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p74 Alea

Unsigned article on pp74‑75 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ALEA, gaming, or playing at a game of chance of any kind. Hence, alea, aleator, a gamester, a p75gambler. Playing with tali or tesserae was generally understood; because these were you far the most common games of chance among the Romans. [Talus; Tessera.]

Gaming was considered disreputable at Rome; and hence aleator was used as a term of reproach (Cic. in Cat. II.10, ad Att. XIV.5). It was also forbidden at Rome by special laws, during the times of the republic, and under the emperors (vetita legibus alea) ( Hor. Carm. III.24.58; Cic. Philip. II.23; Ov. Trist. II.470, &c., Dig. 11 tit. 5). We have, however, no express information as to the time when these laws were enacted or the exact provisions which they contained. There are three laws mentioned in the Digest (l.c.) forbidding gambling, the Leges Titia, Publicia, and Cornelia, and likewise a senatus consultum, and the praetor's edictum. At what time the two former laws were passed is quite uncertain; but the Lex Cornelia was probably one of the laws of the dictator Sulla, who, we know, made several enactments to check the extravagance and expense of private persons. [Sumtus.] Some writers infer from a passage of Plautus (Mil. Glor. II.2.9) that gaming must have been forbidden by law in his time; but the lex talaria in this passage seems rather to refer to the laws of the game than to any public enactment. Some modern writers, however, read lex alearia in this passage. The only kinds of gaming allowed by the law were, first, playing at table for the different articles of food, and playing for money at games of strength, such as hurling the javelin, running, jumping, boxing, &c. (Dig. l.c.). Those who were convicted of gaming were condemned to pay four times the sum they had staked (Pseudo-Ascon. in Cic. Div. § 24 p110 ed. Orelli), and became infames in consequence. We know that infamia was frequently a consequence of a judicial decision [Infamia]; and we may infer that it was in this case from the expression of Cicero ("Hominem lege, quae est de alea, condemnatum, in integrum restituit," Cic. Phil. II.23). Justinian forbade all gaming both in public and in private (Cod. 3 tit. 43). Games of chance were, however, tolerated in the month of December at the Saturnalia, which was a period of general relaxation (Mart. IV.14, V.84, Gell. XVIII.13; Suet. Aug. 71); and among the Greeks, as well as the Romans, public opinion allowed old men to amuse themselves in this manner (Eurip. Med. 67; Cic. Senect. 16). Under the empire gambling was carried to a great height, and the laws were probably little more than nominal. Many of the early emperors, Augustus, Caligula, Claudius, Vitellius, and Domitian, were very fond of gaming, and set but an evil example to their subjects in this matter (Suet. Aug. 70, 71; Dion Cass. LIX.22; Suet. Cal., 41, Suet. Claud. 33; Dion Cass. LX.2; Suet. Dom. 21). Professed gamesters made a regular study of their art; and there were treatises on the subject, among which was a book written by the emperor Claudius (Ov. Trist. II.471; Suet. Claud. 33).

Alea sometimes denotes the implement used in playing, as in the phrase jacta alea est, "the die is cast," uttered by Julius Caesar, immediately before he crossed the Rubicon (Suet. Jul. 32); and it is often used for chance, or uncertainty in general (Hor. Carm. II.1.6; Cic. Div. II.15). Respecting the enactments against gambling, see Rein, Criminalrecht der Römer, p833.

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