Posts Tagged 'iron'

Object: Tomahawk Pipe

 

Figure 1    Tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1973/7/15
Tomahawk Pipe
Cheyenne
North America: Plains
c. 1880’s
Materials: Wood and iron alloy

This tomahawk pipe from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History has a wooden handle and a head made from an iron alloy. The pipe shaft is 22 5/16” long, 1 3/8” wide, and 15/16” high. The axe head is 9 1/8” long, 3 9/16” wide, and 1 1/4” high. The shaft is incised with both small pinpoint impressions and larger dark spots likely created with a heated tool. The small hole with the bit of string looped through it would have contained a leather strap at one time. This tomahawk pipe has a very interesting history and is an excellent example of how a seemingly simple item can tell a story about the people who collect and donate objects to museums.

When a thoughtful woman named Frances Surr from California donated twenty-two cherished family heirlooms, including this tomahawk pipe, to the Stovall Museum (now named the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History) in the early 1970s, she did so without any apparent personal connection to the University of Oklahoma or to the state itself.[1] So, why did she send her treasured items halfway across the country to reside in a museum she had never previously visited? For her the answer was simple: Place.

Figure 2    Darlington Agency, 1878. Courtesy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.

Figure 2 Darlington Agency, 1878. Courtesy, Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma.

Surr’s father, Dr. Vernon W. Stiles, had collected the tomahawk pipe as a young pharmacist plying his trade at the Darlington Agency on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indian Reservation between September 1883 and September 1885. The agency, established in 1870, sat on the northern bank of the Canadian River’s northern fork, just opposite a bustling U.S. Army outpost named Fort Reno (now El Reno, OK). Stiles worked for Hemphill & Woy, a pair of traders, and he interacted with Native Americans on a daily basis.[5] So, when Surr contemplated an appropriate new home for her presumably Cheyenne artifacts, she felt an obligation to “send the things back to their source.”[6] In this sense, “source” meant place of origin. For Frances Surr, a meaningful connection existed between her items and the history of the Cheyenne people, the history of her father, and the history of lives lived in Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma).

What then can this tomahawk pipe tell us about life in and around the Darlington Agency during the late nineteenth century? What did it mean for the various people who possessed it? Did it function as an actual axe, as a pipe, as both, or did its owners give it an altogether different purpose?

While Vernon Stiles probably procured the tomahawk pipe in Oklahoma, its original place of creation is less certain. Considering that Stiles worked on the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation, museum officials originally assumed that the artifacts in the collection must be Cheyenne. The Cheyenne, however, sustained exchange networks across a wide expanse of the Great Plains from Montana to Texas. They traded goods and ideas with people from various Native American groups such as: the Osage, Ponca, Plains Apache, Comanche, Kiowa, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes.[7] Indeed, the Cheyenne often proved to be “highly effective middlemen” when it came to trading. [8]

Figure 3    Map of Indian Territory, 1866-1889.

Figure 3 Map of Indian Territory, 1866-1889.

Within those trade networks, similar tomahawk pipes were a common ceremonial gift across the continent during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest examples appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century, and scholars generally agree that the first tomahawk pipes drew influence from both Native American and European technologies.[9] People typically used tomahawk pipes for ceremonial and display purposes, but there is some historical evidence of their use as functional tools.[10] Native peoples and European Americans exchanged tomahawk pipes to symbolically seal treaties and to acquire other goods. For instance, in 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s Corps of Discovery brought 50 tomahawk pipes along on their famed journey of exploration and diplomacy.[11] Since the Cheyenne also used the reciprocal exchange of gifts to show respect for allies and to solidify agreements, this particular tomahawk pipe might very well have originated with a different group of people altogether.[12] Still, even if the Cheyenne did not produce the artifact, it is of a type that they would have found familiar. In fact, in 1996, a team of Cheyenne experts in consultation with Museum staff determined that the “[pipe] was not made by a Cheyenne.”[13] Yet, they permitted it to “be on display with Cheyenne [red pipe stone] pipes because of [its] trade metal.”[14]

