law history; Sweden; dice games; decimation; cleromancy


Gaming Law | History | Legal Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Document Type

Original Research Article


Gambling studies should take a broad view of the field and consider activities that are not strictly gambling but similar to it, such as cleromancy and secular uses of drawing of lots, to give us perspective on societal and cultural aspects of gambling. This paper presents historical data on judicial uses of throwing dice in eighteenth and nineteenth-century Sweden. The focus is on cases of manslaughter with multiple perpetrators who were considered equally guilty and were forced by the criminal court to throw dice to determine who should be executed and who should receive lesser penalties. Three principles are distinguished in judicial uses of throwing dice—cost-effective deterrence, lottery of pardon, and guilt-revealing cleromancy—and similarities and dissimilarities to present commercial gambling are discussed. It is argued that the polythetic notion of family resemblance is useful in gambling studies since it does not impose fixed conceptual boundaries between activities that share many elements.