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Bill Thayer

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For a much longer general article on the Roman chariot, see CURRUS.

 p288  Cisium

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p288 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

Woodcuts are from Smith's Dictionary; any color photos are mine © William P. Thayer

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CI′SIUM a gig, i.e. a light open carriage with two wheels, adapted to carry two persons rapidly from place to place. Its form is sculptured on the monumental column at Igel, near Trevesº (see woodcut). It had a box or case, probably under the seat (Festus, s.v. Ploxinum). The cisia were quickly drawn by mules (cisi volantis, Virg. Catal. VIII.3; Cic. Phil. II.31). Cicero mentions the case of a messenger who traveled 56 miles in 10 hours in such vehicles, which were kept for hire at the stations along the great roads; a proof that the ancients considered six Roman miles per hour as an extraordinary speed (Pro Roscio Amer. 8). The conductors of these hired gigs were called cisiarii, and were subject to penalties for careless or dangerous driving (Dig. 19 tit. 2 s.13).

Thayer's Note:

You might say that the cisium was the nearest Roman equivalent to our taxi. If so, by good fortune, we still have the remains of one of the world's grandest taxi stands: at Ostia, the port of Rome, where just inside the city gate coming from Rome, the guild of cisiarii had their own lavishly decorated baths, usually known by their Italian name, Terme dei Cisiari.

The whole set-up is quite logical: there must have been constant traffic between Rome and its port, with busy merchants in a hurry to get themselves or papers or money from one to the other, putting the drivers under a good deal of pressure; so right on the Via Ostiensis near the Porta Romana, a place to clean up and decant.

They seem to have been proud of their useful function. The most important remains we have of what must have been a rather splendid establishment are a large mosaic celebrating the joys of being a cisiarius. Here is a small detail of that mosaic; notice that we have not just one passenger but two:

[image ALT: A light chariot drawn by two mules; it is open and carries the muleteer and two passengers. It is a cisium, a small Roman chariot.]

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Page updated: 7 Aug 12