Ptolemaic d20

(37 customer reviews)


That left only one small problem. What do we call this thing? “The modern emulation of the world’s oldest twenty sided die”, is a bit of a mouth full to say the least. So after going back and forth with the minions, some of whom were still upset about some missing soap stone blanks, it was decided that the die should be called a Ptolemaic d20, to pay tribute to the era in which the design was originally crafted.

So how do you get your hands on a Ptolemaic d20? Well simply choose whether you would like us to crafted your Pd20 in Black Soapstone or a random selection from the myriad of exotic woods we stock.


SKU: Pd20 Category:


ancient stone d20 alpha side upSo nearly 3 years ago one of my customers (I do apologies, but I can’t remember her name for the life of me, and the message has been long since buried) put me in touch with the Metropolitan Museum of Art about making a modern interpretation of the worlds oldest twenty sided die.

Reverend Chauncey Murch d20 courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art This die was originally collected by Reverend Chauncey Murch, who found the piece while serving as a Missionary in Egypt between 1883 and 1906. It was originally crafted some time during the 2nd or 3rd century B.C. putting it at towards the end of the Ptolemaic Period. Upon Reverend Murch’s death the die was purchase by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1910.

Originally the die was crafted from Serpentine which is a semi precious stone that ranges in tone from brown to green and is a source of both magnesium and asbestos.  Serpentine gets its name from the green scaly appearance in serpentine’s natural form. Serpentine is used extensively in gems and ornamental work. When polished it has contains cloudy patches interspersed among clear regions.

ancient stone d20 lambda side upRemember how it’s a source for asbestos? Yeah no chance I’m working with that stuff in my shop. So instead this weekend I noticed Fluffy had cut up a ton of architectural grade soap stone blanks for something else he was working on, and for some reason it sparked a memory of this old project. So, Fluffy’s blanks went missing and I fired up the CNC’s then I set about figuring out what those funny symbols were, which was something that had been giving me fits off and on for the past 2 years and was one of the reasons this project languished on the back burner for so long.

You see the MMA has the symbols listed as the first 20 letters of the Greek alphabet. And while that is mostly true, it’s not quite right. As you can see in the first photo on this page diamond-shaped symbol that is NOT in the Greek alphabet. And if you look in the photo below you will see there is a ‘C’ shaped letter that is also NOT part of the Greek alphabet. After a bit of searching, the ‘C’ shaped letter turned out to be Coptic in origin, and was the Coptic equivalent of the Greek letter Sigma. But for the life of me I could not find a letter in either Coptic or Greek that was the same shape as the diamond-shaped letter in the first photo. The closest thing I could come up with was Sampi which is the outdated Greek symbol for 900. But it just didn’t look right, and the MMA says that it should be one of the first 20 letters of the Greek alphabet. But it’s not a Coptic nor Greek letter.

ancient stone d20 walnut boxSo for a very long time I was stuck there. The only remaining letter in the first 20 letters of the Greek or Coptic alphabets that remained unaccounted for was the letter Alpha, and it just didn’t fit. And then I stumbled across, this photo on this page. Then after a few more beers and even more poking though the recess of the internet, I finally figured out that the mystery symbol turned out to be a stylized geometric representation of the Coptic Alpha.

But why would the MMA say these were the first 20 letter in the Greek Alphabet, when there were 2 symbols that were most definitely Coptic in origin? Well after a bit more research I discovered the answer to that question lies in the time period in which this die was crafted. Coptic was the latest form of the Ancient Egyptian language, however during the 2nd and 3rd century B.C. the Egyptians began transitioning to the Greek system thanks to a small encounter with Alexander the Great. Though the details of that encounter are a bit out of the scope of this post, it’s still pretty neat to see some of the greatest events in Antiquity become apparent in the symbols on the world’s oldest d20.

Armed with a more complete view on how the world’s oldest d20 came together. I set out to complete a modern emulation of this small bit of gamer history. While the original die was most likely not used for gaming, but instead created as an exercise in contemporary geometry. After all the platonic solids were first studied by the Ancient Greeks around 360 B.C. Most notably by Plato, for whom they are named, and Theaetetus who was the first to describe them mathematically.

The Artisan Dice version of this particular dice needed to be a gaming piece. To that end, you’ll notice that the letters on our version all face the same direction as they would on our normal N+1 style d20s. I’ve also set the font in a more modern serif style of the Greek/Coptic Alphabet. Where as the original was set in an overtly geometric type.

That left only one small problem. What do we call this thing? “The modern emulation of the world’s oldest twenty sided die”, is a bit of a mouth full to say the least. So after going back and forth with the minions, some of whom were still upset about some missing soap stone blanks, it was decided that the die should be called a Ptolemaic d20, to pay tribute to the era in which the design was originally crafted.

So how do you get your hands on a Ptolemaic d20? Well simply choose whether you would like us to crafted your Pd20 in Black Soapstone or a random selection from the myriad of exotic woods we stock.

PLEASE NOTE: Only the original limited run of Black Soapstone d20s came in individual wooden boxes, they are no longer shipped in individual wooden boxes. Our dice now ship in a small, steel case.

The color of the soapstone dice range in color from gray to black.

Additional information

Weight 1 oz
Material Choice

Wooden, Soapstone

37 reviews for Ptolemaic d20

  1. Ken Spencer

    Challenge accepted!

    • Charlie Brumfield

      can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  2. shantj

    Hello, have you the letter semma on this coptic alphabet?

    • Charlie Brumfield

      yup. that’s the style we used.

  3. shantj


  4. Ben

    If you read any of those books involving the children Djinn, you could get the idea from the game they had, called Djinnverso. It’s essentially Liar’s Dice. Follow the format of game played in Pirates of the Caribbean, and include enough in a box to play, and I would call it cool.

