Stranger Games: The life and times of the spintriae

Open access


In 2010 a Roman token was discovered in the mud of the Thames near Putney Bridge in London. When the token was discovered to have an erotic image on one side and a Roman numeral on the other, and was identified in a Museum of London press release as a rare Roman “brothel token”, the press reported on the story in the expected manner, for example: “A Roman coin that was probably used by soldiers to pay for sex in brothels has been discovered on the banks of the River Thames” (Daily Telegraph, 4 Jan 2012) and “Bronze discs depicting sex acts, like the one discovered in London, were used to hire prostitutes-and directly led to the birth of pornography during the Renaissance” (The Guardian, 4 Jan 2012). Even before this particular spate of media interest, these curious tokens have generated confusion, speculation and prurience-often simultaneously. They are of interest to games scholars because the speculation often includes the suggestion these objects may have had a ludic function, and were used as game counters. This paper will look at some of the proposals that have been offered by way of explanation of these peculiar objects.

Banerji, R. (2013). “Unlocking the Scrolls of Heculaneum”. In: BBC News Magazine. [Online; posted 20 December 2013]. url:

Barford, P. (2012). “Brothel Token from London?” In: Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues. [Blog Post] Jan 6 [available online]. url:

Beard, M. (n.d.). “A Don’s life: A Roman brothel token?” In: Times Literary Supplement. [Blog Post] Jan 5 [available online]. url:

Buttrey, T. (1973). “The ”Spintriae” as a Historical Source”. In: The Numismatic Chronicle 13, pp. 52-63. url:

Campana, A. (2009). “Le spintriae: tessere Romane con raffigurazione erotiche”. In: La donna romana: immagini e vita quotidiana : atti del convegno : Atina, 7 marzo 2009. Historia (Centro di studi storici Saturnia). Diana, pp. 43-96. url: (2013). “Les spintriae et leur possible function ludique”. In: Archéothéma 31, p. 66.

Champlin, E. (2011). “Sex on Capri”. In: Transactions of the American Philological Association 141.2, pp. 315-332. url:

Clarke, J. (1998). Looking at Lovemaking: Constructions of Sexuality in Roman Art, 100 B.C. - A.D. 250. pt. 250. University of California Press. url: Classical Numismatic Group in association with Numismatica Ars Classica. Auction 40 (Dec. 4, 1996). url:

Creed, K. (2011). “ON-E98F21: A Roman Token”. In: Portable Antiquities Scheme. url: - (2012). “Roman spintria from the banks of the Thames”. In: Portable Antiquities Scheme. [Blog post] 6 January. url:

Fehauler, M. (2016). In: url:

Fishburn, G. (2007). “Is that A Spintria In your Pocket or Are You Just Pleased to See Me?” In: Regarding the Past: Proceedings of the 20th Conference of the History of Economic Thought Society of Australia. Ed. by P. Earl and B. Littleboy. University of Queensland, pp. 225-236.

Gascoigne, B. (n.d.). “The Family Life of the Caesars”. In: History World. url:

Jacobelli, L. (1995). Le pitture erotiche delle Terme Suburban di Pompeii. Rome: L’Erma di Bretschneider.

Jones, J. (Jan. 4, 2012). “Porn yesterday: Roman brothel tokens and the rise of erotic art”. In: The Guardian. url: tokens-erotic-art.

Museum of London (2012). Roman brothel token discovered on Thames foreshore.Press release, Jan. 5. url:

Pavlos S. Pavlou (n.d.). url:“

Roman brothel token discovered in Thames” (Jan. 4, 2012). In: The Daily Telegraph. url:

Rowan, C. (2015). “Ain’t talkin’ ‘bout love. Roman “Spintriae” in context”. In: Coins at Warwick. August 1. [Blog post]. url:

Simonetta, B. and R. Riva (1981). Le Tessere erotiche romane (spintriae): quando ed a che scopo sono state coniate. Gaggini-Bizzozero. url: - (1984). “Nuovo contributo alla nostre conoscenze sulla ‘spintriae’”. In: Schweizer Münzblätter 136, pp. 88-92.

Suetonius (1958). The Twelve Caesars. Translated by Robert Graves.

Talvacchia, B. (1999). Taking Positions: On the Erotic in Renaissance Culture. Princeton University Press. url:

Venning, A. (Jan. 6, 2012). “After an explicit coin used to pay for pleasure is found in the Thames, the X-rated story of the Roman sex slaves of Britain”. In: Daily Mail. url:

Journal Information

Cited By


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 647 625 49
PDF Downloads 435 430 28