Open Access

Reassessing Roman and Late Antique ‘Marbles Lanes’: One Game or Many?


Characterised by the presence of multiple depressions or pockets in a variety of arrangements, and, in some cases, the presence of a single, double, or triple ‘start line’ carved into horizontal stone surfaces, marble lanes in their variety of forms open a window onto ancient play that few have looked through. Thought to be a playing surface for some kind of throwing or rolling game which involved the use of glass or ceramic spheres, Roman marble lanes have received comparatively little attention in the recent upswing of scholarship on ancient play, partially as a result of the relative dearth of textual and iconographic sources discussing or depicting their usage, but these playing surfaces nevertheless represent a major corpus of ludic material. This contribution summarises past work on marble lanes before exploring the limited textual and iconographic source material related to playing with marbles. It offers a tentative new typology by which to categorise marble lanes and a non-exhaustive list of these playing surfaces recorded at archaeological sites around the Mediterranean. It then moves onto a discussion of the game/games that may be played on these boards, arguing that the wide variations in the different layouts for marble lanes may indicate that they were used not for one tightly-defined game, but more likely facilitated the playing of a loosely connected family of games, with implicaitons for how we think about communities of play in the past.