Completely absorbed in her game, the young girl is sitting on the ground, her legs half drawn in towards her, leaning on her left hand. She is holding two knucklebones in this hand and she has just thrown another two with her right. Her head is slightly inclined, her features relaxed. She is wearing a chiton with buttoned sleeves which has slipped off her left shoulder to reveal her just-developing breast. The statue type of the girl playing knucklebones belongs to the Colonna type, a Hellenistic creation often copied in Roman art. The robe slipping from the shoulder is an iconographic formula used in Greek art to represent Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and intended to symbolize her physical beauty. This formula was later transposed, with the same expressive intention, to female portraits in Roman art. The combination of the seated pose and the player’s gesture is probably not borrowed straight from the Greek model but should be seen, rather, as a Roman creation. Of the many copies, however, the Berlin piece is the only one which can be identified with certainty as a knucklebones player, because traces of the original knucklebones still remain. On other statues the bones are either missing or have been added to the plinth during restoration in modern times. The game, played with the ankle-bones (astragalus or talus) of sheep, was very popular, as attested earlier by numerous depictions on Greek vases and in Hellenistic terracottas, as well as in Roman sculpture, wall-paintings and sarcophagi. The bones were also copied in other materials, such as clay, marble, bronze, and even gold. Astragals were often laid as grave gifts in the tombs of deceased children. The date of the Roman copy has been deduced from the contemporary portrait head with which the Greek model has been combined. In this case, the girl wears a melon-coiffure, drawn into a flat knot at the back of her head, from which two single strands have come loose and curl around her temples. The face has calm, regular features. Under the rounded forehead and the wide-set, sculptured eyebrows are round eyes, with very deep, round indentations to mark the pupils, and softly formed lids. The mouth is small with curved lips, the chin clearly accentuated. From these features, including the obvious emphasis on the eyes, the portrait can be dated to the Severan era. It was reworked and therefore represents a later period than the body, which is dated to the early Antonine period. The Berlin statue was probably made as the tomb-statue for a girl who died young.


  • Title: Playing knucklebones
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 200
  • Location: Caelian Hill in Rome
  • Physical Dimensions: h70 cm
  • Type: Sculpture
  • Medium: Marble
  • Inv.-No.: Sk 494
  • ISIL-No.: DE-MUS-814319
  • External link: Altes Museum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
  • Copyrights: Text: © Verlag Philipp von Zabern / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Annika Backe-Dahmen Audio: © Tonwelt / Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz || Photo: © b p k - || Photo Agency / Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / Johannes Laurentius
  • Collection: Antikensammlung, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz

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Playing knucklebones

Die Knöchelspielerin

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