Knucklebones | Greece

Name in Original Language

Area Where Played



Αστραγαλισμός/αστραγαλίζειν/αστρίζειν is considered one of the most ancient Greek games, mentioned as one of the games played by the Achaeans during the War of Troy.
Astragaloi were props used for playing various games. These were literally the knucklebones (astragaloi in Greek) of various animals, mainly of lambs, sheep and cattle. Today's name of the game in Greek, kotsia, derives from the Byzantine name of the game and the knucklebones: the game was called kottos (but sometimes "astragaloi" could also be used) and the knucklebones used for the game were called kottia. The origins for the Byzantine names are unclear.
An ancient tradition attributed the origins of games with knucklebones to the Lydians. Knucklebones were used in various prowess games. Knucklebones were also used for lucky games, as a sort of dice. Therefore, knucklebones were very popular game props in Antiquity and through the Roman and Byzantine periods. They have been unearthed in children's tombs, and they are also mentioned in textual sources, historical anecdotes etc.
Each knucklebone has four sides, each one different than the others. The wider ones were called "pranes" (the one with the curved surface) and "hyption" (the one with the concave surface). The narrow sides were more similar to each other and were called "chion" (the almost flat one) and "koon" (the slightly concave one). In ancient knucklebones games, the decisive side was not the one facing the players but the one with which the knucklebone was touching the ground. Therefore, the narrow concave side (koon) was the side earning most points for the player, since it was the most difficult for the knucklebone to balance.
However, it seems that the value for each roll was depending on a combination of elements, and various names are attested for the various rolls (such as "the roll of Alexander," "of Antigonos," "the old lady," "Darius" etc.)

Detailed Description


Astragalismos was a specific knucklebones game, played by a group of players who sat around in a circle. One of the players was appointed "king," and he was holding a switch or wand. The other players were taking rounds rolling the knucklebones, with bad rolls earning them penalties, administered by the "king" with his switch.
The modern traditional game is fairly similar and is called kotsia or veziris (vizier). It is played with one knucklebone. Each player throws the knucklebone in his or her turn, and the decisive side is the one facing the players. The player who has thrown the almost plain narrow side is appointed "vizier" and takes the switch; the player who has thrown the slightly concave narrow side becomes the "king" of the game. From the wider sides, the concave one is considered the worst roll ("the thief") which earns a penalty for the player who has thrown it. The "king" then decides the severity of the penalty, which is administered by the "vizier" and executed often by the ”baker”. Penalties include toils, difficult tasks, shameful tasks or actual beating. At the end of each round, the roles can change, with a new "king" and a new "vizier."