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 p476  Esseda

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p476 of

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

E′SSEDA or E′SSEDUM (from the Celtic Ess, a carriage, Ginzrot, vol. I p377), the name of a chariot used, especially in war, by the Britons, the Gauls and Belgae (Virg. Georg. III.204; Servius, ad loc.); and also by the Germans (Pers. VI.47).

According to the account given by Caesar (Bell. Gall. IV.33), and agreeably to the remarks of Diodorus Siculus (V.21, 29), the method of using the essedum in the ancient British army was very similar to the practice of the Greeks in the heroic ages, as described by Homer, and in the article Currus. The principal difference seems to have been that the essedum was stronger and more ponderous than the δίφρος, that it was open before instead of behind; and that in consequence of these circumstances and the width of the pole, the owner was able, whenever he pleased, to run along the pole (de temone Britanno excidet, (Juv. IV.125), and even to raise himself upon the yoke, and then to retreat with the greatest speed into the body of the car, which he drove with extraordinary swiftness and skill. From the extremity of the pole, he threw his missiles, especially the cateia (Val. Flacc. Argon. VI.83). It appears also that these cars were purposely made as noisy as possible, probably by the creaking and clanging of the wheels (strepitu rotarum, Caes. l.c.; compare Tacit. Agric. 35; Esseda multisonora, Claud. Epig. IV); and that this was done to strike dismay into the enemy. The formidable British warriors who drove these chariots, the "car-borne" of Ossian, were called in Latin Essedarii (Caes. B. G. IV.24; Cic. ad Fam. VII.6). There were about 4000 of them in the army of Cassibelaunus (Caes. B. G. V.19). Having been captured, they were sometimes exhibited in the gladiatorial shows at Rome, and seem to have been great favourites with the people (Sueton. Calig. 35, Claud. 21). They must have held the highest rank in the armies of their own country; and Tacitus (Agric. 12) observes that the driver of the car ranked above his fighting companion, which was the reverse of the Greek usage.

The essedum was adopted for purposes of convenience and luxury among the Romans (Propert. II.1.76; Cic. ad Att. VI.1; Ovid Am. II.16.49). Cicero (Phil. II.24) mentions the use of it on one occasion by the tribune of the people as a piece of extravagance; but in the time of Seneca, it seems to have been much more common; for he (Epist. 57) reckons the sound of the "essedae transcurrentes" among those noises which did not distract him. As used by the Romans, the essedum may have differed from the Cisium in this; that the cisium was drawn by one horse (see woodcut, p288), the essedum always by a pair. The essedum, like the cisium, appears to have been kept for hire at the post-houses or stations (Salonum quinto essedo videbis, Mart. X.104) [Mansio]. The essedum must have been similar to the Covinus, except that the latter had a cover.

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Page updated: 21 Oct 13