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dim. Falcŭla (ἅρπη, δρέπανον, dim. δρεπάνιον). A sickle; a scythe; a pruning-knife or pruning-hook; a bill; a falchion; a halbert.

As culter denoted a knife with one straight edge, “falx” signified any similar instrument, the single edge of which was curved (δρέπανον εὐκαμπές; γαμψὰς δρεπάνας; curvae falces; curvamine falcis ahenae; adunca falce). By additional epithets the various uses of the falx were indicated, and its corresponding varieties in form and size. Thus the sickle, because it was used by reapers, was called falx messoria; the scythe, which was employed in mowing hay, was called falx foenaria; the pruning-knife and the bill, on account of their use in dressing vines, as well as in hedging and in cutting off the shoots and branches of trees, were distinguished by the appellation of falx putatoria, vinitoria, arboraria, or silvatica, or by the diminutive falcula.


The illustration is taken from a MS. of Columella, and explains his description of the various parts of the falx vinitoria. (See Culter.) After the removal of a branch by the pruning-hook, it was often smoothed, as in modern gardening, by the chisel. (See Dolabra.) The edge of the falx was often toothed or serrated (ἅρπην καρχαρόδοντα; denticulata). The indispensable process of sharpening these instruments (ἅρπην χαρασσέμεναι, ἅρπην εὐκαμπῆ νεοθηγέα) was effected by whetstones, which the Romans obtained from Crete and other distant places, with the addition of oil or water, which the mower (foenisex) carried in a horn upon his thigh.

Numerous as were the uses to which the falx was applied in agriculture and horticulture, its employment in battle was almost equally varied, though not so frequent. The Geloni were noted for its use. It was the weapon with which Zeus wounded Typhon; with which Heracles slew the Lernaean Hydra; and with which Hermes cut off the head of Argus (falcato ense; harpen Cyllenida). Perseus, having received the same weapon from Hermes, or, according to other authorities, from Hephaestus, used it to decapitate Medusa and to slay the sea-monster. Hence, it may be concluded that the falchion was a weapon of the most remote antiquity; that it was girt like a dagger upon the waist; that it was held in the hand by a short hilt; and that, as it was, in fact, a dagger or sharp-pointed blade, with a proper falx projecting from one side, it was thrust into the flesh up to this lateral curvature.

The weapon which has just been described, when attached to the end of a pole, would assume the form and be applicable to all the purposes of the mediæval halberd. Such must have been the asseres falcati used by the Romans at the siege of Ambracia. Sometimes the iron head was so large as to be fastened, instead of the ram's head, to a wooden beam, and worked by men under a testudo (q. v.).

Lastly, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Medes, and the Syrians in Asia, and the Gauls and Britons in Europe (see Covinus), made themselves formidable on the field of battle by the use of chariots with scythes fixed at right angles (εἰς πλάγιον) to the axle and turned downward, or inserted parallel to the axle into the felly of the wheel, so as to revolve, when the chariot was put in motion, with more than thrice the velocity of the chariot itself; and sometimes also projecting from the extremities of the axle. See Currus.

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