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Why Mathematical Probability Failed to Emerge from Ancient Gambling

Stephen Kidd
Published Online: 2019-01-26 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2018-0045


The emergence of mathematical probability has something to do with dice games: all the early discussions (Cardano, Galileo, Pascal) suggest as much. Although this has long been recognized, the problem is that gambling at dice has been a popular pastime since antiquity. Why, then, did gamblers wait until the sixteenth century ce to calculate the math of dicing? Many theories have been offerred, but there may be a simple solution: early-modern gamblers played different sorts of dice games than in antiquity. While ancients diced at communal risk, early-moderns diced at individualized risk. These individual wager-games, for example, the game “hazard”, incentivized solving questions like “how likely is it to roll a triple-six?”. Before the early modern period there was no gambling game to which working out mathematical probability would have brought an advantage.

Keywords: probability; ancient gambling; mathematical probability; ancient combinatorics


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About the article

Published Online: 2019-01-26

Citation Information: Apeiron, ISSN (Online) 2156-7093, ISSN (Print) 0003-6390, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/apeiron-2018-0045.

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