  5. Jonathan Leistiko

    I am so happy! I’ve wanted one of these for a long time now! I am a little sad that I didn’t know about this in time to get an ancient box for the ancient-style die.

    I am totally making at least one game for this die. I will likely make several.

    This is going to rock my worl… I just thought of a game. Imagine a territory-control game played on the surface of a die. It should be hella-fun!

  6. Curtis

    Im writing I Call of Cthulhu game based on this dice so I have to make a sweet table for this d20.

  7. Zach

    Its a win for me. Submitting Alchemy now!

  8. Charlie Brumfield

    we’ve gotten a ton of great games submitted so far. can’t wait to see the rest of them.

  9. Jon Hook

    My contest entry has now been submitted.

  10. Melissa

    My contest entry is in now too. These are really cool dice!

  11. Jon Hook

    So… what’s the current status of the contest?

    • Charlie Brumfield

      still have about 3 games left to play though. we had a ton of submissions so it’s taken a bit longer than expected to get through them all.

  12. Jon Hook

    Hello. Just wondering how the contest resulted.

  13. Edwin

    Pretty! This has been a really wonderful post. Many thanks for providing
    this information.

  14. cynthb

    Beautiful! I see to my chagrin that these dice are sold out. Will you be doing another run in the foreseeable future?

    • Sarzec

      Check the soapstone listing. They are listed there for $68.

      • cynthb

        Thanks, missed it there 🙂

  15. Yaroc Ghamoc

    The C shape for a sigma is not exclusively Coptic, its essentially the form that gives rise to final letter form of sigma used in Greek today as well as to the Russian “S” that looks like a C. The thing you call a diamond is so obviously an alpha, I’ve even seen a Roman alphabet A incised like that on plaques on modern day statues.

  16. Allan Olley

    As Yaroc Ghamoc suggests there is considerable variation in how Greek letters are written depending on what they are written on, local variations in different colonies at different times etc. and so on. So its not as simple as say the two letter are not Greek/are Coptic.

    Just a point on how to interpret the characters as numerals. I think that rather than the Ionic Greek numerals (that wikipedia talks about), we should instead understand the die as using the one used to number book chapters in things like Homer (see bottom of this page there is a table indicating how a Greek letter can indicate a book number of either the Iliad or Odyssey). Since otherwise you get a discontinuity in the values going to the letters after lambda, for example we can see a pi on the Egyptian D20 and that would be 16 in the Homeric system, but in the Ionic system pi signifies 80 (the systems agree on the interpretation of alpha to lambda).

  17. eloeri81_r

    Any news on whether or not these would see a comeback?

    • Lawjick

      I’m also curious as to when these might be available again. As much fun as a museum heist would be, this seems like the better route.

  18. Pixiechic

    Hello I would love to hear if you plan to make more of these

    Thank you.

  19. Ginny

    The “diamond shaped symbol” is just a stylized capital alpha. Basically an A with the horizontal line broken into a nice triangular shape. And the C isn’t coptic, it’s just late Greek. It’s used exactly like a sigma. Basically, it’s all late-ish Greek. Most people think about the modern or the classical alphabet when they think about Greek, but there’s a lot in the middle.

  20. Taylor

    Hello, any chance we will see a full poluhedral set with the Greek characters on them?

  21. grimakis

    I don’t mean to be a debbie-downer but the C is just a Sigma. By the 3rd century BC, Sigma was written as a C style. If you look at Byzantine engravings, up to and including modern Greek orthodox icons, the C form of sigma is almost always used. I also believe the “diamond” is just an Alpha.

  22. Casey Guerrero

    This could be used with a tarot deck

  23. Mark Holloway

    What are the chances that you will make any more of these. I just ran across the C-Net article from 2.5 years ago and it lead me here. I would LOVE to have one of these.

  24. Ramon

    Agreed Mark, I would love to add this to my Dice collection. I would like to purchase one. Maybe 2.

  25. david hicks

    I would love to have one if you put these back in production! Great die.

  26. Anthony Torres

    Hi I am hoping that you still have the Ptolemaic d20’s in the olive box available for purchase. If so please could you contact me with details on how I might do so. And how much it would cost. Thank you

  27. Tyler

    I would like to know if I can purchase a walnut one, and how much they are.


  28. Tom H.

    I’m interested if you still have some of these.

  29. Akis Tolis

    Actually the Coptic language adopted the Greek alphabet in 300 A.D. centuries after the Ptolemaic Kingdom collapsed.

  30. Curt M.

    Are you still making these? I don’t see an option to order one at the bottom of the page as specified in the instructions. Please let me know. Thanks!

  31. Chng Chin Joo

    Hi, is the D20 still in stock? How can I get one?

    Would appreciate a reply! Thank you!

  32. Carolyn M.

    Please do another run of these D20s soon!

  33. Jenny

    Please do more soapstone of these. I really want one

  34. Patrick Corneliess (verified owner)

    The Die is great, feels very good in the hand and looks great, but I was hoping it would come with a guide to associate the symbols with numbers so it could be used, like the Runic Die has.

  35. Nathan Holley (verified owner)

    I purchased this die as a gift. The stone looks good. The etching is a little light, and off-center in places. Otherwise a good-looking D20. I would have liked the option of the box that the original run came in.

  36. Lisa Mekler

    I received the Ptolemaic d20 from my husband as a Christmas gift. It’s beautiful! Very well made. Nice heavy feel. I like the tin that safely holds the die. The tin is also small enough to carry in a pocket. I really enjoy being able to physically hold a connection to ancient history.

  37. Ricardo Franco

    Will you ever make this beautiful dice with its wooden box again, as in the original run? Please, let us know. What a beautiful work you have done!

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