Rota is a Roman game, found carved into stones on many Roman roads and buildings around the Roman Empire. Its original Roman name and rules are unknown. The name Rota, which in Latin means “wheel”, was given to it by Elmer Truesdell Merrill, in his article about the game, published in 1916, where he brought it to the world’s attention for the first time. Merrill also recreated the rules for the game based on other similar games and it is his rules that are documented here.
Roman Rota Game in the Old Forum, Lepcis Magna, Libya. Photo: Sebastià Giralt, August 20, 2007
- The game is for two players.
- The board consists of circle of 8 cells connected to each other with lines, and another 9th cell in the center.
- The game begins with each player having 3 pieces, one side black and the other white. All pieces are off the board. The players decide who goes first by a lot, such as a toss of a coin.
- The players alternate placing their 3 pieces on any of the 9 cells of their choice. The center cell can be occupied as well.
- Once all of the 6 pieces have been placed, the players alternate moving them around the circle trying to form a line of 3 pieces in a row, across the diameter of the circle, by occupying the center cell and the two opposing cells on the perimeter.
- The players cannot jump over the opponent’s pieces and cannot knock them off the board or off of their cell. The pieces can only be moved onto unoccupied cells. Two pieces cannot occupy the same cell. Players cannot skip turns.
- The first player to form 3 in a row across the diameter wins.
- Rota is a game of pure strategy without any luck component, since there is no dice of any kind.
- The player must position their pieces such that they do not get blocked in and yet block the center cell. The player who goes first will naturally always try to capture the center cell first. It is the opponent’s job to try to prevent the first player from positioning the 3rd piece in a row with the other two.
- The game is relatively short.
- Rota cannot end in a tie. There is always a winner.
Rota carved into the floor tiles of Via Arcadia in Ephesus, Turkey. Photo: Juan Carlos Campos, July 2011.
Rota carved into the floor tiles of Via Egnatia road in Philippi, Macedonia (Greece). Photo: Félix da Costa, 2014.