishes the independence and high regard afforded to Etruscan women but also shows that gaming was considered part of everyday life. The Tomb of the Reliefs is located in the Banditaccia necropolis in modern day Cerveteri. I visited this tomb when I was in Italy last year. Visitors walk down steep steps carved in stone to stand underground in front of a glass barrier. You peer into blackness before a light is switched on. The vast family sepulchre is revealed. Before you lies the replica of the interior of an Etruscan house from the late C 4th BCE. Along its three walls, and on all sides of two enormous central columns, are relief decorations in painted stucco of objects of everyday life. In pride of place is a deeply recessed niche modelled as a bed where the bodies of the husband and wife who founded the tomb would have been laid as equals, a stucco pillow for their heads. Below them is a footstool on which stands a pair of sandals. It is as if the wife has temporarily slipped off her shoes to clamber into bed instead of being laid to rest for eternity.
Cupboards were unknown during these times. Instead possessions were hung on walls on nails. All around the tomb is the armour of warriors: helmets and greaves, swords and shields. There are symbols of high office, too: an ivory folding chair, horns and a lituus staff. A linen book can be seen as well as a woman’s fan and hair garland. However it was the prosaic objects that delighted me: kitchen knives and cooking vessels, ropes and slings. Even ducks and geese ready for the cooking pot as well as a pet dog and cat. Here was the domain of the matron of wealthy household. Yet alongside her loom, the age-old symbol of womanhood, there were two objects that surprised me – a gaming table and a coin purse. Here was proof, once again, that Etruscan women were not entirely devoted to domestic matters and were granted the opportunity to risk their luck (and money) as much as their men.
The new book in my Tales of Ancient Rome series is entitled The Golden Dice. It is the sequel to The Wedding Shroud, a story about a Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, who is married to an enemy Etruscan nobleman, Vel Mastarna. When war is declared between their two cities, her husband gives Caecilia his golden dice so she can ask the goddess Fortuna to provide a sign as to whether she should choose him or Rome.
The inspiration for Mastarna’s golden dice arose from an ancient pair of ivory tesserae known as the ‘Tuscania Dice’ circa C 2nd BCE. Instead of dots they are inscribed with the names of the numbers from one to six. They are extremely important from the viewpoint of decoding
the Etruscan language but to me those two small cubes tell of the individuality of their owner. These tesserae were special, perhaps even cherished, possessions.
And so I imagined the wealthy Mastarna lending his two golden die to his new young Roman wife to tempt her with the pleasures of his society. Ultimately he also gives her the chance to make one last throw. One that will change the destiny of the two lovers forever. One that will cause them to be blamed for starting a war.
The Tales of Ancient Rome series chronicles the events of a ten year siege between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. The Wedding Shroud ends when war is declared. The Golden Dice, continues the story seven years later at the height of the conflict. In addition to following the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, two other strong female characters are introduced: Semni, a young Etruscan girl, and Pinna, a Roman tomb whore. I hope readers will enjoy visiting Etruria again, or venture into this world for the first time to learn how three women of the ancient world endure a war. You will find more information on the background to the book in this post on my blog, Triclinium. The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are available on Amazon or via other retailers listed on my website. And I would love to connect with you on Facebook and Twitter.
During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:
Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…
Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia’s children and her own chance for romance…
Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome’s greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…
Historical Fiction at its best, The Golden Dice explores the lives of women in war while giving a glimpse into the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.
To go into the draw to win a digital copy of The Golden Dice by Elisabeth Storrs please leave a comment below.
This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL.
The winner will be drawn via random.org
Giveaway ends midnight 28th July 2013 (syd time).