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[tes-er-uh] /ˈtɛs ər ə/
noun, plural tesserae
[tes-uh-ree] /ˈtɛs əˌri/ (Show IPA)
one of the small pieces used in mosaic work.
a small square of bone, wood, or the like, used in ancient times as a token, tally, ticket, etc.
1640-50; < Latin < Greek (Ionic) tésseres four Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for tesserae
  • Artisans and archaeologists worked with literally millions of tesserae, or tiles, to restore the dazzling mosaics.
  • tesserae of rust, gold, and blue form three large symbolic rondels on j the mosaic floor.
British Dictionary definitions for tesserae


noun (pl) -serae (-səˌriː)
a small square tile of stone, glass, etc, used in mosaics
a die, tally, etc, used in classical times, made of bone or wood
Derived Forms
tesseral, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from Latin, from Ionic Greek tesseres four
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for tesserae



plural tesserae, 1650s, from Latin tessera, from Ionic Greek tesseres (Attic tessares) "four" (see four).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for tesserae

in mosaic work, a small piece of stone, glass, ceramic, or other hard material cut in a cubical or some other regular shape. The earliest tesserae, which by 200 BC had replaced natural pebbles in Hellenistic mosaics, were cut from marble and limestone. Stone tesserae remained dominant in mosaics into Roman times, but between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC tesserae of smalto, or coloured glass, also began to be produced, cut from large slabs of glass that ranged from lightly tinted to opaque. These relatively fragile glass tesserae were used sparingly in floor mosaics to provide pure blues, reds, and greens that could not be found in the more durable natural stone; with the advent of wall mosaic between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD, however, glass tesserae of every hue were produced to constitute the major part of this decoration, stone being mainly reserved for floors. Glass was the major material for wall and vault mosaics of Early Christian and Byzantine churches, and marble and limestone tesserae were frequently used in the depiction of faces, woolen garments, rocks, and other objects that required a soft or rough appearance.

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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