Stiles lived at Darlington during a time of flux for the Native American inhabitants of the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation. Many Cheyenne did not readily adapt to farming after being forcibly removed to Indian Territory from their ancestral homelands in Minnesota. Instead, the local agent, John D. Miles, established the Cheyenne-Arapaho Transportation Company which employed willing men as teamsters (wagon drivers) who freighted goods to Kansas railheads in Arkansas City and Wichita.[15] The Chisolm Trail, a great cattle-moving corridor between Texas and Kansas passed through the reservation, and many Cheyenne made a living from the cattle industry.[16]

As a clerk for Hemphill and Woy, Stiles had direct contact with prominent Cheyenne tribal members. Frances Surr attributed three of the artifacts in the collection, including the tomahawk pipe, to Chief Wolf Robe, as related to her by her father. One of the other artifacts, a war club, contains the initials W.R. etched into its handle. Without direct documentary evidence to prove an exchange took place between Stiles and Wolf Robe, we cannot say for certain that the items in question belonged to the Cheyenne chief. However, the two men almost certainly knew each given that Stiles held a conspicuous position at Darlington. Furthermore, the three items (the tomahawk pipe, the war club, and a headdress) would all be items a chief like Wolf Robe could have possessed. Wolf Robe frequently engaged in diplomatic encounters, and even traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet President Benjamin Harrison, who gifted the Cheyenne leader with a peace medal.[19] A chief accustomed to such diplomatic encounters could have easily received a tomahawk pipe like the one in the Stiles collection.

Figure 4    Chief Wolf Robe wearing the peace medal given to him by Benjamin Harrison. Wolf Robe holds a ceremonial pipe often called a calumet or “peace pipe”.  Courtesy of Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.

Figure 4 Chief Wolf Robe wearing the peace medal given to him by Benjamin Harrison. Wolf Robe holds a ceremonial pipe often called a calumet or “peace pipe”. Courtesy of Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.

Ultimately, regardless of the tomahawk pipe’s potential connections to Wolf Robe, the artifact itself offers fascinating insights into the complex nature of trade and reciprocal giving by people who lived in Indian Territory and throughout the Southern Plains. It also speaks to the social and economic transitions that occurred in the Southern Plains during the 1880’s. When Frances Surr felt the need to return the tomahawk pipe and other items to Oklahoma, she did so because she knew that they had much to say about life in Indian Territory in the late 19th century. Additionally, Darlington Agency’s place within Indian Territory shaped its history. Its proximity to railheads in Kansas, its position relative to other Native American lands, and its location on the Chisolm Trail all combined to frame life for the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and European Americans who lived there. Darlington Agency and Indian Territory shaped Vernon Stiles too, and he passed the memories of that place down to his children. The University of Oklahoma: a place that Frances Surr had never been, and yet the place that seemed most appropriate to deposit the material expressions of her precious memories of her father.

[Bryan Nies]

Notes:

[1] According to the Kansas Historical Society, the word tomahawk “is a combination of tribal and English words. Algonquin and [Powatan] Renape peoples called their lightweight axes ‘tamahak,’ ‘tamahakan,’ or ‘tamahagan.’ European Americans pronounced these words as ‘tomahawk.’” See: Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

[2] Letter from Frances Surr to Dr. Bell of the Stovall Museum, dated 5 November 1973.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Letter dated 7 September 1885, signed Hemphill & Woy. Held in the tomahawk pipe’s accession file.

[6] Letter from Frances Surr to Dr. Bell of the Stovall Museum, dated 5 November 1973.

[7] David LaVere, Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), 222; K.N. Llewellyn and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941), vii; See also, Donald J. Berthrong, The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1976).

[8] Pekka Hämäläinen, “The Western Comanche Trade Center: Rethinking the Plains Indian Trade System,” The Western Historical Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 4 (Winter, 1998): 506-507.

[9] Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Loretta Fowler, Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002), 4.

