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CLAVIS (κλείς, dim. κλειδίον), a key. In Homer the κλεὶς 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 them home or draw them back, as required (Od. 21.6, 46-50). In some passages of Homer the word signifies simply a bolt (Od. 1.442; 21.241; L. & 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 in Egypt, which are opened by a key furnished [p. 1.451]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 (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, i. p. 353). 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 below The earliest mention of

Iron Egyptian Key. (Wilkinson.)

a key, like our own, which could be taken out of the lock, is in the Book of Judges (Judg. 3.23, 25; Wilkinson, l.c.).

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. “It is four inches long, the head of which (about two inches long and broad) greatly resembles a large safe-key of a bank.”

Copper Key found at Hissarlik. (Schliemann, Troy and its Remains, p. 333, ed. 1875.)

The cut on the next column 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 lock-bolt.” (Schliemann, Ilios, pp. 620, 621, ed. 1880.)

Pliny (Plin. Nat. 7.198) ascribes the invention of keys to Theodorus of Samos; and the ancient writers speak of Carian (Avien. Orat. Phen. 455), and especially of Laconian keys, because originally made by the Lacedaemonians. (Aristoph. Thes. 423; Plaut. Most. 2.1, 57; Eustath. ad Od. p. 1603, 51; Suid. s. v. Λακωνικαὶ κλεῖδες: Müller, Dorians, ii. p. 25, Engl. transl.) We learn from Aristophanes (l.c.) that the Laconian key had three teeth (τρεῖς γομφίους), probably like the Egyptian key figured above. Keys are mentioned by Aeschylus (Aesch. Eum. 827) and Euripides (Eur. Med. 661); 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 ἐφέλκεται, 100.4), so that the husband was shut up in his chamber (ἀπεκλείσθην ἐν τῷ δωματίῳ, 100.5). 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. (Augustin. de Doctr. Christ. 4.11 (26).) 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, like the Egyptian locks described above. (Hdt. 3.155; Plb. 7.16.5.) It must have been a lock of this kind which the robber in Apuleius (Met. 4.10) opens, by passing his hand through the hole, qua clavi immittendae foramen patebat. Mr. Cuming observes that 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.”

Bronze Key found at Novum Ilium. (Schliemann.)

The street door was usually fastened inside by bolts (pessuli) and a bar (sera), but it also had a key which the janitor of the house kept. (Apul. Met. 9.20; cf. 4.18.) 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 janitor. The rooms of the house were also opened inside with keys; and hence in both cases we read subdita clavi pessulos reduco (Apul. Met. 1.14), clavi pessulis subjecta repandit fores (ibid. 9.20), where pessuli mean the bolts of the lock. The doors often had locks both inside and outside. This is evident from Plaut. Most. 2.1, 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.”

(Cf. Achill. Tat. 2.19.)

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. 2.28, 69); and the wife, when she separated from the husband, sent him back the keys

Door-key found at Pompeii.

claves remisit, Ambros. Ep. 65). But the keys of the wine-cellar were not entrusted 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. Nat. 14.89), The key of the [p. 1.452]street door was, as we have already seen, kept by the janitor, and the keys of the other departments of the house by slaves to whom such departments belonged (Sen. de Ir. 2.25). To this Martial (5.35) alludes.

There were false or skeleton keys, called by the Romans adulterinae or adulterae, used by robbers for entering a house (Sall. B. J. 12 ; cf. Ov. A. A. 3.643). Besides locks fixed permanently on doors, the Romans also had padlocks to be removed at pleasure. Mr. Cuming (see below) gives a specimen of such a padlock, with the corresponding key. Small keys were at times attached to rings to be worn on the hand. [ANULUS p. 131 a.] In the annexed

Keys and Lock. (Guhl and Koner.)

cut from Guhl and Koner, figure a represents a ring-key, b a lock with wards, for which a key of a complicated form must have been necessary, and c a ring with several small keys attached, which probably served to open jewel-cases or other small cases.

The gates of a city were locked by keys (Liv. 27.24, 8; Juv. 15.158).

The epithet κλειδοῦχος or claviger, “key-bearer,” is given to several of the gods as having charge or custody of a place. Thus it is an epithet of Janus, as the god of doors Ov. Fast. 1.228; cf. Macr. 1.9). Hecate, the goddess, who held the keys of Hades, is constantly thus represented in ancient works of art.

Hecate, holding a key. (Causel, Museum Romanum, vol. i. tav. 21.)

On the clavis trochi, see TROCHUS

(On ancient keys, see Cuming, History of Keys in Journal of the British Archaeol. Association, vol. xii. p. 117 foll.; Wills, ibid. vol. xiii. p. 335; Marquardt, Privatleben d. Röm. p. 226; Becker-Göll, Charikles, ii. p. 148 ; Gallus, ii. p. 327.)


hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Aeschylus, Eumenides, 827
    • Aristophanes, Thesmophoriazusae, 423
    • Euripides, Medea, 661
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.155
    • Homer, Odyssey, 1.442
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.46
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.50
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.6
    • Homer, Odyssey, 21.241
    • Polybius, Histories, 7.16.5
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.28
    • Cicero, Philippics, 2.69
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 24
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 8
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 5.35
    • Ovid, Fasti, 1
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