The Not-So-Swiss Army Knife

In which we take a short break for some archeology

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photo: Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Whoa! Paradigm shift here! Usually archeology is rather, well, stuffy – just ultra-repetitive History Channel shows about mummies and flint spearheads, dressed up with flashier graphics year after year. Yeah, we get it. The ancients didn’t have steel and they wanted to preserve dead bodies. Yawn. But occasionally these tidbits have relevancy to modern life – and in this case, backpacking.

You all know the Swiss Army Knife, that iconic piece of little red cutlery, precursor to the much vaunted multi-tool. It’s been around since 1897. Genius before it’s time, no doubt. But it turns out the Romans had the same idea at least 18 centuries earlier.

The U.K.’s Daily Mail has photos of one multi-use “Roman Army Knife” unearthed along the Mediterranean 20 years ago. This particular piece was probably carried by a wealthy nobleman rather than a soldier. The Italian reenactment site Armillum (think Civil War throwback brigades with, but with shields, breastplates and short swords) has images of at least six other models, found in more militarily related artifact sites around Europe.

These Roman Army Knives ™ are pretty wicked looking, and totally awesome. Made out of full-pimp silver, they’ve got blades, awls, gnarly looking forks, and even fold-out spoons. So…trademark lawsuit, or maybe just a new brand? All Hail Knife-us Maximus! — Steve Howe

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