Category Archive 'Fitzwilliam Museum'

30 Jan 2010

Roman Army Knife

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How old is the Swiss Army Knife? Conventional wisdom would hold that the multi-tool pocket knife was invented by Karl Elsener in Ibach Schwyz in 1896.

But as this Daily Mail feature article proves, the idea of a folding knife incorporating additional tools is much, much older.

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. …

‘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.’


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