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CLAVUS (ἧλος, γόμφος), a nail. In Homer ἧλος is not a nail to fix or fasten, but a stud or projecting head used as an ornament (Il. 1.246, 11.29, 633; Athen. 11.488 b), but subsequently it has the sense of a nail to fasten with, and is identical with the Latin clavus (Pind. P. 4.125; Plat. Phaedr. 83 B; Xen. Cyneg. 9, 12). Blümner (see below) points out that γόμφος originally signified a peg or bolt, usually made of wood and used in shipbuilding, and that it only subsequently became synonymous with ἧλος and clavus (cf. Lucian, Gall. 24, 25; Pollux, 1.84). But in Aeschylus (Sep. 542) γόμφος signifies a nail, and Polybius (13.7.9) speaks of iron nails under the name of γόμφοι.

In early times, before soldering was known, nails were used to join together plates of metal. In the treasury of Atreus at Mycenae, the stones, of which the dome is constructed, are perforated by regular series of bronze nails, which doubtless held together the bronze plates with which the interior was once decorated. Two of these bronze nails are represented in the annexed cut they are of two-thirds the real size.

Bronze nails from Mycenae.

Hence we read in the poets of brazen chambers (Hom. Od. 7.84-87; Her. Carm. 3.16; Schliemann, Mycenae, p. 44).

Many ancient nails of various sizes and shapes are found in our museums. They are, as might be expected, generally of iron (Pind. Xen. ll. cc.; Cat. Agr. 18, 9; Plaut. Trin. 4.3, 32; Caes. Gal. 3.13; Vitr. 7.3, 1; Plin. Nat. 28.63, 34.143,), sometimes of bronze (Theophr. Char. 5; Plin. Nat. 16.51), of hard wood, especially the cornus (Xen. Cyneg. 9, 12; Cat. Agr. 18, 9; Plin. Nat. 16.206; Plut. Mar. 25), of copper ( “clavus cuprinus,” Pallad. Ian. 15, 18), and even of silver (Plut. Alex. 40). In the ruins of the second city at Hissarlik Schliemann found some very large copper nails with hammerlike

Copper nail found at Hissarlik, one-third of the size. (Schliemann, Troja, p. 93, ed. 1884.)

heads, which had been cast together with the nail.

The clavi muscarii of Vitruvius (7.3.11) were probably small nails like our tacks. Large [p. 1.453]nails for fastening beams were called clavi trabales (Cic. Ver. 5.21, 53; Hor. Carm. 1.35.18; Arnob. 2.13), or tabulares (Petron. 75).

The shoes of soldiers were studded with nails, hence called clavi caligarii or caligares (see references under CALIGA p. 346). The men received a donative, called clavarium (Tac. Hist. 3.50), ostensibly for supplying them with these nails, though the donative was probably more than was necessary for this purpose. There was a similar donative under the name of calcearium (Suet. Vesp. 8).

The heads of nails were of various shapes and sizes. Some were highly ornamented, like the bronze nails on the doors of the Pantheon at Rome, which were called bullae, and some of which are figured under BULLA p. 318. The annexed cut, representing a Roman nail, is highly ornamented: two of its faces are given, but the pattern varies on each of the four.

Ornamented Roman nail. (Caylus,
Recueil d'Antiq.
vol. v. pl. 96.)

The ornamented head of this nail shows that it was never intended to be driven by the hammer: it may have been used for the hair in the manner shown in the cut under ACUS

It remains to speak of the symbolical use of the clavus, or nail. Clavum figere was a proverbial expression, signifying what was unalterably fixed by Fate ( “ut hoc beneficium, quemadmodum dicitur, clavo trabali diceret,” Cic. Ver. 5.21, 53; “quod semel destinavi clavo trabulari fixum est,” Petron. 75). Hence the goddess

The goddess Necessitas, armed with a nail. (Causci, Museum Romanum, vol. i. tav. 28.)

Necessitas is armed with a nail (Hor. Carm. 1.35.17, 18; 3.24, 5, 6), wherewith to fix the decrees of Fate, and is so represented in works of art.

In like manner, in an Etruscan mirror found at Perugia, the winged goddess Athrpa or Atropus is represented as about to drive a nail with a hammer, to indicate the predetermined death of Meleager and Atalanta.

The Etruscan goddess Athrpa or Atropus armed with a nail. (Vermiglioli,
Inscriz. Perug.
vol. i. p. 49.)

At Volsinii, in Etruria, a nail was driven every year in the temple of Nortia, the Fortune of Etruscan mythology, in order to keep a reckoning of the years (Cincius, ap. Liv. 7.3). This custom was introduced into Rome from Etruria, probably by the Tarquins, when they founded the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. An ancient law enacted that a nail should be driven each year by the chief magistrate on the Ides of September into the side of the cella of Jupiter on the Capitol. As the Romans thus kept a reckoning of their years, when letters were yet scarcely in use, this nail was called Clavus Annalis. (Liv. l.c.; Fest. p. 56, M.; cf. Cic. Att. 5.1. 5) This practice fell into disuse, but was afterwards revived, not for the purpose of marking the year, but from a superstitious feeling that any great calamity, such as a pestilence, would be averted, if this ceremony was performed by the supreme magistrate. Hence we read of a dictator being appointed, more than once, for the sole purpose of driving in the nail (clavi fiendi causa,. Liv. l.c. 7.3, 8.18, 9.28). Several superstitions were connected with fixing a nail. Thus Pliny (Plin. Nat. 28.63) recommends, as a remedy against epilepsy, driving a nail into the spot where the head of the patient was struck when he fell for the first time. (Blumner, Gewerbe u. Künste bei Griech. u. Römern, ii. pp. 230, 307; Daremberg and Saglio, s. v. Clavus; Dennis, Etruria, ii. p. 25.)


hide References (18 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (18):
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.29
    • Homer, Odyssey, 7.87
    • Homer, Odyssey, 7.84
    • Xenophon, On Hunting, 9
    • Homer, Iliad, 11.633
    • Homer, Iliad, 1.246
    • Polybius, Histories, 13.7.9
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 3.13
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.5.53
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.3
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.3.11
    • Vitruvius, On Architecture, 7.1
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 3.50
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 28.63
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 16.51
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 3
    • Plutarch, Caius Marius, 25
    • Plutarch, Alexander, 40
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