[13] NAGPRA findings 9/23/1996-9/25/1996, reported in Jethro Gaede, “A Time of Transition: Darlington Indian Agency and the Vernon W. Stiles Collection, 1883-1885 (Unpublished report compiled and held in artifact accession file, 2005-2006), 30.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Stan Hoig, Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier (Fayetteville, AR: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000), 55-56; Stan Hoig, The Cheyenne: Indians of North America (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006), 86.

[16] Hoig, Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier, 128-134.

[17] Ibid., 104-105, 139.

[18] Letter dated 7 September 1885, signed Hemphill & Woy. Held in the tomahawk pipe’s accession file.

[19] Francis Paul Prucha, Indian Peace Medals in American History (Bluffton, SC: Rivilo Books, 1994), 67-68; Stan Hoig, The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980), 81.

 

Works Consulted:

1. Berthrong, Donald J. The Cheyenne and Arapaho Ordeal: Reservation and Agency Life in the Indian Territory, 1875-1907. Norman:University of Oklahoma Press, 1976.

2. Fowler, Loretta. Tribal Sovereignty and the Historical Imagination: Cheyenne-Arapaho Politics. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2002.

3. Gaede, Jethro. “A Time of Transition: Darlington Indian Agency and the Vernon W. Stiles Collection, 1883-1885. (Unpublished report compiled and held in artifact accession file, 2005-2006).

4. Hämäläinen, Pekka. “The Western Comanche Trade Center: Rethinking the Plains Indian Trade System.” The Western Historical Quarterly 29, no. 4 (Winter 1998): 506-507.

5. Hoig, Stan. The Cheyenne: Indians of North America. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2006.

6. ——. Fort Reno and the Indian Territory Frontier. Fayetteville: The University of Arkansas Press, 2000.

7. ——. The Peace Chiefs of the Cheyennes. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.

8. Kansas Historical Society, “Cool Things – Pipe Tomahawk,” Kansapedia (September 2008, Modified December 2014) https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/cool-things-pipe-tomahawk/10379 (accessed 20 March 2015).

9. LaVere, David. Contrary Neighbors: Southern Plains and Removed Indians in Indian Territory. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000.

10. Llewellyn, K.N. and E. Adamson Hoebel. The Cheyenne Way: Conflict and Case Law in Primitive Jurisprudence. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941.

11. Prucha, Francis Paul. Indian Peace Medals in American History. Bluffton, SC: Rivilo Books, 1994.

12. Surr-Stiles Collection. Accession No. E/1973/7/15, Ethnology Collection, Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, Norman, OK.

Object: Spear Head

C_1946_7_41

Figure 1   Iron spear-head from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/41
Iron spear-head
Roman
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to second century AD
Materials: Iron

This type of spear was used by the Roman auxiliary (“helper”) army, while the Roman legions (permanent army) preferred the pilum throwing spear.  The auxiliary army began in the late Republic (147-30 B.C.)  and used mounted troops.  In 52 B.C. Caesar began using Germans in the auxiliary since the German tribes were known for their horsemanship.  Auxiliaries were used throughout the Roman Empire.  This spear was likely used in the Roman auxiliary army and may have been held by a German.

It was illegal to sell Roman weapons to the Germans. Yet there is archaeological evidence that Roman weapons were in the hands of Germans.  Germans may not have gotten Roman weapons through trade, but Germans in the Roman army brought their weapons back to their homes in Germany.

Though spears were common weapons of the Roman military, they are difficult to classify since usually only the iron head survives.  There are multiple ancient Roman terms used to describe spears, such as hasta, lancea, verutum, speculum, tela, and missilis.  These words were used by ancient authors to describe spears with little to no differentiation of the type of spears they refer to. Modern authors also use different terms to describe the same artifacts.  Spears may also be referred to as lances.  The ambiguity in terms makes it difficult to classify spears based on shape and use.

