I knew a man once who said, "Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back." The famous lines from the movie Gladiator conjure up images of Maximus and Commodus facing each other in the Colosseum. Although an epic, the movie hugely underplays the role of gambling in driving the gladiator games in ancient Rome. Large sums of money were to be won and lost as blood splattered and heads rolled. The gambling industry was strong back then, and the gladiator fights were like boxing matches for the Romans. One of the oldest forms of gambling constituted the practice of drawing "lots"— casting marked sticks or other objects and interpreting the results to predict the future. Today, there's state-of-the-art software available for predicting the outcome of a bet. People watch sports on sprawling flat-screens and bet on mobiles. Gambling has come a long way, and it's going stronger than ever. The Origins of Gambling Egypt and China The role of gambling in shaping the society is hard to ignore. Games of chance were the earliest forms of entertainment on earth. Evidence is available that gambling had existed as far back as 2,300 BC in China, where tiles were used to play games of chance. The Chinese are also credited with the introduction of card games, which have culminated into a worldwide affliction for poker. Dice games were popular for betting since ever. Ancient dices dating back to 6,000 BCE have been unearthed at Egyptian archeological digs. The ancients believed that the outcome of the dice was controlled directly by gods. Dices were thrown not only for gambling, but also for choosing rulers, starting wars, or deciding other important matters. Ancient Rome and Greece Gambling was common in ancient Rome and Greece. Everybody, from the emperor down to the peasant gambled. The Romans used to pray to goddess Fortuna for good luck. Greeks believed that their gods Zeus, Hades and Poseidon had shared the universe by throwing dice to determine the ownership of heaven, hell and sea. Gambling on dice was legally banned in Greece except at the carnival of Saturnalia; however, people found another way to wager. One person would hide nuts or pebbles in one hand and the other person would guess whether the number the hand contained was odd or even. The game became hugely popular for small wagers and evolved into many variations. Problem Gambling in the Ancient World If gambling was endemic in the ancient world, so was problem gambling. Emperors Augustus and Nero were notorious gamblers, whereas Commodus, the fictional villain-Emperor in the movie Gladiator, actually went bankrupt as a result of his gambling habits. After squandering away the public treasury, he turned his palace into a casino to make up for the losses and pay his debts. In a painted vase on display in the Vatican Museum, Achilles and Ajex, the Greek warriors brought to the pop culture by the movie Troy, can be seen rolling a dice while hunching on a table, clad in battle armour and holding their spears. In 100 AD, the King of Norway lost the District of Hising to the King of Sweden after the latter rolled back-to-back sixes to win one of the earliest recorded dice bets in history. Gambling and Religion Heavenly religions such as Judaism and Islam were the first to object to gambling and strictly ban it in their domains. The scriptures warn against casting lots, a practice that, in those days, was used more for predicting the outcome of destiny than purely for entertainment, as it is in today's gambling. The religious banning of dice and lots was diametrically opposite to the pagan beliefs. The Greeks, for instance, used to throw dice for dispensing justice, considering it the word of gods. The word "dice" itself comes from dike, the Greek word for justice. The Romans were so fond of the dice games that they had, at the pinnacle of their Empire, made it compulsory for all children to learn to throw dice. The first accounts of religious curbs on gambling come from Jewish writings. Professional gambling, in any sort or form, was frowned upon by the rabbis and the society. Habitual gamblers were refused social acceptance, to the extent that they were denied a decent burial service or a Synagogue marriage. Gambling, however, was not illegal in Judaism and was allowed only if the motive was to donate all the winnings to charity. Gambling for personal gain was something to feel ashamed about. Christianity tolerated gambling better, but occasional bans were not unheard of. More than the scripture, these bans were placed out of the state's concern against people, particularly government officials and soldiers, wasting their time and money. Gambling in the Middle Ages With the fall of the Roman Empire and the start of the Middle Ages, new innovations were seen in gambling around the world. Crooked dices became common, dices that gave the same number when thrown over and over again. Dices with all high or low numbers were used. Sometimes, people would use a drop of mercury inside a dice to make it roll to their desired number every time. When caught, such cheaters would be led to pillory amidst beating and shouting and were made to wear their false dices around their necks. Craps: The modern-day Craps evolved from the medieval game "Hazard", which English crusaders had carried home from the Arab world. Hazard was a much more complex game than Craps and was played at unmarked tables. All you needed to play Hazard was two or three dices, so the game quickly spread across Europe. Poker and Baccarat: Also popular with the elite were the games of cards. Sophisticated wooden cards were painted on thin slices of wood for the use of the gentry. The present-day Poker and Baccarat continued to develop throughout the Middle Ages, and have the French Poque and the Tarot game Zero as their ancestors. Roulette: The modern Roulette wheel was invented in 1655, but its original form had been in use since much earlier, and was called "The Wheel of Fortune". Inspired by the Tarot card of the same name and carried on even today in the form of America's favorite game-show, the original Wheel was a tribute to the Roman Goddess of luck Fortuna. Other than dices, cards and wheels, the medieval folks had the improvisational skills to turn almost anything into a wager. Music, archery, chess, horseracing, and every other sport or public event could be used by punters to gamble on.