The Roman Swiss Army Knife

The Fitzwilliam is certainly getting a lot of press attention, and each item revealed seems for interesting than the next. The Daily Mail, ferinstance, is highlighting the exhibition of a Roman precursor to the Swiss Army Knife:

The world’s first Swiss Army knife’ has been revealed – made 1,800 years before its modern counterpart.

An intricately designed Roman implement, which dates back to 200AD, it is made from silver but has an iron blade.

It features a spoon, fork as well as a retractable spike, spatula and small tooth-pick.

Experts believe the spike may have been used by the Romans to extract meat from snails.

It is thought the spatula would have offered a means of poking cooking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles.

The 3in x 6in (8cm x 15cm) knife was excavated from the Mediterranean area more than 20 years ago and was obtained by the museum in 1991.

The unique item is among dozens of artefacts exhibited in a newly refurbished Greek and Roman antiquities gallery at the Fitzwilliam Museum, in Cambridge.

Experts believe it may have been carried by a wealthy traveller, who will have had the item custom made.

A spokesman said: ‘This was probably made between AD 200 and AD 300, when the Roman empire was a great imperial power.

‘The expansion of Rome – which, before 500 BC, had just been a small central Italian state – made some individuals, perhaps like our knife-owner, personally very wealthy.

‘This could have been directly from the fruits of conquests, or indirectly, from the ‘business opportunities’ the empire offered.

‘We know almost nothing about the person who owned this ingenious knife, but perhaps he was one of those who profited from the vast expansion of Rome – he would have been wealthy to have such a real luxury item.

‘Perhaps he was a traveller, who required a practical compound utensil like this on his journeys.’

The spokesman added: ‘While many less elaborate folding knives survive in bronze, this one’s complexity and the fact that it is made of silver suggest it is a luxury item.

‘Perhaps a useful gadget for a wealthy traveller.’

Modern Swiss Army knives originated in Ibach Schwyz, Switzerland, in 1897 and were created by Karl Elsener.

The knives which provide soldiers with a ‘battlefield toolkit’ have since become standard issue for many modern day fighting forces thanks to their toughness and quality.

Nationalist Elsener decided to design the knives after he realised the Swiss army were being issued with blades manufactured in neighbouring Germany.

Other popular artefacts include an intricately designed Greek make-up box which was custom made almost 3000 years ago for a women of ‘wealth and status’.

… there follows a bit that seems to be an orphan description of some items mentioned before. In any event, lest folks think this is the only item of this sort know, the Armillum website has some photos of other examples  (and there are, of course, some useful photos at the Daily Mail) …

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One thought on “The Roman Swiss Army Knife

  1. Pingback: Rethinking that ‘Roman Swiss Army Knife’ « rogueclassicism

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