The butt of spears sometimes survives since they are made of iron.  The wooden shafts of spears are rarely found because wood does not preserve as well as iron.  Shafts were commonly made of ash or hazel. Spears could be used for thrusting in hand-to-hand combat or as missiles thrown at enemies from a distance. Spears, like this one, had forged iron heads with sockets to attach to the wooden shaft.  Socketed spear heads were common from the first to the second century A.D.

This spear at the museum is 9.25 inches (23.5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) at its widest point.  Its hole for attaching to the shaft is 1.1 inch (2.8 cm) in diameter.  The blade is leaf-shaped, meaning it is wider towards the bottom and narrows to a point at the tip.  It also has a midrib, or raised section cutting across the center of the head, and a closed socket.  As mentioned, the socketed spear heads were common from the first to second century A.D., so this spear may date to this period.

Similar spear heads come from Neuss, Germany and various areas across England.  They are all extra-long socketed spearheads with the leaf-shaped narrow blade. The large size of the spearheads indicates they were likely used for hand-to-hand fighting, not throwing. The Roman legionary often used the pilum that could pierce armor.  The leaf-shaped spears of the auxiliary were not as good at piercing armor.  Instead, they could be thrown against an unarmored enemy or used in hand-to-hand combat, aiming for any unprotected areas between the enemy’s armor.  The large size of the Sam Noble spear indicates it was used for hand-to-hand combat.

The following link has videos of what Roman Auxilaries and Roman cavalry would have looked like:

http://www.caerleon.net/history/army/page7.html

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006 Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Feugére, Michel

2002 Weapons of the Romans. Translated by David G. Smith.  Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

James, Edward

2009 Europe’s Barbarians AD 200 – 600. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Sim, D. and J. Kaminski

2012 Roman Imperial Armour: The Production of Early Imperial Military Armour. Wales: Oxbow Books.

Object: Shears

C_1946_7_45

Figure 1   Roman shears from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/45
Iron Shears or Clippers
Roman
Germany: Mainz Region
Likely first to sixth century AD
Materials: Iron

These Roman shears were found in Mainz.  Today, Mainz is the capital of Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. Mainz is on the west bank of the Rhine and was part of the Roman Empire’s northern frontier along the limes Germanicus. The Romans built a fort here in the first century B.C. These shears are one of the many iron objects created by the Romans.  Iron working in the Roman Empire was a major industry.  Iron objects ranged from weapons to everyday tools.  Iron weapons include spears, swords, and knives.  Iron tools included knives for food, adze heads, axe heads, keys, and shears.

To begin the process of making an iron object, iron ore must first be obtained.  Iron ore occurs naturally and is one of the most abundant metals.  Iron ore was collected from multiple places throughout the Roman Empire.  Noricum (a Celtic kingdom in modern Austria and part of Slovenia), Spain, and Britain were major sources of iron.  Iron can be collected from the surface, through open-cast quarrying, and from underground mining.  Open-cast quarrying was the most popular method and was practiced at both large and small scales.

After obtaining iron ore, the next step was to smelt the iron. Iron-smelting sites were often close to ore extraction sites.  It was more efficient to smelt ore locally since 60% of iron ore is waste.  After smelting, only the smaller amount of useable iron was left to transport. Romans primarily used charcoal as the fuel source for iron-smelting. Other fuel sources, such as coal, will contaminate iron and so were not commonly used. Dry wood had to be converted to charcoal before it was used for smelting.

Preparation of iron ore involved washing, roasting, and grading.  After washing, the ore was roasted to produce iron oxide.  Oxygen and any mineral impurities were then removed from the iron oxide to produce iron.  The separated mineral impurities are known as slag, which is the waste product left over from smelting.

There were three different types of Roman furnaces. These furnaces included a simple bowl furnace, a domed or pot furnace, and a shaft furnace.  During the Imperial Period, when the shears at the Sam Noble Museum were likely made, the shaft furnace was most commonly used. Shaft furnaces were hollow cylinders with an arched opening at the bottom. The bottom opening was for draining out slag and pumping air into the fire using bellows.

