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A square or cube; a die; a token.


For the tessera used in making pavements, see Pavimentum.


As dice the tesserae were used in gambling. (See Alea.) These were of the same form, and were commonly made of ivory, bone, or some close-grained wood. They were numbered on all the six sides like the dice now in use (Ovid, Trist. ii. 473 foll.); and in this respect as well as in their form they differed from the tali, which are often distinguished from tesserae by classical writers (See Talus.) Whilst four tali were used in playing, only three tesserae were anciently emploued.

Tessera Lusoria. (From Herculaneum.)

Hence arose the proverb, τρὶς ἕξ, τρεῖς κύβοι, i. e. “either three sixes or three aces,” meaning all or none (Legg. xii. 968 E). Three sixes are mentioned as the highest throw in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus (33). The die used for gambling was called tessera lusoria.


Tessera hospitalis (σύμβολον). A token of mutual hospitality and friendship; consisting of a small die, which was given by a host to his guest

Tessera Hospitalis.

at the time of departure, when it was broken into two parts, each party retaining one-half, in order that if either of them or their descendants should again meet, they might recognize each other, and renew or repay their ancient family obligations (Plaut. Poen. v. 2, 86-93).


Tessera frumentaria and nummaria. A voucher or ticket given upon certain occasions by the magistrates to the poor, in exchange for which

Tesserae Frumentariae. (Rich.)

they received the quantities of bread, corn, wine, and oil, or sums of money inscribed upon it (Suet. Nero, 11; Suet. Aug. 40, Suet. Aug., 41); or sometimes scattered in a bounty (congiarium) amongst the crowd by the emperors, or wealthy personages, for the purpose of courting popular favour (Suet. Dom. 4). See Frumentariae Leges.


Tessera theatralis. A ticket of admission to the theatre, or other place of public amusement (Mart.viii. 78), distributed by the duumvir and entitling the holder to a place at the representation. On it were inscribed the number of the seat, the division and row in which it was situate, and in some cases the title of the play performed. See Theatrum.


Tessera militaris (σύνθημα). A billet or wooden tablet (Polyb. vi. 34) with the watchword inscribed upon it, which was given out by the officers to their soldiers, in order that they might have a test for distinguishing friends from foes; it was also employed as a means by which the orders of the commander were distributed through the different divisions of an army (Livy, vii. 35; xxvii. 46; Veg. Mil. ii. 7; Verg. Aen. vii. 637).

hide References (9 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (9):
    • Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 33
    • Plautus, Poenulus, 5.2
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 7.637
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 40
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 41
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 4
    • Suetonius, Nero, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 35
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 8.78
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