Raffle Antiquity: Unearthing the Early Draws

Jun 30, 2023 | Historical Lotteries, The Origins of Lotteries

Lotteries and raffles have long been a source of excitement and anticipation, captivating people across different cultures and time periods. While we often associate lotteries with contemporary games like Powerball and Mega Millions, it’s intriguing to explore the origins of this age-old tradition. Join us as we embark on a journey through history to unearth the early raffle draws and discover the fascinating tales of fortunate winners.


Ancient Beginnings:

The concept of lotteries and raffles can be traced back to the ancient world, where they held diverse meanings and purposes. One of the earliest recorded instances of a raffle-like game dates back to ancient China, during the Han Dynasty (205 BC – 187 BC). The game, known as “Keno,” involved players selecting numbers from a set of characters. The drawn numbers determined the winners, who were awarded prizes or financial rewards.


Egyptian Raffles:

The ancient Egyptians also had their own version of lotteries, which were used not only for entertainment but also as a means of distribution and taxation. Records indicate that pharaohs would organize raffles to allocate land, goods, and even slaves among their subjects. These raffles were seen as a fair method of resource distribution, ensuring that wealth was distributed more evenly within the society.


Roman Extravagance:

The Roman Empire, known for its grandeur and opulence, also embraced lotteries as a form of entertainment and wealth distribution. Emperors and nobles would organize extravagant raffles during public events and festivals, offering prizes ranging from lavish properties and fine art to precious gems and ornate jewelry. These lotteries were a spectacle, attracting large crowds eager to test their luck and potentially change their fortunes overnight.


Medieval Europe’s Altruistic Lotteries:

As Europe transitioned into the medieval period, lotteries took on a new purpose: supporting charitable causes. The first recorded charitable lottery in Europe was established in 1466 in the Dutch city of Utrecht. These lotteries were often organized by religious institutions, with proceeds going towards the construction of hospitals, orphanages, and churches. Participants saw their ticket purchases as acts of generosity, hoping to win while also contributing to the greater good.


Lotteries and the New World:

Lotteries played a significant role in the early history of the American colonies. In the 17th and 18th centuries, lotteries served as a means of raising funds for public projects. This included the establishment of schools, churches, and infrastructure. Notable examples include Harvard College’s lottery in 1744 and the construction of the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia in 1752. These lotteries fostered community involvement and progress. With citizens eagerly participating in the hopes of winning and supporting local endeavors.



Lotteries and raffles have a rich and diverse history, spanning across ancient civilizations and continents. From China and Egypt to Rome and medieval Europe, these games of chance have evolved and adapted, serving purposes ranging from entertainment and resource distribution to charity and community development. As we revel in the excitement of modern-day lotteries, let us remember the ancient roots from which they sprouted. Whether you’re buying a ticket in the hopes of winning a colossal jackpot or contributing to a charitable cause, raffles continue to captivate our imaginations, connect communities, and shape the course of history.