The Roman tessera

Tessera, a die or gaming piece; also a ticket or token, used in the Roman world for a great variety of purposes. Surviving examples include stamped, mostly round, pieces of lead, bronze, or terracotta, sometimes with a brief legend, and inscribed, mostly rectangular, pieces of bone, ivory, or wood. In the late republic and the Julio-Claudian period, tesserae of bone or ivory, called tesserae nummulariae by modern scholars, were attached to bags of silver coins by bankers to indicate that they had tested their genuineness (see nummularius). Wooden tesserae were used in the Roman army as an adjunct to passwords. In the empire tesserae frumentariae, whose exact form is a matter of controversy, were issued to the privileged citizens entitled to free wheat rations at Rome, *Oxyrhynchus, and perhaps other cities (see food supply). Coin-like tesserae, often bearing the head of the emperor, and marked balls exchangeable for cash or various presents from the imperial treasury and warehouses were thrown to the crowd by the emperor at some festivals in Rome. Similar tesserae were issued by private patrons entitling their clients to free meals, gifts, admission to games and public shows, and so on (most of the surviving tesserae are probably of this type), while tesserae hospitales established the claim of the bearer to hospitality when travelling.

Harold Mattingly and Dominic W. Rathbone – Mar 2016

[DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199381135.013.6302]