When iron is heated over 1674° F (912° C) it becomes malleable.  Iron is first placed into the fire until it reaches around 1832°-2012° F (1000°-1100° C), when the metal glows red from the heat.  After it is hot enough, the iron is placed on an anvil to be worked until it loses heat and achieves the desired shape.  Iron can be heated in the fire multiple times to keep it malleable so it can be reworked if needed.  After it cools, the iron hardens into a strong, durable object.  The process of obtaining iron ore and working it is very complex.  This brief description does not delve into all the chemical changes that occur within the iron.

Since iron objects were used in all parts of life, there were blacksmiths in most Roman towns and cities.  Blacksmiths were called ferrarrii. A fabrica workshop for producing weapons was found in Hofheim in Hesse, Germany.   These fabrica were the production sites for goods for the Roman army, including many iron items.  A large clay hearth was found at Hofheim with deposits of coal and iron slag.  Another area of the fabrica had tools, weapons, iron fittings, wire, bars, and round and flat pieces of iron.  Shears like these at the Sam Noble Museum could have been made at this workshop or one similar to it.

Shears were one of the many iron tools Romans manufactured. Shears were found throughout the Roman Empire, including these from Germany.  Large shears were used for cutting wool and fur from animals.  However, Romans also used shears for the tasks we use scissors for today, including personal grooming.  Though Romans did have hinged scissors, they were very rare and most people used shears for their grooming. These shears at the museum are 10 inches (25.4 cm) long, 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide, and the spring section is 1 inch (2.5 cm) high.  The Sam Noble shears are similar to shears found in Dorset, England and Neuss, Germany. These types of shears were used for shearing sheep, cutting cloth, and other such tasks.

Roman shears were rarely decorated since they were utilitarian tools. The blades of shears vary in length and shape. The differences in blades seem to result from different intended functions for the shears.  There are two spring types: a u-shaped loop and an omega-shaped loop.  The shears from England are u-shaped.  The shears at the Sam Noble Museum are the omega-shaped loop.  Both types produce a strong spring to move the blades together to cut.

Shears for cloth cutting and sheep shearing were depicted in Roman artwork.  Sometimes shears were used as the symbol of sheep shearers and they appear in art along with cloth merchants. Interestingly, men are always shown holding the shears even if women are also depicted.  Yet in the burials around Trier, Germany, shears are found in graves of both sexes, indicating that both sexes likely used shears even though only men were depicted holding them.

To see a modern example of a Roman bloomery furnace, watch this video:

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Eckardt, Hella and Nina Crummy

2008 Styling the Body in Late Iron Age and Roman Britain: A Contextual Approach to Toilet Instruments. Monographies Instrumentum 36. Montagnac: Editions Monique Mergoil.

Sim, D. and J. Kaminski

2012  Roman Imperial Armour: The Production of Early Imperial Military Armour. Wales: Oxbow Books.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006  Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss –   Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862. England: Biddles Ltd.

Object: Spear Head

C_1946_7_42

Figure 1    Iron spear-head from Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/42
Iron Spear-head
Roman
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to second century AD
Materials: Iron

Early in Germanic history, numerous Germanic tribes settled from the mouth of the Rhine River to the Middle Danube River (James 208).  Around the first century A.D. Romans and Germans came in contact across the two rivers.  This contact included fighting and trading (James 208).  German tribes gained goods as well as ideas from the Roman Empire (James 208).  Roman writers described the Germani people as barbarian savages who were occasionally noble (James 208).

This spearhead at the Sam Noble Museum was found in the Hesse region of Germany.  It was found near Limes Germanicus in the Taunus Mountains, which were the border regions of the Roman Empire.  This spear and several other Roman artifacts have been found in this region of Germany.

The limes included the areas on either side of the border, both the Roman controlled side and the area under Germanic control (Feugére 216).  The limes Germanicus was the area where the Roman Empire interacted with German tribes.  They were densely settled with Roman forts, towers, and camps to hold the border, all of which were connected by roads (Feugére 216).  German settlements in the limes area existed so that the tribes could trade with the Romans.  The Rhine and Danube Rivers were used to transport goods along the border (James 145).

