Nicola Hurt (KCL) - 2019-20 Students

Roman folding knife handles in the northwest provinces

My thesis explores Roman folding knife handles (Klappmessergriffe) as culturally significant objects. The majority are copper alloy, bone, or ivory and, despite being presumably functional objects, these handles are often carved or cast with complex figurative designs, including animals, gods, and erotic scenes. They can be the star find of an excavation, portable art objects as much as functional tools. The last synthesis was published by Eugen von Mercklin (1940) but this is both difficult to access and very out-dated. There is a huge new corpus from both excavation and metal detecting, but most publications focus on single examples discussed with vague references to others. There is a limited understanding of their distribution (spatially and chronologically), the variety of types and iconography, and their relationship to expressions of identity. They are also easy to misinterpret unless the blade or folding mechanism has been preserved in the handle, and a new reference work will be useful to professional archaeologists. The main aim of this project is to produce a detailed corpus of an important but previously neglected artefact category and explore their social, cultural, and symbolic significance. It will also examine the iconography of knife handles, providing an insight into the use of imagery in the provinces, and where folding knife handles fit in Roman art and society.

Primary supervisor: Dr John Pearce, KCL
Secondary supervisor: Dr Will Wootton, KCL

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