Sors, sortiri, sortition: Practices and lexicon of the drawing of lots in the Roman world

1. The ancient world
By Frédérique Biville

Drawing lots (sors, sortiri) played a major part in the Roman world, in political and juridical institutions (sortitio), in divinatory and playful practices, and in the different circumstances of everyday life. The study of the lexicon by which it is expressed, and before all sors (which survives in modern romance languages) and its derivatives, allows us to approach the impact of the concept in Roman civilization and the diversity of its achievements, even if literary and epigraphic texts are not always explicit about the nature and evolution of the material realities and proceedings connected with the words. Some ambiguities remain, especially about the nature of the instruments of drawing lots (sortes and sorticulae), and that of the urn, urna, which brings up the problem of its relationship with the Greek κληρωτήριον [kleroterion].


  • Roman
  • Greco-Roman and Byzantine world
  • Roman institutions and games of chance
  • Latin sors and related words
  • ballot box
  • Greco-Roman bilingualism
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