I remember reading of a custom in the Roman Republic where a pact could be sealed between individuals with a broken pot, or wax tablet, whereby the pieces could be later be reassembled to show this bond. The name of this tradition, or some other signifying factor would be appreciated.

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    Do you mean tally sticks (or the version of split sticks)? It is the more similar mechanism that I did found. Maybe you are confusing it with Ostracism, with used pieces of ceramic (ostrakas) but was decided to vote the sentences of exile in Greek cities.
    – SJuan76
    Aug 1, 2016 at 1:51
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    Ostracon were also used often for tax receipts in Rome and Egypt.
    – justCal
    Aug 1, 2016 at 3:10
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    Nice finds! But this is more of a family based debt that I'm thinking of than something relating to institutions. Principally though it is the recombination of the broken shards that is the salient bit: the ancient form of encryption or credit card (poor analogies)
    – Stumbler
    Aug 1, 2016 at 9:19

1 Answer 1


Not Roman, but Greek. The term you are seeking is Symbolum. The best description I find is from the book Everything is Sacred: A Complete Introduction to the Sacrament of Baptism By Thomas J. Scirghi. (emphasis mine):

The word symbol derives from the Greek word symballein, literally meaning 'to throw together.' In ancient times, a symbolum was used to establish a contract. When two parties entered into a contractual agreement, they would cut an object into two parts and each of the parties would retain one of the parts. For example, the parties might break a piece of pottery into two pieces, and each of the parties would hold one piece. When they or their representatives met again, they would present their individual pieces, and the broken, jagged edges would interlace, indicating they were both part of the same vessel. The reunited object was the symbolum.

So literally the broken shards become symbolic of the contract created.

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    I never expected an answer to this question. Way to go.
    – Stumbler
    Mar 25, 2019 at 23:00

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