TESSE´TULA and TESSELLA (κύβος
), a square or cube; a die; a token.
The use of small cubes of marble, earthenware, glass, precious stones, and
mother-of-pearl for making tessellated pavements (pavimenta tessellata,
noticed under EMBLEMA
I.; cf. PICTURA
The dice used in games of chance [ALEA
] had the same form, and were commonly made of ivory, bone, or
some close-grained wood, especially privet (ligustra
Plin. Nat. 16.77
). They were numbered on
all the six sides like the dice still in use (Ovid, Ov. Tr. 2.473
ff.); and in this respect as well as in their form
they differed from the tali,
which are often
distinguished from tesserae by classical writers (Gellius, 18.13.2
; Cic. de
Whilst four tali were used in playing, only three tesserae were anciently
employed. Hence arose the proverb, ἢ τρὶς ἕξ, ἢ
“either three sizes or three aces,” meaning, all or none (Plat.
12.968 E; Schol. in loc.
946 a, ed. Turic.; Pherecrates, fr.
123 M. = Zenob.
4.23); for κύβος
was used to denote the ace, as in the throw δύο κύβω
1, 1, 4 = 6 (Eupolis, fr.
358 M.; Aristoph. Frogs
; Schol. in loc.
). Three sizes is
mentioned as the highest throw in the Agamemnon of Aeschylus (33). As early
as the time of Eustathius (in Od.
1.107) we find that the
modern practice of using two dice instead of three had been established.
The ancients sometimes played with dice πλειστοβολίνδα,
when the object was simply to throw the
highest numbers. For other games with dice, see DUODECIM SCRIPTA, LATRUNCULI, TALUS; for the boards on which they
were played, ALVEUS, TABULA LUSORIA; cf. Becq de
Fouquières, Jeux des Anciens,
ed. 2, pp. 302-324.
Objects of the same materials as dice, and either formed like them or of an
oblong shape, were used as tokens for different purposes. The tessera hospitalis
was the token of mutual
hospitality, and is spoken of under HOSPITIUM
p. 981 b.
This token was
probably in many cases of earthenware, having the head of Jupiter Hospitalis
stamped upon it (Plaut. Poen.
1, 25; 2, 87-99). Tesserae
given at certain times by the Roman magistrates to the poor, in exchange for
which they received a fixed amount of corn or money (Suet. Aug. 40
11). [FRUMENTARIAE LEGES
] Similar tokens were used on
various occasions, as they arose in the course of events. For example, when
the Romans sent to give the Carthaginians their choice of peace or war, they
sent two tesserae, one marked with a spear, the other with a CADUCEUS
requesting them to
take either the one or the other (Gellius, 10.27
Various tesserae are preserved in museums, the British Museum being
particularly rich in such specimens: the materials are ivory, bone,
porcelain, and stone, One class of these are theatrical, i. e. were used as
tickets of admission, and answer to the σύμβολα
of the Greeks; another class are agonistic, thought to
have been issued on the occasion of public games or contests. Others, again,
are believed to have been distributed as sortes
or as sparsiones.
were a kind of lottery
drawn by guests at a banquet, through which they were entitled to prizes
varying in amount (Lamprid. Heliog.
22). In the sparsiones
the tickets were scrambled for, instead
of being drawn (D. C. 61.18
; Martial, 8.78
). There are
other miscellaneous tesserae, not included under the above headings. The
most interesting class of tesserae are the gladiatorial, of which the
British Museum contains about a dozen probably genuine, and other doubtful
examples. These are usually carved out of a piece of ivory or bone, of a
long shape, and inscribed on the four long sides (cf. TALUS
). On the first line is the gladiator's name in
the nominative case, on the second his trainer's in the genitive; the third
gives the letters SP, followed by the date of the
month and day; the fourth the consuls, marking the year. At one end is a
hole by which it was suspended. The abbreviation SP stands for SPECTATUS, as is proved by the
letters SPECTAT. on a tessera found at Arles.
These tesserae were given by the munerarius, or exhibitor of the games, to a
gladiator when spectatus
or approved by passing
successfully through a certain number of contests (cf. Hor. Ep. 1.2
In one or two exceptional instances the word is SPECTAVIT, explained to mean either (1) that the gladiator,
fighting no longer (emeritus
), became “a
spectator” of the games, or (2) that he became an
“inspector” of other gladiators. For special discussions of
this subject, see Ritschl in Abh. Bayer. Akad.
1866, pt. ii.
p. 223; Hübner, in Monatsbericht Berl. Akad.
p. 747; Mommsen, in Hermes,
21.266; A. Elter,
in Rhein. Mus.
1886, p. 517; P. J. Meier, ib.
1887, p. 122; Guide to the Second Vase Room, British Museum.
From the application of this term to tokens of various kinds, it was
transferred to the word
used as a token among
soldiers. This was the tessera militaris,
of the Greeks. Before joining
battle it was given out and passed through the ranks as a method by which
the soldiers might be able to distinguish friends from foes. Thus at the
battle of Cunaxa the word was “Zeus the Saviour and Victory,”
and on a subsequent engagement by the same troops “Zeus the Saviour,
Heracles the Leader” (Xen. Anab.
, § 16; 6.3.25). The soldiers of Xenophon used a verbal
sign for the same purpose when they were encamped by night (7.3.34). Aeneas
Tacticus (100.24) gives various directions necessary to be observed
respecting the word. On the tessera
watchword in the Roman camp, see CASTRA
p. 377 b.