Archaeologically it is difficult to analyze settlements along the limes.  Since there were cultural as well as material exchanges between Romans and Germans, it is hard to tell the difference between the material culture of both groups. There is little context for this spear.  It was collected during 1899-1900.  There is no exact excavation location for this spear and it has no date range for when it was created.  With so little context, it is unclear if the Roman spear was last in use by Romans or Germans.  However, this spear is similar to Roman-made spears from other areas of the Roman Empire.

Since the Roman Empire traded goods with many regions, the spear may have been made elsewhere and taken to Germany, or it may have been made in Germany.  Or, the iron for the spear may have come from another area in the empire and then worked in Germany.  Iron was often first turned into ingots, pieces of processed metal, that were sent to other areas to be worked into a useable product (King 122).  Some of Roman iron production was under imperial control (King 122).  In Gaul, modern France, especially there is evidence for the manufacture of iron weapons that were sent to Germany for the Roman army (King 122).  In the early first century A.D., southern Gaul made weapons for Germania Superior and northern Gaul made weapons for the Roman army in Germania Inferior (King 122).  Later in the first century, the Roman military in Germany established their own workshops so they did not have to import iron and weapons from Gaul (King 122).  Trier, a Roman city, was the major iron production center in Germany (King 122).  With no known date for this spear, it is unclear if this spearhead was made in Gaul or Germany.  Analysis of the iron and the production method may shed some light on this question.

The spearhead at the museum is 10.5 inches (26.7 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) at its widest point.  The blade is leaf-shaped, which is distinct from other types of Roman spears like the pilum that had a pyramid-shaped blade.  The leaf-shaped spear has a socket on the end where it was attached to the wooden shaft.  Socketed spear heads were common from the first to second century A.D., so this spear may date to this period.  The Sam Noble spear is similar to a spear from Neuss, another area of Germany.  The other iron spear is called an extra-long socketed spearhead and has similar dimensions to the Sam Noble example. A few spearheads found in England also appear to be of the same shape.  One spear from England has a leaf-shaped blade with a conical socket for attaching to the wooden shaft (Manning 160).  However, the size of this spearhead is much smaller (Manning 160).  It appears that the Sam Noble’s spear is unique in its large size, though it has the common leaf-shaped blade.

To learn more about the Limes Germanicus and the current archaeological work being conducted there, take a look at this video:

 [Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006  Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Feugére, Michel

2002 Weapons of the Romans. Translated by David G. Smith.  Charleston, South Carolina: Tempus Publishing Ltd.

James, Edward

2009  Europe’s Barbarians AD 200 – 600. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.

King, Anthony

1990  Roman Gaul and Germany. Berkeley: University of California.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss –  Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862. England: Biddles Ltd.

Object: Knife

C_1946_7_43

Figure 1   Iron knife from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/43
Iron Knife
Roman
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to sixth century AD
Materials: Iron

Roman blacksmiths made knives and swords in various ways.  Metalworkers would carburize iron, weld different metals together, and quench metals to harden them into weapons.  Mainz style weapons, named after the city in Germany, were quenched when worked. In the 3rd century A.D., Romans began making dagger blades from several bars of iron instead of single bars.  For these blades metalworkers used the pattern-welding (damasking) method where rods of iron were twisted together.  The rods were then hammered, cut up, and re-combined to create a composite blade.

This knife measures 16.25 inches (41.3 cm) long, 1.75 inches (4.4 cm) wide, and .25 of an inch (.6 cm) high. Although this knife seems large, it was likely not used as a weapon.  The blade is eroded but was once straight.  Only one side of the knife has a sharp edge.  The other side is thick with a flat edge.  Most knives used as weapons were sharp on both edges, or at least had a thinner edge, unlike this knife.  The thick edge would make it difficult to use for stabbing.  Additionally, the shape of this knife does not match other Roman knives used in warfare.

Knives were used by the Romans for a variety of reasons other than warfare. Smaller knives like scalpels were used for medical procedures like small surgeries.  The shape of this knife does not match the shape of the larger Roman surgical knives, as this blade is wide and has a short curve up to the tip. So, it was likely not a surgical knife. The large size of this knife means it is unlikely it was used as a multipurpose tool.  Though some Romans carried around knives for small tasks throughout the day, such knives were likely smaller than this one. Romans also used knives in the kitchen for food preparation. This knife’s large size would make it a useful kitchen knife for chopping meat, fruits, and vegetables. Kitchen knives were also used for slaughtering the animals that were used in meals.  Romans did not use knives when eating, so this knife would not have been used during the meals, only in food preparation.

If this knife was used in a Roman military fort, it could have been used to prepare food for the entire garrison.  To have enough food to feed all the soldiers, forts had a millhouse, bakery, kitchen (culina), and dining area.  A kitchen was discovered at the auxiliary fort Stockstadt in Upper Germany.  The room had two round ovens made of red tiles. Cooks would have used this area to create the meals.

The army diet relied on grain as one of the main ingredients.  Fort granaries (horreum) held wheat and corn.  Grain was made into bread, pasta, or porridge.  Army food also included meat and vegetables.  Soldiers ate mutton, pork, beef, goat, young pig, ham, and venison.  Some of the meat was smoked to help preserve it.  Knives would have been used to butcher the animals and then cut the meat into manageable pieces.  Vegetables, fish bones, oyster shells, fruits, and nuts were also found at military forts, indicating these foods were also part of the diet.  Knives were an important tool for creating meals in the Roman forts and in the rest of the Roman world.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Bishop, M. C. and J. C. N. Coulston

2006 Roman Military Equipment: From the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome. 2nd edition. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Johnson, Anne

1983 Roman Forts of the 1st and 2nd centuries AD in Britain and the German Provinces. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Object: Key

C_1946_7_29

Figure 1    Roman Iron key from Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/29
Iron Key
Roman
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to sixth century AD
Materials: Iron

Romans were one of the earliest people to use locks and keys to protect their belongings. Locks and keys were such a popular method of security that keys are one of the most common finds at Roman sites.  Locks are less commonly found, as they were not always made of metal and so do not preserve as well.  Lock construction was largely uniform throughout the ancient world, but keys varied greatly. Making a key began the same way as making a knife handle.  Instead of a adding a blade, a locksmith would add the bit and teeth.

This key from the Sam Noble Museum is an example of a slide-key. The lock this key would open was elaborate.  Slide-key locks had several tumblers arranged in patterns that fell into holes in the bolt. The bit of the key, which enters the lock, has teeth on its side in the same pattern as the tumblers. The teeth on the key push up the tumblers to free the bolt and slide it to the side, unlocking the lock.  Unfortunately, the teeth from the key at the Sam Noble Museum have eroded away with time.

The keyholes for slide-keys are L-shaped.  These L-shaped locks are depicted in some Roman reliefs. There are two forms of slide-keys, and the museum key is the smaller type.  These small keys have close-set teeth arranged in various patterns on the straight bit.  The handle is flat and broad with an eye hole at the end opposite the teeth.  The hole on the handle allowed the keys to be put on a ring, much like our modern keychains.  The teeth on the key were likely cut into the bit using a punch or chisel.  Bit teeth could be rectangular or triangular.  Though this key at the museum is made of iron, there were also many keys of this type made of bronze.  The small slide-key is common in Germany and Roman Britain.  This key was found near the limes in the Taunus Mountain area.  Similar keys have been found in Germany at Neuss, Saalburg, Arnsburg, Feldberg, Hofheim, and Zugmantel.

