previous next


THENSAE or TENSAE (for the orthography and etymology of the word are alike doubtful: thensae, C. I. L. 3.2; Henzen, 5407; tensae, C. I. L. 10.6012; Fest. p. 364) were highly ornamented sacred vehicles, which, in the solemn pomp of the Circensian games [CIRCUS Vol. I. p. 437 a; LUDI ROMANI], conveyed the statues of certain deities with all their decorations (exuviae) to the pulvinaria, and after the sports were over bore them back to their shrines. (Cic. in Verr. 2.1, 59, and note of Pseudo-Ascon. 3.27, 5.72; Serv. ad Verg. A. 1.21; Festus, s.v. D. C. 47.40; Tertull. de Spect. 7.) The thensae were kept in a special building, called aedes thensarum, on the Capitol (see Mommsen, in Ann. dell'Inst. 1858, p. 203). Their form seems to have been that of the CURRUS (as shown in the cut in Vol. I. p. 581), but they were elaborately ornamented. Castellani has restored what he considers to be [p. 2.824]a thensa from remains of bronze reliefs (see Baumeister, Denkm. fig. 2325); it has however, as restored, four wheels, while the coin representations seem to show two-wheeled chariots drawn by four horses. It is by no means improbable that thensae varied as to shape, number of wheels and horses, the essential point in their definition being that they were wheeled vehicles for carrying images of certain deities in the pompa circensis, as distinguished from the fercula in which they were borne on men's shoulders. We know that they were drawn by horses (Plut. Coriolan. 25, who calls them θήσσας), and escorted (deducere) by the chief senators in robes of state, who, along with pueri patrimi [PATRIMI], laid hold of the bridles and traces, or perhaps assisted to drag the carriage (for ducere is used as well as deducere, Liv. 5.41), by means of thongs attached for the purpose (and hence the proposed derivation from tendo). So sacred was this duty considered, that Augustus, when labouring under sickness, deemed it necessary to accompany the thensae in a litter. If one of the horses knocked up or the driver took the reins in his left hand, it was necessary to recommence the procession; and for one of the attendant boys to let go the thong or to stumble was profanation. (Liv. 5.41; Plut. l.c.; Ascon. l.c.; Arnob. adv. Gent. 4.31; compared with the oration de Harusp. Resp. 11, 23; Tertull. de Cor. Mil. 13, and de Spectac. 7; Suet. Aug. 43.)

The only gods distinctly named as carried in thensae are Jupiter and Minerva (Suet. Vespas. 5; D. C. 47.40, 50.8, 66.1); but we can hardly doubt that Juno at any rate had the same honour; and, indeed, all three Capitoline deities have thensae on the coins of the Gens Rubria (Eckhel, 5.299; Marquardt, Staatsverw. 509, note 3): to this number Mars is usually added on the authority of Dio Cassius (78.8), but, in the passage referred to, he merely states that, at the Circensian games celebrated A.D. 216, the statue of Mars, which was in the procession (πομπεῖον), fell down; and it is very remarkable that Dionysius (7.72), in his minute description of the Pompa Circensis, takes no notice whatever of the thensae, but represents the statues of the twelve gods as carried on men's shoulders, i. e. on fercula. That a considerable number of deities, however, received this honour seems probable from the expression of Cicero, in his solemn appeal at the close of the last Verrine oration, “omnesque dii, qui vehiculis tensarum solemnes coetus ludorum initis;” though we cannot determine who these gods were. Among the impious flatteries heaped on Caesar, it was decreed that his ivory statue should accompany the images of the gods to the circus in a complete chariot (ἅρμα ὅλον, that is, a thensa, in opposition to a mere ferculm), and that this chariot should stand in the Capitol immediately opposite to that of Jupiter. (D. C. 43.15, 21, 45, 44.6; Suet. Jul. 76: this is the “acerba pompa” in Cic. Att. 13.4. 4) Under the Empire the statues of deceased emperors and members of the imperial house were borne in the procession, but of these the statues of princes seem to have been carried on fercula, those of princesses not in thensae, but in carpenta, sometimes drawn by elephants (Suet. Cl. 11, Cal. 15, Tit. 2; Tac. Ann. 2.83).

Similar homage was paid upon high festivals to the images of their gods by other ancient nations. Thus, in the curious ceremonies performed at Papremis connected with the worship of the Egyptian deity, whom Herodotus (2.63) imagined to be identical with Ares, the statue, enshrined in a chapel made of gilded wood, was, dragged in a four-wheeled car by a body of priests. So also, in the account given by Athenaeus (v. p. 199f.), after Callixenes of Rhodes, of the gorgeous pageant at Alexandria, during the reign of Ptolemy Philadelphus, we read of a car of Bacchus of prodigious size, most costly materials, and most elaborate workmanship, which was dragged by 180 men.

(Scheffer, de Re vehiculari, 100.24; Ginzrot, Die Wägen und Fahrwerke der Griechen und Römer, 100.55; but the latter author, both here and elsewhere, allows his imagination to carry him farther than his authorities warrant; Friedländer in Marquardt, Staatsverw. 3.509 if.)

[W.R] [G.E.M]

hide References (8 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (8):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 2.63
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.1
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.21
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 76
    • Tacitus, Annales, 2.83
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 43
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 11
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 41
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: