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(Jean-Marie Lhôte, "Histoire des Jeux de Société" Paris, Flammarion, 1994 pp. 536-537)


Game of chance pure
France, Xth century
Author: Wibold, Bishop of Cambrai

Known by a chronicle of the XIth century, Chronicon Camaracense et Atrebatense (Chronicle of Arras and of Cambrai), written by Balderic – or Baudry – of Thérouane, cantor in the Cathedral of this city which was a episcopal seat of the Pas-de-Calais from the VIth century.
The object of the game is the edification of clerics.


The game is practiced with three dice. We know that it is thus possible to obtain 56 combinations. These combinations are each noted before a virtue. Moreover, the addition of the points in question gives a number which is indicated following. It goes from 3 for Charity (I + I + I) to 18 for Humility (VI + VI + VI).

Wibold begins by enumerating fifty-six virtues:

I I I Charity 3
I I II Faith 4
I I III Hope 5
I I IV Justice 6
I I V Prudence 7
I I VI Temperance 8
I II II Courage 5
I II III Peace 6
I II IV Chastity 7
I II V Pity 8
I II VI Obedience 9
I III III Fear 7
I III IV Foresight 8
I III V Discretion 9
I III VI Perseverance 10
I IV IV Kindness 9
I IV V Modesty 10
I IV VI Longsuffering 11
I V V Mercifulness 11
I V VI Benevolence 12
I VI VI Wisdom 13
II II II Compunction 6
II II IV Sobriety 8
II II V Penitence 9
II II VI Delicacy(Suavité) 10
II III III Dexterity 8
II III IV Simplicity 9
II III V Hospitality 10
II III VI Economy 11
II IV IV Patience 10
II IV V Zeal 11
II IV VI Poverty 12
II V V Sweetness 12
II V VI Virginity 13
II VI VI Respect 14
III III IV Indulgence 10
III III V Prayer 11
III III VI Love 12
III IV IV Judgement 11
III IV V Vigilance 12
III IV VI Mortification 13
III V V Innocence 13
III V VI Contrition 14
III VI VI Confession 15
IV IV IV Maturity 12
IV IV V Solicitude 13
IV IV VI Constancy 14
IV V V Intelligence 14
IV V VI Dolor 15
IV VI VI Weeping 16
V V V Hilarity* 15
V V VI Compassion 16
V VI VI Continence 17
VI VI VI Humility 18

*Hilarity, that is to say “good humor”.


Wibold suggests associating the virtues of which the sum of the accompanying numbers give 21 (21 is the number of combinations which it is possible to obtain with two dice). These are the “unions of virtues”. For example:

Charity and Humility are united for 3+18=21
Faith and Continence are united for 4+17=21
Justice and Hilarity are united for 6+15=21
But other unions are obtained with 6+15; this is the case with Peace and Dolor, and of Compunction and Confession; these different unions enter into the game.

The numbers 3 and 18 permit 1 union.
The numbers 4 and 17 permit 1 union.
The numbers 5 and 16 permit 2 unions.
The numbers 6 and 15 permit 3 unions.
The numbers 7 and 14 permit 4 unions.
The numbers 8 and 13 permit 5 unions.
The numbers 9 and 12 permit 6 unions.
The numbers 10 and 11 permit 6 unions.

So a total twenty-eight unions are possible.


Each player rolls one die three times in a row or three dice one time. The three points visible to him indicate the corresponding virtue. If this virtue has not yet been drawn, he obtains it. If this virtue is already taken, he passes the turn. The fifty-six virtues are in this way drawn by lot.
When the drawing is finished, each player shows the unions of virtues achieved, that is to say that he associates the virtues by pairs when their accompanying numbers give 21.
The players dispose thus of the isolated virtues and of unions, the unions counting according to the highest virtue. The players compare what they have with the initial hierarchy of fifty-six virtues. The winner is the one who has brought together the highest virtues in this hierarchy.


Each face of a cubic die is marked with one or more vowels which represent the points of the die: one face with one vowel, one face with two vowels, one face with three, etc. There are three dice and the faces of the unity are marked with different vowels as the beginning of the series.

On another die, the sixteen consonants (the q is suppressed) are marked in groups of four in alphabetical order on the four faces of a pyramidal die.

The throw of the cubic dice gives a first numeric indication for locating the corresponding virtue, but there is a supplementary constraint given by the letters: “if it happens that we may compare the vowels turned up by the dice, to the vowels of the virtue, this virtue becomes our property and no other player may obtain it.”
After the cubic, the player rolls the pyramidal die and reads the consonants noted on the bottom face. “If it happens that one of the consonants is found in the virtue indicated by the vowels, it will be counted for all the other consonants.”


It seems that drawing lots with vowels and consonants must have been tedious because because Wibold takes care to add a drastic simplification: “One can also use this game in a way more convenient and agreeable to some people: one throws only three dice, the sum of the score is calculated with no attention paid to the particular character of each letter; the player will then possess all the virtues corresponding to the virtues taken.”


The word “sanction” is taken in the ancient meaning of the word, that of a “religious precept.” Wibold’s ambition is to allow clerics to play a game of chance, which is usually forbidden to them. Playing this dice game, the clerics must moreover earn virtues which they inherit.


In an accessory way, Wibold give some indications on an elementary symbolism of numbers: the Trinity, the Seven Gifts of Grace, the Decalogue, etc. These considerations do not intervene in the game proper.


This games deserves great attention because the procedure anticipates the “Book of the Pastime of the Fortune of the Dice” by Laurent L’Esprit (1474). It appears as an ancient example of betting games with three dice and utilizes a numeric structure – 21 and 56 – later present in tarots. Moreover, we find in it a forerunner of the joker, when a privileged consonant can replace all the others.

(translated by Ross Caldwell)