Stranger Games: The life and times of the spintriae

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Abstract

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.

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