Keys were used to lock many types of things, including chests and boxes. The arca (household safe) was locked and the key kept by the head of the household.  Safes usually held money, jewelry, and other expensive items. A pyxis (jewelry casket) was used to keep jewelry, coins, and other keys safe. Another container was the capsa, a cylindrical wooden vessel that held scrolls or other items. The capsa were kept locked if they held important objects or documents. These are just a few of the items Romans kept under lock and key. Often only the metal hardware for these boxes and containers survives because most boxes were made of perishable wood.  Sometimes not even the locks survive because they could also be made of wood. A few boxes made of other materials have survived, and we can see where the locks and hinges were placed.

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Kozloff, Arielle P.

1993 “Keys of Ancient Rome.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 80 (9): 368-375.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss – Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862.

         England: Biddles Ltd.

Object: Roman Axe Head

C_1946_7_34

Figure 1    Axe Head from The Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Museum

C/1946/7/34
Iron Axe-head
Roman
Germany: Taunus Mountains, Limes Region
Likely first to sixth century ADMaterials: Iron

This iron axe measures 11 ½ inches (29.2 cm) long and 3 inches (7.6 cm) wide.  Its height is 1 ½ inches (3.8 cm). Axes and adzes, both common woodworking tools, are similar types of objects with one major difference. Axes, including this one, have handles that project down from the head with the blade of the axe in line with the handle. This makes the axe head blade vertical when held upright so that it can then be brought down to cut.  An adze blade length is horizontal when held upright.

The Romans created several types of axes. All Roman axes have a triangular blade, an oval eye for the handle, and a large poll or back of the blade. The axes with this small triangular shape vary in size with an average weight of 1.6 kg to .77 kg (3.5 lb. to 1.7 lb.).  Larger axes were used for heavier work such as felling trees and rough-shaping, while smaller axes were used for delicate woodworking.  The museum’s axe has a straight front with the rear sweeping back to produce a wide cutting edge.  The shape indicates the axe was most likely used to shape wood since its smaller size would give the carpenter more precision with cutting.

Similar axe heads have been found at Combend, Gloucestershire, England and Neuss, Germany, illustrating the widespread use of axes across the Roman Empire. Axes were also highly symbolic throughout Rome’s history, particularly in the Roman Republic. Axes were included in the fasces bundle, a symbol of power common in Roman life and often depicted in their artwork. The fasces bundle was a bundle of birch or elmwood rods tied in a circle with leather.  Within this wood bundle was an axe positioned so that the axe head protruded. The fasces bundle was carried by the lictors (guards) as they accompanied magistrates around the city.  Roman magistrates were government officials including praetors, consusl, proconsuls, dictators, and emperors. The axe head symbolized the authority of these elites. Roman elites were strong in unity like the rods and had power over life and death like the axe.  The fasces, as part of magisterial regalia, were carried in formal events. These events included the funerals of nobles and the departure of a magistrate to serve in the military. During parades, a common event for the Romans, fasces were the most visible symbol of a magistrate’s high office.

Though symbolic, fasces were still functional mechanisms of executive power and punishment.  The wooden rods could be used to beat lawbreakers, which could be lethal.  In addition to the rods, the axe was a deadly reprimand.

Fasces were depicted in many works of Roman art.  Fasces have been found pictured on tombs and coins. In the case of coins, the fasces advertised the family’s history of political appointments.  Fasces were

pictured on one side of the coin with the profile of the issuer on the other side.  The axe held within the fasces showcases the importance of axes not just as woodworking tools, but as symbols of Roman authority and power.

 

Take a look at the following video to learn more about Roman fasces:

[Chelsea Cinotto]

Works Cited

Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia

2011 “Fasces” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition accessed November 11, 2012.

Manning, W.H.

1985 Catalogue of the Romano-British Iron Tools, Fittings, and Weapons in the British Museum. London: British Museum Press.

Simpson, Grace

2000 Roman Weapons, Tools, Bronze Equipment and Brooches from Neuss – Novaesium Excavations 1955-1972. BAR International Series 862. England: Biddles Ltd.

Marshall, Anthony J.

1984 Symbols and Showmanship in Roman Public Life: The Fasces. Phoenix 38(2): 120-141.


Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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