The Roman Army Knife: Or how the ingenuity of the Swiss was beaten by 1,800 years
By Daily Mail Reporter
30th January 2010
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’.
The round clay make-up container from Athens dates back to 740BC and experts believe it may have been stored in a grave in the Ancient Greek city for the last 2,700 years.
The six inch high and 12 inch diameter box would have contained precious gems and make up from the era made from a variety of naturally occurring substances.
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