previous next


κλείς, dim. κλειδίον). A key. In Homer the κλείς is not a key in the modern meaning of the word, but rather a hook (having a leathern thong) which passed through the door from the outside and caught the bolts (ὀχῆες), so as to shoot

Iron Egyptian Key. (Wilkinson.)

them home or draw them back as required ( Od. xxi. 6 Od., 46-50). In some passages of Homer the word signifies simply a bolt ( Od. i. 442; xxi. 241; L. and S. s. v.). In course of time locks and keys were made, much like those of modern times. Locks were used in Egypt at an early period, and were originally of wood, probably like those now used there, which are opened by a key furnished with several fixed pins, answering to a similar number that fall down into the movable tongue, into which the key is introduced, when they fasten or open the lock. At a later time we find iron keys in Egypt, consisting of a long straight shank, with three or more projecting teeth, like the one figured in preceding column. The earliest mention of a key, like our own, which could be taken out of the lock, is in the Book of Judges (iii. 23, 25).

Copper Key found at Hissarlik. (Schliemann.)

Schliemann found keys of copper and bronze in the remains of the cities in the Troad. The accompanying cut represents a copper key, found close by the so-called Treasury of Priam in the ruins at Hissarlik.

The cut below represents a curious bronze key, with a ring for suspension, found in the ruins of Novum Ilium. “It has the shape of the so-called quadrangular images of Hermes, with an altar-like base forming one piece with the body, to which a quadrangular projection is fixed on the back, with a hole corresponding to the lockbolt” (Schliemann, Ilios, pp. 620, 621).

Pliny (Pliny H. N. vii. 198) ascribes the invention of keys to Theodorus of Samos; and the ancient writers speak of Carian, and especially of Laconian keys, because originally made by the Lacedaemonians. We learn from Aristophanes that the

Bronze Key found at Novum Ilium. (Schliemann.)

Laconian key had three teeth (τρεῖς γομφίους), probably like the Egyptian key figured above. Keys are mentioned by Aeschylus and Euripides; and Lysias, in his speech on the murder of Eratosthenes, speaks of the wife shutting the door and taking the key with her (τὴν κλεῖν ἐφέλκετια, c. 4), so that the husband was shut up in his chamber. In this case the door must have been locked from the outside.

Many Roman keys have been found much like our own, the larger ones usually of iron and the smaller of bronze; but there were also keys made of wood and gold in use in later times. Besides these there was the βαλανάγρα, a key or hook, which was passed through a hole in the door-post, and raised the βάλανοι or bolts of the lock, as in the Egyptian locks described above (Herod.iii. 155). It must have been a lock of this kind which the robber in Apuleius ( Met. iv. 10) opens, by passing his hand through the hole, qua clavi immittendae foramen patebat. Roman keys, both of bronze and iron, have been found which were never intended to turn, the stems being square, and the webs, consisting of from one to five or six teeth, rising from a bar bent at an acute angle to the stem; which teeth would serve the purpose of elevating pegs, as in the Egyptian locks.

The street-door was usually fastened inside by bolts (pessuli) and a bar (sera), but it also had a key which the ianitor of the house kept. The cut given below represents a key found at Pompeii, and now in the Museum of Naples, the size of which indicates that it was used as a door-key. The tongue with an eye in it, which projects from the extremity of the handle, served to suspend it from the wrist of the ianitor. The rooms of the

Door-key found at Pompeii.

house were also opened inside with keys. The doors often had locks both inside and outside. This is evident from Plaut. Most. ii. 1, 57, where a Laconian key is mentioned for locking the door from the outside, compared with verse 78—
“Clavim cedo atque abi intro atque obclude ostium,
Et ego hinc [i. e. foris] obcludam.”

When a Roman woman first entered her husband's house, the keys of the store-rooms were handed to her. Hence the form of divorce, in the Twelve Tables, was that the husband took away the keys (claves ademit, exegit, Cic. Phil. ii. 28, 69); and the wife, when she separated from the husband, sent him back the keys (claves remisit, Ambros. Plin. Ep. 65). But the keys of the winecellar were not intrusted to the wife, and Fabius Pictor related a story of a married woman having been starved to death by her relatives because she picked the lock of the closet in which the keys of the wine-cellar were kept (Plin. H. N. xiv. 89).

A skeleton key was known as clavis adultera (Sall. Iug. 12).

hide References (7 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (7):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.155
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.442
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.46
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.6
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.28
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 4.10
    • Plautus, Mostellaria, 2.1
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: